Nearly 20 Holocaust museums spread across four different countries called on the world to “do more” to stop Russian “atrocities” and “war crimes” in Ukraine on Sunday, taking out a full-page ad in the New York Times declaring that “if we, as the bearers of history, do not speak out, then we have failed in our mission.”
“It is with sorrow that we see yet another atrocity in Ukraine, 80 years after the 'Holocaust by Bullets' in which Jewish men, women, and children were shot and buried in shallow graves,” the institutions said in their joint statement, describing recent reports of “children with their hands zip tied and buried in shallow graves.”
“We are angered by the horrific reports of rape and wanton destruction of lives by the Russian army. These are war crimes, and if we, as the bearers of history, do not speak out, then we have failed in our mission.
"We call upon our governments around the world to do more to stop these atrocities and assist those who have been brutalized. We support the International Criminal Court's investigation of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide,” they said.
Located in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and South Africa, the 17 museums said that beyond telling survivors’ stories, they had a duty to “make a better future where the stories we tell are no longer repeated.”
Neither Yad Vashem nor the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum signed the letter, although both have condemned Russian actions in Ukraine, especially Russia’s claim that it is working to “denazify” its neighbor.
Signatories include the Illinois Holocaust Museum, the National Holocaust Center and Museum UK, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Center and the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Center.
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Last month, only days after Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border, International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor said that he would immediately open an investigation into possible war crimes committed in Ukraine, following requests to do so by an unprecedented number of the court's member states.
After retaking Kyiv's suburbs from Russian forces in early April, Ukrainian forces discovered mass graves and bodies littering the streets of Bucha, some of them with their hands bound behind their backs.
Some 40 kilometers to the west, in the town of Makariv, the local mayor said that 132 bodies of people shot to death have been found in and around the town since the Russian withdrawal, while in the eastern city of Mariupol, which has been under siege and bombardment, with no food, medicine, power or fresh water, since the early days of Russia’s invasion, Mayor adym Boichenko put the number of civilians killed at more than 5,000.
Russian strikes have hit a children’s hospital, a theater housing hundreds of civilians and an art school in the city. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has held up the attacks as “proof that the genocide of Ukrainians is taking place.”
On Tuesday, Ukraine said that it was checking unverified reports, which Russian denies, that its forces may have used chemical weapons while besieging the Azov Sea port.
On March 26, Yad Vashem condemned a Russian strike that damaged a Holocaust memorial in Kharkiv, saying in a statement that it "deplores the continued devastation of Ukrainian cities and the loss of lives of innocent civilians, as well as the damage to historic memorial sites from the Shoah."
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1,842 Ukrainians, including 148 children, have been confirmed killed as of April 10, although the “actual toll is much higher.”
Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have claimed that Ukrainians do not constitute an independent nationality while Russian media has called the country “an artificial anti-Russian construction that lacks any civilizational substance” which should no longer exist as a sovereign state.
Reuters contributed to this report.