Soviet-Ukrainian screenwriter, producer, and director Oleksandr Dovzhenko wrote post-liberation: “There is practically no population in Kyiv. There are knots of miserable poverty-stricken people who need help. There are no children, there are no young girls, there are no young boys. There are only elderly women and cripples.” The only European capitals under Nazi occupation longer than Kyiv are Prague, Warsaw and, arguably, Vienna. What’s On looks at the occupation of Kyiv.
Invasion And Occupation
In Ukraine, World War II is known as the Great Patriotic War, partly because the pact between Germany and the USSR initially meant Soviet non-involvement in the war raging in Europe. When war did come, it came with a vengeance. Nazi Germany invaded the USSR on 22 June 1941. By 19 September, the Ukrainian capital had been overrun. With clinical efficiency and supreme confidence, the Nazis established Reichkommissariat “Ukraina” a month before taking Kyiv. It comprised most of Ukraine (with the exception of Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Donetsk) and consisted of six general regions (Generalbezirken). The Kyiv region included the city and Kyiv and Poltava oblasts with the region’s governing body housed in the former Kyiv Military District headquarters at Bankova 11 (now the Presidential Administration of Ukraine).
The Germans didn’t govern alone, but were complemented by local self-government – “politically reliable” Ukrainians – supportive of the occupiers. And so the Kyiv City Administration assumed the running of a city so firmly under Nazi control streets were being given German names. At least, what was left of them; it was already a devastated city.
The Red Army, repelled by Nazi forces, mined and bombed Khreshchatyk, the city centre, and destroyed both bridges across the Dnipro. Factories were without equipment, water, or electricity, food stockpiles were carted away by retreating Soviet forces or poisoned, and municipal transport, communications, and water supplies were out of service. The administration did much to restore German-Kyiv; a document held in the State Archive of the Kyiv Oblast entitled “One Year in Liberated Kyiv”, as in “liberated” from the Soviets, lists the rebuilding of power plants, restoration of water supplies, a telephone exchange, and the opening of food and other stores. Meanwhile, 13,000 children 7–11 years old went back to patched-up schools. For entertainment Kyiv’s National Opera House through to Kyiv Zoo also reopened within the first year.
It was a veneer of normality, more for the occupiers than Kyiv’s citizens. The administration had to carry out the occupation authorities’ orders, meaning plundering, using city residents for work in the German war industry, and crushing dissention and resistance.
Wholesale Pillage And Bloodshed
Plunder of occupied territories was Third Reich official policy and the stripping of Ukraine was detailed in a document presented at the Nuremberg trials. It stated internal consumption of agricultural produce be reduced to the bare minimum, and is chilling reading, giving directives such as: “The destruction of unnecessary mouths (Jews)...”
Issued on the first day of occupation, the order called for Ukrainians to hand over surplus food or face death. A family was allowed no more than one-day’s supply. Ration cards allowed them to buy 200 grams of bread a day – meat, sugar and other foods were not included. Starving citizens were still required to register and report for work. The alternative was execution.
The administration played a major role in implementing measures to forcibly deport Kyiv residents to Germany. The innocuous looking building (below) on Artema 24 (which was, until the city fell, the Headquarters of Ukrainian Defence and now houses the Kyiv City Department of Vocational Education) was to serve as the station for forcible deportation, and it was here Kyiv residents were forced to register with the labour exchange. Once registered, city residents in the hundreds were sent out of Kyiv daily for forced labour. Some 120,000 people were deported from Kyiv during the first year of the occupation.
The German occupation also led to massive levels of unemployment, as few as 40,000 of Kyiv’s able-bodied population of 330,000 had jobs early in 1942 and food supplies were completely cut off.
It went from bad to worse.
Almost the entire able-bodied population was shipped off as forced labour for six months in 1942. The workforce gap had to be filled, leading to the administration’s Burgmeister (mayor) Leontiy Forostivskiy issuing a mandatory work order for children aged 11–14. Orphans and homeless children were shifted to camps situated at factories and made to work. Abuse was rife, German medics even took blood from the children for transfusions.
Taking an active part in repressions was the Ukrainian police force controlled by the administration. They were given unprecedented powers – playing judge, jury, and executioner. It was a move that placed local police on an equal footing with German Gestapo, SS, and army forces arresting, rounding up, guarding prisoner camps, executing, and deporting Kyiv civilians.
The Administration also helped the Nazis loot cultural treasures from private collections, cultural institutions, and archives, robbing Ukraine of much of its cultural heritage.
With liberation came the end of the administration, but the damage was done. At the end of the occupation, 186,000 residents remained in Kyiv, a fifth of the pre-war population.
While Kyiv civilians were suffering, the Red Army was regrouping. On 3 November 1943, the Battle for Kyiv begun with the city liberated three days later. For the past decade, the club Red Star has re-enacted the battle in what it calls Daesh Kyiv! (Give Up Kyiv) and this year’s event to mark the 70th anniversary promises to be bigger and better than ever according to club head Artem Guysinskiy.
“This year, Red Star celebrates its 10th anniversary, as well as the anniversary of Daesh Kyiv!, which the club started in November 2003. During this time, the club has grown from 30 to 500 people and has branches in all major Ukrainian cities. The festival has grown too. In 2003, it was attended by about 50 people, in 2013 we expect about 1,400 people not counting technical and other support,” he says.
As this year’s Daesh Kyiv! marks dual-anniversaries, it’s on a scale unprecedented in the club’s history, featuring more than 1,000 members of military history clubs from Ukraine and across Eastern Europe, Israel, Germany, France, and the US taking part in a battle as historically accurate as possible, Guysinskiy says. “We follow a script and all parts are planned in minute detail – there is no room for improvisation.”
As he tells it, the club’s modus operandi is simple – to preserve the memory of the Great Patriotic War now, and into the future. “It’s hard to talk about the impact on Ukraine specifically outside the political and economic framework of the Soviet UNI0N. But, for example, after the war there wasn’t a single Ukrainian family in which someone wasn’t killed or went missing.”
Taking an active part in ensuring authenticity are the dwindling numbers of veterans themselves, Guysinskiy says. “For them, the Great Patriotic War is an integral part of their lives! Veterans cry recalling their combat experience, the grief of loss and the joy of victory. But, they help a lot! They often give advice not only on combat training, but also, for example, the wearing of military uniforms.”
3 November at 13.00
Sitnyaki, Desnyanskoho district (near Troeshchina)
by Jared Morgan