World War II in Ukraine:

Ukraine's Property Losses in World War II

Andrew Gregorovich

Ukraine's Property Losses in World War II

Stalin's scorched earth policy in Ukraine called first for the evacuation of industries, factories, machinery, skilled workers and livestock east to Russia. From the capital city of Kiev itself some 197 major industrial plants were evacuated east to Russia in two months. Everything that could not be moved was to be destroyed and burned. The rapid advance of the German Wehrmacht did not allow the Soviet officials to completely empty Ukraine. However, huge amounts of Ukrainian machinery did go to Magnitogorsk and other Russian cities. Wholesale "scorched earth" destruction was wreaked on Ukraine by the retreating Soviet officials and armies.

Two years later, when Hitler's German Army started its retreat from Ukraine, orders were again given to loot and remove to Germany all art works (including a Rembrandt self-portrait), folk art collections, rare books, engravings, libraries, sculptures, and museum collections. These treasures totaled in the hundreds of thousands of items. The cultural wealth of Ukraine was nearly stripped from the country. According to Soviet sources a total of 151 museums, 62 drama theaters and 600 movie theaters were destroyed by the Germans.

Anything that could not be moved was to be destroyed and many libraries were dumped outside and burned. The German occupation destroyed a total of 19,200 libraries in Ukraine. On April 28, 1995, Germany returned over 700 books including Kievan Antiquity (Kyivska Staryna) taken from Ukraine in 1943 during World War II. German Ambassador Alexander Arno in a ceremony at the National Museum of History in Kiev expressed regret that they had not been returned earlier.

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Copyright © 1995 Andrew Gregorovich

Reprinted from FORUM Ukrainian Review No. 92, Spring 1995

since March 1st 1997