National Memorial Complex, Khatyn - A view from our expert author

Pay your respects at the National Memorial Complex at Khatyn, the village razed by the Nazis in 1943.

If you take only one out-of-town trip while in Minsk, then do try to make it this one. Only 75km from the capital, this memorial complex bears witness to the horrors of Nazi barbarism during the Great Patriotic War. It was constructed on the site of the former village of Khatyn, which was razed to the ground in the spring of 1943 and its inhabitants brutally butchered. At the centre of the complex is a truly astonishing bronze sculpture, the 6m-high The Unconquered Man. The tragedy of Khatyn was not just an isolated episode in this tumultuous war, for the experience was replicated many times over on the territory of the Soviet Union. It is said that the inhabitants of 618 Belarusian villages were burned alive during the occupation in SS punishment operations against partisan groups. Of these villages, 185 were never rebuilt and have simply vanished from the face of the earth. Overall, every fourth Belarusian perished during the war: a total of 2.2 million people. This figure included the 380,000 who were deported to Germany as slave labourers, never to return home. A staggering 209 cities and townships and 9,200 villages were destroyed. So catastrophic was the impact on the population that it did not recover to its pre-war total until 1971. Every visitor to Belarus is struck by the large number of war memorials that exist and the extent to which the conflict continues to dominate the national psyche. A visit to Khatyn helps to place all of this into the right context.

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