KIEV, U.S.S.R. -- Raisa G. Dashkevich stood at the edge of the ravine known as Babi Yar, where she had stood exactly 50 years before as Nazi soldiers were executing tens of thousands of Jews.
"The closer I get to the ravine, the stronger I feel," Dashkevich, a 75-year-old retired accountant, said yesterday as tears streamed down her face. "The whole tragedy goes before my eyes like a movie."
She recalled that she clasped her 3-year-old son to her breast and accepted that their lives were over. Then she heard machine-gun fire. But before the bullets reached her, she fainted and fell about 100 feet into the pit. She awoke in a pile of thousands of bodies and, miraculously, crawled out alive.
Now, 50 years later, Dashkevich was among thousands of people who flocked to Babi Yar to mark the tragedy's anniversary.
A requiem played over a loudspeaker as they gathered around a new bronze menorah near the ravine where Nazis killed 33,741 Jews in two days, just nine days after they occupied Kiev during World War II.
The Nazis kept killing Jews -- along with Gypsies, war criminals,Communists and others -- at the ravine over the next two years, until the Soviet Army regained control of Kiev. They stopped keeping count after the first several days, but estimates of the number of people killed at Babi Yar are as high as 200,000.
The mass executions at Babi Yar have long been regarded as one of the Nazis' most barbaric acts of the Holocaust.
With most able-bodied men at the front, the Jews who abandoned their homes and walked, hobbled or were carried to their deaths on Sept. 29, 1941, were mostly children, women, elderly people and invalids.
"There were so many Jews in Kiev at the time," Dashkevich said, "that from all the streets and alleys came streams of people who joined together to make a big river of people flowing toward Babi Yar."
They had been ordered to gather at an intersection not far from the Jewish cemetery. Like most of the rest of the Jews in the city, Dashkevich thought they would be put on trains and taken to a ghetto.
Together with 15 relatives, including her son, parents and three sisters, she made the 10-mile walk across the city to the wooded area surrounding Babi Yar.