The Great Patriotic War in Ukraine. A historical retrospective by Rostislav Ischenko

The following article by a Ukrainian politolog and historian in exile Rostislav Ischenko provides a much-needed context for both the current proliferation of Nazism in Ukraine, and the Banderite phenomenon of WWII.


The Great Patriotic War in Ukraine

by Rostislav Ischenko, published 09.05.2020 on the portal Ukraina.ru and at the open blog platform Kont.

It is sometimes said that the war started earlier for Ukraine than for the rest of the USSR. Thinking of the fact that when Hitler attacked Poland, the Western Ukrainian and Western Belorussian lands were part of the latter and thus also came under attack

German checkpoints
German checkpoint

This, however, is not entirely true. By the way, this interpretation of events has almost got no traction in Belorussia. And this is logical. The fact is that the German troops attacking Poland did not advance further than the Brest-Lvov line. Serious fighting was only for Lvov over the course of 2 days. After defeating the Polish group that retreated to the city, the Germans abandoned the city, which the Red Army entered, and it, along with all the Western Ukrainian territories, was annexed to the Ukrainian SSR.

If anyone in Ukraine entered the war on September 1, 1939, it was Ukrainian nationalists who opposed the Polish state on the side of Nazi Germany, just as they sided with Hitler against the USSR on June 22, 1941.

This difference between the Western Ukrainian territories and the Ukrainian SSR, the Belorussian SSR, and even the territories of Western Belarus (which were part of Poland before 1939) was well understood by Hitler. The Nazi dictator clearly understood the mentality of the peoples who inhabited the UkSSR much better than his generals and party bonzes. Let’s see how he administratively divided the occupied territories of the USSR.

It would seem that the easiest way was to leave the previous administrative division and simply appoint new managers. But Hitler allocates a separate administrative unit from Ukraine “District Galicia“, which is attached to the “General governorship” – the territory of the former Polish state, annexed by Germany and included in the Reich as a special territorial unit.

The “District of Belostock”, included in the General governorship was also allocated in the Western Belorussian lands. The only difference was that the “District of Belostock” was populated mainly by poles, which is why a significant part of this territory was transferred to Poland by Stalin after the war. But the “District of Galicia” was inhabited by Galicians (seemingly Ukrainians).

What was the difference between the “General governorship” and the Reich Commissariat?

The territory of the “General government” was included in the Reich, and the population was subject to Germanization (as, by the way, the population of the “protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia”, the former Czech Republic). The regime was, of course, just as harsh and the “enemies of the Reich” were mercilessly destroyed, often together with the civilian population. But there was a significant difference from the Reich Commissariat. The latter were considered by Hitler as territories subject to German colonization. The population of these territories was to be decimated by at least half, the rest were to become slaves and servants of the German colonists. There was no question of any Germanization (i.e., assimilation and gradual conversion to Germans). Save for exceptional cases and by special order.

Another interesting fact was that the territory of Belorussia did not receive its own administration. It was divided between the Reich Commissariat “Ukraine” and “OST” (the Baltic States). And it was planned to later include the lands up to Rostov, Stalingrad, Tambov and Voronezhthe into the territory of the Reich Commissariat “Ukraine”.

In fact, Hitler was implementing the ideas of the Ukrainian nationalists, classifying the Galicians among the nations subject to Germanization, while he was going to “Galicize” the rest of the territory of Ukraine (including those Great Russian regions that the Galicians claim) using the same methods that the Poles used in the XVI-XVIII centuries (and the Austrians in the XIX century) to turn the former Russian Galicia into the anti-Russian enclave – half of the population was to be destroyed, and the other half to be deprived of the language, culture, education and turned into working cattle.

Hitler was not mistaken about the capabilities of the Einsatzgruppen. Despite all their zeal, they were not able to catch and destroy even all the Jews in the occupied territories. Despite the fact that they tried very hard, and in the Baltics and Galicia they also relied on the help – and even the initiative – of the local population. How could they manage the elimination of half of the 70 million population of these regions (of which only 41.5 million people lived in Ukraine at the beginning of the war). Even if you subtract the conscripted in the army and evacuated with factories to the rear, as well as “Europeans” from the “District of Galicia”, while adding the inhabitants of the areas included into the Reich Commissariat of Belarusian Polesie, then you still got about 35 million people under the rule of Reichskommissar Erich Koch.

The occupation administration had neither the strength nor the means to shoot 15-20 million people in the occupied territories of the Reich Commissariat “Ukraine” alone. The Germans barely had time to shoot and hang Jews, Communists, partisans, and underground workers. According to Hitler’s plan, the civilian population was to self-destruct.

Hitler forbade the Wehrmacht and the rear administration to provide the population with food, medical care, and restore destroyed public services to the extent greater, than what was required to serve the Germans. Rations and/or wages could only be received by those who worked for the occupiers or in the factories that they needed.

Ukraine, in comparison with other occupied Soviet republics (Belorussia, Moldavia, and the Baltic States), was a fairly urbanized region. At the same time, a significant part of the urban population lived in large cities (Kiev, Harkov, Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozhye, Voroshilovgrad, Stalino) and did not have the opportunity (and need, before the war) to keep livestock, chickens, or grow something on the plots of land, as residents of small towns with a developed private sector did. Of course, even now there is a small private sector in major cities, while back then it was more developed, but by the beginning of the war millions of people have long become accustomed to rely on wages and the state to provide food delivery, communal services, baking bread, etc.

One day it all ended. People were facing the threat of starvation. My grandmother, who survived the occupation in Kiev, recalled how my mother, who was 11 months old at the beginning of the German occupation and only three years old at the end, asked her for “at least a crust of bread”. The occupation authorities did everything possible not just to leave the population without support. They also prevented independent food production in every possible way.

In many Soviet films about the war, we see footage of raids on markets, when people were indiscriminately captured. This was not because the Germans had nothing better to do. Barter trade on spontaneous markets was strictly prohibited. Of course, the occupiers themselves profited from this trade, so they looked at the existence of such markets through their fingers, but they periodically organized raids and the ones unlucky to be caught, could be sent to work in Germany (which killed 2/5th of those stolen into slavery – almost two million out of five), or could be simply shot for failure to comply with the orders of the German command. So any trip for food was akin to a reconnaissance trip at the front.

My grandmother went to exchange things for food outside of Kiev. With my little mother in her arms, she reached Zhashkov. Today it is about 150 kilometres from Kiev on the Odessa highway. But back then this arrow-straight road did not exist. The old road went through villages and towns, not past them. It looped, gaining new kilometres. So then the trip to Zhashkov meant overcoming 200-250 kilometres there and the same amount back.

But it was not enough to barter for food. It still had to be brought home. At the entrance to the city, there were patrols that checked those who entered for food delivery. Under the pretext of prohibiting spontaneous trade, the occupiers banned any import of agricultural products into the city, except for those with special permits. Hitler demanded that resources should not be spent on feeding the local population, but sent to the Reich in as large amounts as possible.

By the way, collaborators who served in the auxiliary police, showed a special zeal in the seizure of products. The Germans couldn’t have done it without them. And in principle, the soldiers of the Wehrmacht were more inclined to show humanity than domestic traitors, a significant part of the leadership of which was imported from Galicia (for the transfer of experience to those recruited from among criminals and other local marginals).

My grandmother remembered for the rest of her life the only German soldier who had taken a rooster from her during the occupation. But she did not remember the policemen who tried to catch them and deliver them somewhere (be it to the commandant’s office, or even to the Gestapo), because she met them all too often, and they were all too zealous to “check”, “seize” , etc.

As a result of the interaction of two factors — the scrupulous implementation of Hitler’s order by the Germans to stop feeding the population of the occupied territories and the zeal shown by the local collaborators in the destruction of their compatriots — Ukraine lost 8-10 million people during the war, of which about half (about four million) were killed at the front, the rest of the dead were civilians.

And the biggest losses were suffered by major cities. In Kiev, of the 800,000 inhabitants who were present there at the beginning of the war, the Red Army was met by less than 180,000 people. In Harkov, Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozhye, the situation was similar (with slight deviations in one direction or the other).

It was then that the blurring of the Russian identity of the Ukrainian cities began. Their new population consisted mainly of the people from the Ukrainian villages, who, even in the second or third generations, felt hostility towards urban culture (the classic example is the Yushchenko brothers). As a result, even in 2014, only 46% of the residents of Kiev in the survey said that they were born in Kiev. But most of these “born in Kiev” are Kievans in the first generation – the children of parents who only yesterday moved from remote Galician villages to the capital “to look for happiness and climb up the ranks”.

Should we be surprised that the grandsons of the collaborators from the time of the Great Patriotic War, having grabbed power, continue the work on the cause of their grandfathers to destroy the alien to them Russian urban culture of Ukraine? Here’s just one problem: Ukraine was a country of cities. There was no other Ukraine and there can’t be any other Ukaine.

By destroying the urban culture, neo-collaborators are destroying Ukraine, and then they wonder why, the more fully they implement their program, the less of the Ukrainian statehood remains. Because even Hitler had intended to use them exclusively as the killers and destroyers. He did not plan to create any “Ukrainian state”, because of the complete inability of the Galician peasants to build a state. The best they could hope for was the position of slave-overseer. And that is about the same limit to their dreams today on the Polish, Finnish and other European plantations.

But slaves do not build states, even if they are “senior slaves”.

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