June 18 (UPI) -- Jewish and advocacy groups are fighting plans for developers to build a housing property on the site of a mass grave from the Holocaust in Ukraine.
The World Jewish Congress "expressed its outrage at the prospect of construction being carried out on a plot ... containing mass graves of Jewish victims of the Holocaust."
Poltava was once home to 12,860 Jews before World War II. When the Nazis invaded Ukraine, they rounded up the Jews and put them into ghettos where they were killed in two operations in September and November of 1941. An estimated 5,000 Jews were killed, as were Russian prisoners and resistance fighters.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder called plans for the housing development at Pushkarivski Yar in Poltava "deeply troubling."
"It is critical in 2019, with rising nationalism and increasing attempts by some to whitewash history, that we work together to ensure that sites such as this one are preserved so they may serve as a reminder to the world of what can happen when hatred is permitted to thrive unchecked," Lauder said. "I am sure that, after further reflection, the Ukrainian government will act accordingly by honoring the memory of the victims and appropriately commemorating the atrocities that occurred on this hallowed ground."
The local community started a petition and presented it to the Poltava City Council to stop the construction. The issue made it to the Ministry of Culture in Kiev, which tried to intervene.
Israeli Ambassador to the Ukraine Joel Leon pleaded with councilors on behalf of all those who died in the town during the Holocaust.
"Our brother's blood cries out to me from the soil," Leon said, citing a line from the Book of Genesis.
Last year, a Holocaust memorial in Poltava was vandalized with graffiti on Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's birthday. The messages spray painted on the memorial included "Heil Hitler" and swastikas. The words "Death to Jews" was also spray painted near the memorial.