KYIV IN HISTORIOGRAPHY OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR
This was determined by decades, that ‘Western readers’ generally find a little sense in multiple geographical names correlated anyhow with the ‘Barbarossa’ plan and the War on the East. The battle for Stalingrad has become an infamously known historical symbol in military history. Yet, one and a half year before field marshal von Paulus had to prove own identity to the stunned Soviet officers within the bunker and four months before the panzer commands had to make fire under the bellies of the tanks near Moscow, Kyiv, the capital of the Soviet Ukraine, had gained a few reasons to be mentioned with ‘the most’ comparative degree.
The historiography of the first months of the war between Nazi Germany and the USSR within the summer of 1941 was intimately connected with Kyiv. This initial phase of the War in the East has been exhaustively researched by every military historian of the Second World War on the span of the last seventy years. I encourage you to take into consideration three historical matters, which generally ‘reveal’ Kyiv through the lens of the Second World War, especially for Western readers.
I would like to additionally provide my English-speaking readers with a few tips on the abbreviations and namings, which could be useful:
- USSR — Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, thus Ukrainian SSR is ‘more preferable’ in use
- USSR — Union of Soviet Socialistic Republics
- The Great Patriotic War — Soviet equivalent of the war between Germany, the AXIS and the USSR
- May 9 Victory Day Parade – Traditional victory Parade in the Union of Soviet Socialistic Republic
- ‘Crossing of Dnieper’ – Soviet equivalent of the ‘Battle of the Dnieper’
- Babi yar – a site of mass killings in the former ravine in Kyiv. Today is a memorial park, accessible to visitors
A third army group would drive south of the marshes through the Ukraine toward Kiev, its principal objective being to roll up and destroy the Soviet forces there west of the Dnieper River. Farther south German–Rumanian troops would protect the flank of the main operation and advance toward Odessa and thence along the Black Sea. Thereafter the Donets basin, where 60 percent of Soviet industry was concentrated, would be taken.
William Shirer (The rise and fall of the Third reich, 1960)
The advance of the Group Army ‘South’. This Group Army, commanded by the elderly field marshal Gerd von Rundstedt was pre-planned to invade the Southern front. Three German and two Romanian armies were to gain control over Soviet Ukraine with its rich natural and production resources. Then to advance to the Volga river and to eliminate Soviet combined forces.
The German Group Army ‘South’ by von Rundstedt made up of three armies and one panzer group, was in advance toward Kiev with a mission to eliminate Soviet forces in Galicia and Western Ukraine to the West of Dnieper river as well as to gain control over the river crossings over Dnieper near Kiev to keep offensive across the river.
Kurt von Tippelskirch (History of the Second World War, 1951)
The largest encirclement of troops in military history. A number of political, military, ideological and logistic factors, including Stalin’s’ order to hold Kyiv at any cost, finally resulted in ¾ million Soviet soldiers concentrated near the city. When this enormous amount of troops was finally outflanked, 665 000 soldiers and rebel fighters (according to the German official account) were taken as the prisoners of war. It has become what is still known as the largest encirclement in military history. On September 19, 1941, the inspired soldiers of the von Reichenau’s 6th army marched the streets of Kyiv without any idea to be encircled themselves in Stalingrad fifteen-month from that warm Autumn day.
The five days of bloody battles resulted in the first yielding prisoners. By the time the whole territory near Kiev was suppressed, more than 600 000 of soldiers were taken prisoners of war. A little over of one-third of the Red army was annihilated. Germans were enthusiastic in classifying every item of the trophies.
Alan Clark (Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1965)
The mass killings in Babi Yar. Every authoritative research of the Eastern front and the Holocaust leads its reader to this infamous event of world history and one of the largest crimes known. The tragedy of Babi Yar has become a tragic symbol of the Holocaust in the same historical way as the Auschwitz and Treblinka in Poland.
The columns were directed towards Babi Yar where ‘an entire office operation with desks had been set up’. Thirty to forty at a time were processed, but their documents were simply discarded. Instead they were beaten and pushed to an area that was overlooked by German and Ukrainian guards. There they were ‘forced to strip naked: girls, women, children, old men. No exceptions were made. Rings were ripped from the fingers of the naked men and women, and those doomed people were forced to stand at the edge of a deep ravine, where the executioners shot them at point blank range.
David Cesarani (Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews, 2016)
KYIV AND THE OCCUPATION 1941-1943
By the break of the June 22, 1941, at a time when more than 2000 km of the Eastern front was set on fire, Kyiv as the capital of the Soviet Ukraine, distanced as much as 500 km from the front lines, suffered its first air raids and first victims of the War, among the civilians. The next day witnessed the mass mobilization of the male population with only one demand to be able to hold the rifle. Nearly the same amount of their relatives, elderly persons, women, and children were ‘occupied’ in works of building up the defensive line near Kyiv. The last pre-war population count made in 1939 featured 840 000 people, which would have been enlarged to 930 000 people in the daybreak of June 22.
On September 19, 1941 the German forces penetrated Kreschatyk on two sides. The first column of these cheerful soldiers on trucks were moving from the Podol after they were previously greeted on Kurenevka. The second column were advancing the streets from Bessarabka. They were entering the city from the very battle field, being covered with mud and dust, smoked and invaded the sidewalks of Khreschatyk with clack sound and gasoline smoke.
Anatoly Kuznetsov (Babi Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel, 1966)
At this point in the narration, I would make an additional clarification to the fact that in 1943 when Kyiv was liberated, only every fifth of the pre-war population was to be found within the city. Let’s fill the gap between 930 000 people in 1941 and only 180 000 in 1943.
- 200 000 men were mobilized to the Red Army and a great part of these soldiers was killed in combat or starved to death within the POW camps, including the ones near Kyiv.
- 325 000 civilians who had permission were evacuated to the East by means of the five railway stations of the city.
- 100 000 — 150 000 citizens of Kyiv and the adjustment villages were taken to the Reich as the free working force.
- Up to 100 000 civilians, soldiers, and rebels, including 40 000 — 60 000 Jews were murdered in the mass killing actions, lost lives in prisons, labor camps, died from starvation and diseases.
During the infamous murders at Babi Yar outside Kiev in September 1941, for example, a combination of soldiers from SS police battalions, Einsatzgruppen and local collaborators murdered nearly 34,000 Jews in just two days by shooting them. This was killing on a scale that no death camp ever matched over a similar period. What gas chambers offered was not a way of killing more people in a single day than shooting, but a method of making the killing easier – for the killers.
Laurence Rees (The Holocaust. A new history, 2017)
The devastation of Kyiv in the span of more than two years also has its historical reasons. Battle for Kyiv itself in July-September 1941. The intentional devastations of the retreating Soviet troops as well as the sabotage against the German occupation forces and finally battles for the liberation of Kyiv in October-November 1943. After the liberation of Kyiv and the ‘re-entry’ of the pre-war population, demobilization of soldiers, recovery of the industry, the May 1945 victory parade witnessed the 500 000 of population.
Brilliant camouflage, deception operations elsewhere and a lack of Luftwaffe air reconnaissance led the Germans to overlook this particular threat. When the two armies burst out of the bridgehead they were able to encircle Kiev, which fell on 6 November, the day before the celebrations in Moscow of the anniversary of the Revolution. Stalin was exultant.
Antony Beevor (The Second World War, 2012)
HISTORY OF THE WW2 MEMORIAL COMPLEX IN KIEV
It took almost two years and the efforts of the half of the total forces of the Soviet army to gain back the Ukrainian territory, which had been conquered for less than four months of the year 1941. In January 1943, at the time when the 6th army of Paulus was on its last breath in Stalingrad, a new advance of the Red Army succeeded to liberate selected north-east areas of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR and should not be confused with the ‘Union of Soviet Socialistic Republic’). On May 19, 1944, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine approved the project of a pre-planned historical exhibition called ‘Ukrainian partisans in their fight against the German-fascist invaders’. Back then, the Crimean peninsula had been liberated and the new front line was now close to the Romanian border.
By the middle of May 1944 the Soviet-German Front came to a relative standstill. Except for the enormous «Belorussian Bulge» in the middle, where the Germans were still nearly 250 miles inside Soviet territory, the Soviet-German Front ran in an almost straight line from the Gulf of Finland, near the former Estonian border, down to Northern Rumania
Alexander Werth (Russia at war, 1964)
It took a while, in fact, two years to establish the first large exhibition devoted to the Ukrainian SSR in the Great Patriotic War (Soviet equivalent of the war between Germany and the AXIS and the USSR), which was finally opened on April 30, 1946. 19 theme-based halls included almost 15 000 of the exhibit museum units. In fact, the main idea of that first after-war exhibition was the importance of the Communist Party participation and Joseph Stalin personally in the partisan movement, which was a half-truth in a way it was misrepresented. The Communist-themed communique of the exhibition declared that it was ‘comrade Stalin’ who in fact had invented a new strategy of the partisan war and ‘instructed’ Ukrainian fighters to perform his undoubtful ideas, under the careful supervision of the local communist officials. Despite this patronal wrench of history, the museum was closed in 1950. Furthermore, the exhibition items were not lost, rather found their place within the dusty shelves.
The partisan movement of Ukraine gained unprecedented scale. This energy of the Ukrainian people in a struggle with the enemy was only able to be born in the name of out great cause and for the sake of triumph of the Communism ideas. The exhibition reflects the triumph of the Stalin’s national cohesion. The representatives of every nation of the multinational Soviet Union fought in the ranks of the Ukrainian partisan movement.
Exhibition guidebook, 1947
The partisan movement, sustaining armed resistance behind the German lines, began in June 1941 and became one of the most notable features of Russia’s war. By the end of September the NKVD claimed that 30,000 guerrilla fighters were operating in Ukraine alone. It was impossible for the invaders to secure the huge wildernesses behind the front.
Mah Hastings (All Hell Let Loose. The World at War 1939-1945, 2011)
On October 17, 1974, at the lapse of a quarter of a century, «The Ukrainian State Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War of 1941 – 1945» was officially opened in Klov Palace in Kyiv. This gorgeous building built back in the XVIII century and later ornamented by the Ukrainian artists, was now predominated with the importance of the Second World War. The museum archives were constantly expanding with tens of thousands of items from all over the USSR. In a little while, the Academic Society of the Ukrainian SSR received approval of the Communist Party on creating a full-fledged memorial complex to exhibit a large amount of the historical heritage.
As early as during the conceptualization phase, a group of Soviet sculptors and architects made agree on the area of 10 hectares to be allocated for construction. In the course of tours along Kyiv, the experts agreed to create a new memorial complex on the banks of the Dnieper river in order to make the future parts of the composition, including the large statue, visible from any point of the city. In 1978 the members of the Ukrainian Politburo were initiated into the miniature of the upcoming complex and gave their approval. It took three intense construction years to create a memorial complex on the Dnieper and the opening was set on May 9, 1981.
Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the governing Communist Party of the Soviet Union, was the main guest of the upcoming event of great national importance. A day before the leader of the state was ‘rewarded’ with his fourth title of Hero of the Soviet Union and the artists now had to make stylistic amendments in his portrait with yet three stars, previously exhibited within the Hall of Fame. The leader of the Communist world, who at that time was destined to live only a little bit more than one year, did cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony. The May 9 Victory Day Parade of that year was celebrated with grandiosity.
WW2 KYIV MUSEUM AND MEMORIAL COMPLEX TODAY
From the very day, Leonid Brezhnev cut the ribbon on May 9, 1981, the Memorial complex in Kyiv has been visited by more than 30 millions of guests from 150 countries. In a span of the past decades, the archive collections of the WW2 museum beneath the ‘The Motherland Monument’ have amounted up the fantastic 400 000 of items with only 5% to be exhibited now to the public. In 2015 the «The Ukrainian State Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War of 1941 – 1945» was renamed to ‘National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War’. The modern territory of 10 hectares now spaces imposing historical monuments, which can easily excite all interested in the Second World War, the Eastern front in particular.
MONUMENT TO THE SOLDIERS, WHO FELL IN THE GREAT PATRIOTIC WAR
In contrast to the more common historical image of the soldiers striking a combative pose, this four-meter statue is devoted to those millions of soldiers who fell before the end of the war and had no chance to celebrate the victory parade. This man engraved with four meters of bronze symbolizes a terrible loss of the Soviet soldiers who fell in the Second World War, killed in combat or died within the POW camps. The statue reflects a man with a fatal wound. A metal plate in a form of a shell fragment, set in the ground, was entitled with the ‘ЗАГИБЛИМ’ (FALLEN) inscription.
These men suffered the initial bloodletting and later brought the Red army to the win. The essential point to remember is that millions died on that way to gain glory, with the same talant.
David Glantz (Stumbling Colossus, 1998)
Each of three open sites once placed on the come-down to the central part of the Memorial complex, exhibits three authentic artillery field guns of 1942. The most ‘production artillery gun’ of the Red army has gained this historical status in large part because of the assembly line nature of production, at that point unique for the participants of the Second World War. ZIS-3 guns entered the mass manufacturing back in February 1942 to become a standard-bearer of the artillery arms of the Eastern front.
This particular model was poorly effective against the modern German tanks such as Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger and PzKpfw V «Panther», best-in-class in Wehrmacht. On the other hand, mass production ensured a quantitative superiority up to the end of the war. Although the artillery guns generally deliver fire from distance, the Soviet soldiers also used these guns in direct combat on the battlefield to destroy the German tanks and manpower. The weighty guns were moved by means of horses or with bare hands. After the Second World War ZIS-3 guns continued service far beyond the Soviet army within the third world countries of the Communist world.
Progress was still slow for the first two days, but once again it was the Soviet heavy artillery and the katyusha rocket launchers which made the first breakthroughs possible. Iron-hard ground also made the shells much more lethal, with surface explosions.
Antony Beevor (The Fall of Berlin 1945, 2002)
OPEN-AIR MUSEUM OF THE MILITARY MACHINERY
‘National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War’ in Kyiv promptly involve its visitors with an open-air museum, modest in size, yet impressing with a number of pieces of military equipment and machinery of the WW2 and beyond. This historical walk along with the ranks of the most recognized mechanic symbols of the Eastern front to be accompanied with informational metal plates with short characteristics, yet only in Ukrainian. Devotees of the military history would easily recognize tanks and tankettes of the period with a legendary T-34 as the cherry on top of the exhibition. The right-wing of the open-air site is being dominated by planes, including the famous LI-2 cargo plane, which can be examined at a nominal charge. The exhibition goes ahead with a number of guns of the Eastern front from 75 to 155 caliber: artillery pieces, field guns, mortars, armored vehicles and towing boats, trucks and self-propelled guns, motorboats and torpedoes, world-recognized ‘Katyusha’ rocket launcher, also known as the Stalin’s organ.
In July the enemy suffered heavy losses of 3900 tanks which could not be recouped with a machinery they had produced between January and July. We can make the same conclusion regarding the August. In the context of the current production volume, russians have two possible ways of doing: to replace the losses of the forces or to create new 30 tank brigades.
Franz Halder (War diary, Volume 3: The Russian campaign, 1964)
‘’TO THE HEROES OF THE FRONT AND REAR” SCULPTURAL GALLERY
This impressive stone memorial was designed to allegorize a dug-out shelter which suffered critical damage to uncover a bronze gallery. Three separate stone inscriptions within a front-side form one emotional statement. ‘Their heroic deeds would live forever. Their names are immortal’. The memorial itself includes four interconnected galleries with more than a hundred bronze statues of up to 5.5 meters high.
Food from Ukraine was as important to the Nazi vision of an eastern empire as it was to Stalin’s defense of the integrity of the Soviet Union. Stalin’s Ukrainian “fortress” was Hitler’s Ukrainian “breadbasket.” The German army general staff concluded in an August 1940 study that Ukraine was “agriculturally and industrially the most valuable part of the Soviet Union.”
Timothy Snyder (Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, 2010)
- THE FIRST FRONTIER BATTLES. A gallery symbolizes the courage of the frontier contact troops of the Soviet army, who suffered the German invasion within the first days of the war in the East in June-July 1941.
- UNBROKEN. Statues impersonate the spirit of the Soviet people, who were not broken under the occupation between the years of 1941 and 1944.
- RESISTANCE MOVEMENT. Bronze statues of men and women, young and senior, who took up arms to fight against the occupation, behind the enemy lines at the expense of one’s life.
- REAR TO THE FRONT. The most recognized statue of this very composition symbolizes a lone mother, distanced from the other figures, who did give her sons to the front. The gallery honors the great sacrifice of the civilians.
The German methods of administration, particularly the methods of Erich Koch, a Reichskommissar of Ukraine, turned Ukrainian people from our friends into enemies. Unfortunately, the military institutions failed to stand against these brutal policy, which had been implemented by the Party and local administration, generally without any involvement of the Wehrmacht.
Heinz Guderian (Panzer leader, 1950)
THE ‘FIRE OF GLORY’ CUP
One of the high spots of the Memorial complex gives the visitors a panoramic view of the magnificent architectural composition, known as the ‘Fire of Glory’. This imposing cup across a diameter of 16 meters has an ‘Undying Glory to the Heroes’ inscription, which honors the tragic sacrifice, which has been made at the altar of great victory. The opening ceremony of this very monument was performed on the same day as the whole Complex was inaugurated. On May 9, 1981, the flame was brought here from the ‘Park of Glory’ and the Monument to the unknown soldier.
The bulk of the population was expected to be dramatically reduced by starvation. German estimates of the numbers run into millions as the cities in Ukraine and the whole food-deficit area in the north were to be deprived of food, which was seized for the German army or shipped to Central Europe. The surviving peasants were to work in a retained collective farm system producing food for the Germans. But what about their future?
Gerhard Weinberg (The World at Arms, 1994)
THE MAIN SQUARE AND THE “CROSSING OF THE DNIPRO” STATUARY
Once we have walked through the Sculptural gallery, we found ourselves within the main square of the whole Memorial complex. Starting from the opening day back in 1981, this square has witnessed every of the May 9 Victory Day Parades in Kyiv with mass marches, laying flowers in front of the monuments and speeches of the Ukrainian presidents and foreign guests. The open site can space more than 30 000 visitors at one time.
‘The Crossing of Dnieper’ sculptural composition stands apart from the spacious square. Made of two parts and fifteen bronze statues of soldiers, it honors one of the largest advancing campaigns of the Eastern front. The battle for the Dnieper back in August-December 1943 cost a half millions of lives on both sides in total.
Despite the numerical superiority of the enemy, they failed to make use of a favourable moment to cross the Dnieper river on a distance from our own forces, who had pulled in troops on the banks. At the same time the fact that the enemy succeeded in capturing a number of base areas was not to be prevented.
Erich von Manstein (lost Victories, 1955)
HERO CITIES CARVING
The visitors of the Memorial complex rarely pay historical attention to a marble wall beneath the imposing Motherland Monument, which honors the names of the Soviet cities. An inscription next to the entrance to the Museum presents such words: GLORY TO THE HERO CITIES. The marble wall memorizes the glory of the 13 Soviet cities, which have gained this historically prestigious title after the Second World War.
Moscow — Leningrad (Saint-Petersburg) — Volgograd (Stalingrad) — Kiev — Minsk — Odessa — Sevastopol — Novorossiysk — Kerch — Tula — Brest fortress (not a city) — Murmansk — Smolensk.
It was fifteen minutes after four o’clock on the morning of 22 June 1941. At that moment, the German invasion of the Soviet Union began. In its first hours, German bombers struck at sixty-six Soviet aerodromes, destroying many of their aircraft on the ground. At the same time, five selected Soviet cities were subjected to aerial bombardment
Martin Gilbert (The Second World War, 1989)
THE MOTHERLAND MONUMENT
The highlight of the Memorial Complex in Kyiv of 102 meter high has found its way among the tallest and most recognized statues all over the world. Once designed to be built on a hill over the Dnieper river, The Motherland Monument dominates the Kyiv panorama and can be noticed from almost any point of the capital. This legendary military statue was built to stand against the earthquake of magnitude 9. A figure of a woman of 450 tonnes with a sword and a shield is placed on a pedestal of 40 meters high with the ‘Museum of Ukraine in the Second World War’ beneath.
In its most symbolic way of understanding, The Motherland Monument protects Kyiv with its shield with dimensions of 12*8 meters and with a steel sword of 16 meters long. The constructors of the statue had to build up a 100-meter crane first to perform the assembling of the very monument. The visitors can experience the panorama over Kyiv from two viewing points of 36.6 and 91 meters high respectively.
THE MUSEUM OF UKRAINE IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR (KYIV WW2 MUSEUM)
This Museum in Kyiv is among the largest military museums in the world, has an exhibit of 17 000 items accessible to the public, yet only 5% of the total 400 000 collections. The sixteen halls of the historical exhibition make its way along with all the main events of the Second World War with a history of Ukraine in particular. The exposition originates with the German territory expansions in Europe back in the 1930s, German and Soviet invasion to Poland and the War in the West in 1939-1941. Each historical hall is accompanied by booklets in Ukrainian and English.
The museum collection indeed impresses with its historical variety and diversity and covers all the sides in the war, including the AXIS countries and the ALLIES. You would be able to experience the trophy German machinery and weapon, pocket vocabularies and strategic maps of the Barbarossa plan of invasion, NSDAP party cards, pieces of uniforms, photo albums and badges, bulleted standards, thousands of shells, empty gas-bags, skeletons of the planes, cloth of the concentration camps prisoners, replicas of the bunkers. One of the halls turned to be a ‘Hall of Memory’ to the victims of the Holocaust. The large marble hall on the upper floor of the museum, known as the ‘Hall of Fame’, honors the names of the Soviet heroes of the war.
Dnieper. What a magnificent river. The third longest river in Europe after Volga and Danube and the second in the European Russia. It streams for 2283 kilometers and runs into a Black Sea. It is more than a river rather a line of life for a foodful Ukraine and a cradle for soviet nationhood.
Paul Carell (Scorched earth, 1966)