The Soviet Liberation of Kiev November 1943
Aerial bombardment of Kiev began on 22 June 1941, the very first day of Adolf Hitler’s monumental assault on the Soviet Union code-named Operation Barbarossa. The Nazi armies advanced quickly. In the first three weeks of fighting alone, the Soviet Army lost two million men, 3,500 tanks, and 6,000 aircraft. On June 27 machinery and inventories began to be evacuated from Kiev’s arsenal, which required 1,100 railway cars. Over the next two months, 197 enterprises were dismantled and sent eastward. Kiev’s ‘‘Bolshevik’’ plant, for example, was reassembled near Sverdlovsk, in the Urals. In early July, some two hundred thousand Kievans began to construct antitank and anti-infantry fortifications around the city.
Stalin had initially refused Ukrainian Communist Party boss Nikita Khrushchev’s recommendation to abandon Kiev, but given the hopelessness of the military situation, relented on 17 September. On 21 September, the battle for Kiev ended. The Germans captured some 665,000 Soviet troops in the encirclement of Kiev, which Hitler called ‘‘the greatest battle in world history,’’ but in reality the victory gave the Germans no strategic advantage. By October, half of Kiev’s 850,000 residents had been evacuated, mobilized into the Red Army, or killed.
The German occupation of Kiev lasted for two years. Policies designed to starve the remaining population were put into place; already in November 1941 one onlooker described Kiev ‘‘as a city of beggars.’’ Epidemics swept the city; murder for bread became an everyday occurrence. Kievans were not allowed to enter many shops, trams, and theaters, and curfew was set at 6:00 P.M. Streets and buildings were given German names, and at least twenty-three German industrial enterprises were established in the city. By mid- 1943, however, about eighty partisan and sabotage units were operating in or near the city. Perhaps twenty thousand people were involved in the Resistance, which carried out some nine hundred operations, mostly against railway lines and roadways, supply depots, and police facilities.
Although Hitler’s goal of reducing Kiev to rubble was averted because of a shortage of bombs, by the time the Nazi occupation was broken, on 6 November 1943, eight hundred industrial enterprises and six thousand buildings (about one-sixth of the total number of structures in Kiev) had been destroyed. Soviet sources estimate that two hundred thousand Kievans were killed during the war and another hundred thousand were sent into Germany as conscript laborers. Valuable books, archives, and records had been looted from libraries, museums, and various institutes. The Khreshchatyk and the central district lay in ruins, and an estimated two hundred thousand Kievans were left without housing. Rationing of basic goods continued until December 1947. Kiev was declared a ‘‘Hero City’’ by the Soviet government, but the human tragedy of the battle for Kiev was not discussed openly until the Soviet political climate thawed briefly under Khrushchev (now Soviet premier) in 1962–1963. In January 1963, Leonid Volynsky published a short story in the journal Novy Mir (New World) about the battle, calling it ‘‘a vast and inexplicable tragedy.’’