WORLD EXCLUSIVE: For several centuries, Khreshchatyk, the Central Boulevard and main square of Kyiv (Kiev), capital city of Ukraine was considered the heart of Kyiv. During World War II, this magnificent boulevard equal to similar in Paris, and the streets adjacent to it was completely destroyed, yet few people know about the devastation.
But that the destruction of one of Europe’s oldest and most beautiful metropolis was not carried out by German armed forces but by the Soviet Union’s NKVD units. This is known only to a small circle of historians. A few state-sponsored journalists spun the story the Soviet way. The documents on the destruction of Kyiv remain closed and are unlikely to come into being in the near future.
In the middle of July 1941, the political leadership of the USSR rightly assumed that the Red Army would flee Kyiv, despite Stalin’s hysteria on this issue. A burnt earth policy then proceeded and a cunning strategy was devised to destroy Kyiv and at the same time decimate the German occupiers ~ after the Red army had fled.
Following the instructions of higher command, the engineering units of the 37th Army (Red Army) and the NKVD units began large-scale work mining the capital of Ukraine. Explosives were laid under all power plants, water pipelines, railway transport and communications facilities, bridges across the River Dnieper and approaches to them. All important administrative buildings were to be destroyed
Saint Sophia Cathedral was saved from destruction by the then director of the reserve, architect Oleksa Povstenko, who told the miners who arrived with explosives ready to be placed in the basements that the cellars did not exist.
Radio-controlled explosive devices were installed to the charges, triggered by a radio signal from a long distance, up to 400 km, which was the latest secret development of the Soviet mine school. The peculiarity of such an explosive device was that it could be in ‘sleeping’ mode for up to 40 days and was activated at any time after receiving a specific radio signal at the frequencies of civil radio broadcasting. The second feature of radio-controlled charges was their mass. From a ton to three to five tons of TNT was laid to a great depth, which not only made it difficult for the enemy to identify them but also ensured a strong explosion, which swept away not only a house with a foundation, but destroyed buildings in the entire quarter.
One of the specialists in their development and use was Colonel I. G. Starinov, who was also involved in the use of explosive devices by sabotage units. In his memoirs, he recalls that he was in Kyiv for a week, starting on August 1, 1941.
The truth about the mining of Kyiv is not written in the book, but there is a detailed story about the training of miners-saboteurs for the partisans. Insiders know that partisans in those days were mainly special detachments of NKVD officers and troops.
However, a whole section is devoted to the laying of radio-controlled mines in Kharkiv, from which it follows that it was similar mine-laying that the colonel in Kyiv was engaged in. This was confirmed in the book by Marshal of the Engineering Troops V. K. Kharchenko with the strange title ‘Special Purpose’, which notes that 50 sappers-miners of ‘special purpose’, commanded by Colonel Starinov, worked in Kyiv. They were assisted by the miners of the 18th NKVD division located here. The mining operations were carried out in strict secrecy.
According to the recollections of residents, in the cellars of the famous Kyiv skyscraper, the house of Ginzburg on the street. Institutskoy, 16-18 (Hotel Ukraine) explosives in wooden boxes were carried in by NKVD men from their building opposite (now October Palace). Thanks to the vigilance of the people of Kyiv and German agents working on information gathered, many buildings were subsequently cleared of mines by German troops in the first days of the occupation of Kyiv.
On September 17, 1941, units of the Red Army began to retreat from Kyiv. On the same day, power plants and water supply systems went out of order. Anarchy was soon to follow. On September 19, behind the retreating Soviet Red Army troops, the metal trusses of both the railway and auto-horse bridges across the Dnieper were dynamited, before all of the Red Army troops managed to cross to the left bank.
By lunchtime on the same day, the advanced units of the German Sixth Army entered Kyiv. Knowing about the mining and listening to the rumour started up by the underground workers that as soon as the electrics were turned on, the whole city would explode, the German sappers began to clear the charges and explosives.
The Opera House, the Lenin Museum, the State Bank, the University, the Vladimir Cathedral and government buildings were saved. Having pulled from the building of the Lenin Museum 3, 5 tons of explosives along with radio-controlled devices, German troops put their finds on public display, proving that the Bolsheviks even mined their own shrines. Judging by the report of the city police chief, the sappers had by this time removed 670 mines from public buildings.
A sabotage and reconnaissance group of the NKVD operated in the city under the leadership of the captain of foreign intelligence Ivan Kudrya. One of his tasks was to find out whom and when will detonate the explosives and transmit information to the Centre via a powerful walkie-talkie installed in the safe apartment of pensioner Linevich. In July 1942, this group was identified by the Gestapo and eliminated.
Only in 1963, when Premier Nikita Khrushchev was in power, the KGB of Ukraine issued a certificate for printing on the results of the activities of the Kudrya’s group, which was credited with organising the arson of the cinema and the explosion of the radio warehouse on September 24-28, 1941.
Their involvement in a series of explosions and fires on Khreshchatyk was not mentioned. In 1965, Pravda published a decree on awarding I. Kudra the posthumous title of Hero of the Soviet Union without any comments.
On September 24, the first explosion was heard in the premises of the Children’s World at the corner of Khreshchatyk and Proreznaya street, 28/2, where the population, by order of the occupation authorities, handed over radios and hunting weapons. This house also housed the German commandant’s office, the gendarmerie, and occupying officers lodging on the upper floors.
The explosion was so powerful that glass flew out not only on Khreshchatyk, but also on the streets of Pushkinskaya and Meringa parallel to it. Glass fell from all floors on both Germans and Kievites, wounding many. A column of fire and smoke rose at the corner of Proreznaya. Crowds of people ran, some away from the explosion, some, on the contrary, to the place of the explosion, to take a look.
At the first moment, the Germans were somewhat confused, but then they began to build a chain, surrounded the burning house and seized everyone who was at that moment in front of the house or in the yard. All those arrested were pushed into the nearby Komsomolets Ukrainy cinema. Soon it was packed with wounded, beaten and bloody people.
At that moment in the ruins of the same house, a second explosion of the same force occurred. The walls collapsed, and the commandant’s office with the gendarmerie was turned into a mountain of bricks. Khreshchatyk was covered with dust and smoke. The third explosion blew up a house opposite with a cafe-confectionery full of gas masks and German institutions.
The triggered explosive devices in neighbouring houses, in particular, in the Spartak hotel (Khreshchatyk, 30/1) and the commandant’s office with the gendarmerie turned into a mountain of bricks. Khreshchatyk was covered with dust and covered with smoke. The third explosion blew up a house opposite with a cafe-confectionery filled with gas masks and nearby German-occupied offices.
Explosions were distributed at irregular intervals in the most unexpected and different parts of Khreshchatyk, and nothing in this system of explosions could be understood.
They distant-detonated explosions continued until September 28, spreading to the surrounding streets. A magnificent circus building was blown into the air, and its twisted dome was thrown by a blast wave across the street. Next to the circus was the Continental Hotel then occupied by occupiers. The floors and partitions of most of the buildings were wooden, firewood and coal were stored in sheds and basements, and kerosene was stored in kitchens. On the upper floors and attics of the buildings, were many boxes of ammunition and bottles with a combustible mixture. The Soviet military command was determined to fight in Kyiv for every street, for which the whole city was ditched and built up with barricades.
In many apartments of the evacuees of Kyiv, for which orders were issued to the new NKVD occupiers, there were also ‘blanks’ of explosive and combustible materials. When the fire was approaching them, these boxes hooted with a heavy characteristic explosion-sigh, pouring streams of fire over the buildings. This finished Khreshchatyk. A catastrophic fire began on the main street of Kyiv.
The fire spread up the Proreznaya Street and spread to both sides of Khreshchatyk. At night, the people of Kyiv watched big lightning, which was constantly growing. Since the water supply was destroyed, it was impossible to extinguish the fires. From somewhere, the Germans delivered long hoses, stretched them from the Dnieper itself through the Pioneer Park and began to pump water with pumps of fire engines. But the water did not always reach Khreshchatyk: among the thickets of the park, someone cut the hoses until guards were sent to patrol the hoses.
The Germans allocated teams that went to the homes of the entire centre of Kyiv, driving residents out into the street, evacuating children and the sick. Residents, who managed to grab what they could and some in what they stood in, fled to the parks over the Dnieper, to Vladimirskaya Gorka, to Shevchenko Boulevard, to the stadium. There were many people burned and wounded. The victims spent the night on boulevards and in parks.
The fire expanded: the parallel Pushkinskaya and Meringa streets, the transverse streets Proreznaya, Institutskaya, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels were blazing.
After several desperate days of fighting the fire, the Germans stopped resistance, extinguished the infernos, in which, it seems, and nothing was left alive, and from there on only watched the fire from afar.
After the cessation of the explosions, in order to somehow bring down the intensity of the fires, sappers began to blow up houses close to the fires, the debris from which filled the fires and thereby created a surrounding zone without combustible materials. The fires raged for over a week. All this time the centre of the city was cordoned off by the Germans. Actually, there were no streets: the buildings falling from both sides formed rubble.
For about a month, work was going on the laying of passages through the rubble. The red-hot ruins were smoking even before the first snow began. Later, the Germans examined every building, and then write ‘Checked. No mines’.
As a result of the explosions, about 300 German troops died, and several dozen cars were destroyed. How many civilians died in Kyiv is still unknown. It is clear that there were significantly more Ukrainians killed than were Germans. Their corpses were recovered for several years by those involved in reconstruction, which lasted until 1953.
Explosions and fire destroyed the odd side of Khreshchatyk from house No. 5 to Bessarabskaya Square, the even side, from the modern Independence Square to Bogdan Khmelnitsky Street. On the Maidan itself, the entire left side burned down. The fire destroyed part of the even side of Institutskaya Street, the square named after Ivan Franko, Architect Gorodetsky, Stanislavsky, Zankovetskaya streets, the entire lower part of Luteranskaya street, Proreznaya street.
After the end of the fires, the Germans blew up some of the houses, whose facades could collapse. Five cinemas were burned down, the Theatre of the Young Spectator, the KOVO Theatre, the Radio Theatre, conservatory and music school, Central Post Office, City Council House, two large department stores, 5 restaurants and cafes, circus, city pawnshop, 5 large hotels, Central city railway station (ticket offices), House of Architects and Scientists, two passages, printing house, eight shoe shops factory, high school, about 100 stores. In total, about 200 large residential and office buildings were destroyed by explosions and burned.
Almost 50 thousand people of Kyiv were left without housing and property. Over time, the Germans settled the fire victims in the apartments of evacuated and executed Jews, which is mentioned in the Gestapo report. German propaganda did not miss the opportunity to use the explosions and fires on Khreshchatyk to their advantage, and accusing the NKVD of organising them, and the occupying forces accelerated actions to finally solve the Jewish question in Kyiv.
According to a report sent by the Gestapo a few days later, on September 29-30, 33,770 Jews were liquidated in Kyiv. After that, almost every day, announcements by the city’s commandant were posted, announcing the executions of ‘commissars, nationalists, gypsies and Jews.’ Judging by them, 300 were executed per day.
However, the landmark explosions in Kyiv were not limited to Khreshchatyk. On September 20, the observation deck of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra was blown up along with an anti-aircraft battery under the control of a German colonel.
Considering that in the first days of the occupation, the Germans spent three days de-mining the Lavra, and then evicted the entire civilian population, during which period a radio-controlled mine went off, but from a local saboteur. It seems that this particular explosion was a trial use of radio-controlled mines.
On November 3, 1941, at 14:30, one of the few Kyiv churches of the pre-Mongol period built in 1073 was dynamited, as was the Assumption Cathedral of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. The Cathedral was blown up two hours after its visit by Josef Tiso, the leader of one of Hitler’s allied powers, Slovakia. German propaganda and many modern researchers ascribe this terrorist attack on Soviet underground workers.
There are recollections of the laying of explosives by Soviet miners and Kievites. The explosions and their aftermath were captured by German newsreels and a number of photographers.
At the same time, the population of nearby areas was evacuated on the day of the explosion. Residents of houses nearby Lavra was forced to paste paper over the windows the day before, they were preparing for an explosion. Not a single person was injured during the explosion.
During the occupation of Kyiv, the Soviet Union’s underground fighters, partisans, and saboteurs blew up and burned a wantonly. There was nothing on a similar scale in other villages and cities of the USSR. It should be added that a similar fate was prepared by the forces of the NKVD for Moscow.
Until November 3, i.e. before the destruction of the Cathedral of the Assumption, the collection of great Ukrainian values remained intact. The windows of the museum were partially broken down in the explosion, and when it was only a little later, it turned out that the doors were broken in too, and many items were damaged or destroyed.
Items made of gold and silver, especially Scythian and Gothic jewellery, were taken out of the museum in advance, by Soviet Army. In addition, the most important finds from the historical collection were also taken away. The Soviets carried out the removal of ancient historical finds between July and August 1941.
The most interesting thing in this story is not how and what the Soviets dynamited, and who was responsible. With this, more or less everything is clear. It is interesting that the power of the Soviet Union, until its collapse, accused the Germans of the destruction of the centre of Kyiv.
It is a difficult subject for palace historians and pro-Soviet journalists to deal with. On the one hand, it is tempting to take the credit for posthumously destroying the city and killing many of the German occupiers after the departure of the Red Army. On the other hand, does that achievement justify the carnage and destruction consequence of the destruction of one of Christendom’s great cities?
Palace historians wrote that they destroyed the city during the street fighting, but this is proved to be false and the same was true in 1943.
As the Red Army fled, fearing encirclement, so did the Germans in 1943. There was even a version that during the liberation of Kyiv, Soviet aviation, of necessity, bombed the German fortifications on Khreshchatyk but there is still no answer to the question of why Kyiv was blown up.
Disputes about the expediency of such actions do not subside. Has Stalin’s American-sponsored and supplied Red Army achieved its goal? Were the losses of enemy manpower justified by the material losses we received? Source 1, Source 2, edited by Michael Walsh.
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