Since Ukraine was the center of heavy industry in the USSR in the 1930s it produced much of the armaments before the German invasion. One surprise Hitler's army encountered was the T-34 tank which was designed and built in Ukraine in the Kharkiv Tractor Factory. The German general von Runstedt called the T-34 the "best tank in the world" and von Kleist said it was the "finest in the world." The first Ukrainian T-34 tank, no. 1, was tested by successfully driving it 1,000 miles from Kharkiv, Ukraine, to Moscow, Russia and back. The T-34 medium tank was superior to the German Panzer tanks because it had a more powerful cannon, a higher top speed (32 MPH to 25 for the Panzers), the armour was so superior that German shells bounced off it, superior welded construction invented by Academician Paton, and it had a wider track so it did not get bogged down in mud like the German Panzer. The Germans decided that the Ukrainian T-34 tank was so superior to the Panzer that they would have copied it but "Unfortunately for Germany this was not possible. German engineering technology was not up to it, many of the special alloys used in its construction were not available," states Andrew Kershaw in Weapons & War Machines (New York 1976) p. 192. (Incidentally, in 1995 the Ukrainian T-84 Tank being built in Kharkiv is again considered the best in the world.)
"The best tank in the world" T-34 was designed and built in Ukraine
Professor Y.O. Paton (1870-1953), a Vice President of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, holds a model of the Ukrainian T-34 Tank, partly based on his work.
About 4.5 million Ukrainians served in the Soviet army (2.5 million were decorated which might mean 2 million perished) and another 1.3 million in militia and partisan units against Germany in World War II. Hundreds of thousands served in the guerilla armies fighting both totalitarian powers, Nazi Germany and Red Soviet Russia. At least 350 Ukrainian generals and marshals served in the Soviet Army and were responsible for many of the victories at Stalingrad and Leningrad, for example. Even Berlin apparently was captured largely by Ukrainian troops and many of the 102,000 killed were Ukrainians who died there and are buried in the Berlin cemetery. Stalin even finally used Ukrainian national patriotism in the war by instituting the Order of Bohdan Khmelnytsky medal for the four Ukrainian Front Armies in 1943.
Some of the most prominent marshals --- the majority of marshals of the USSR were said to be Ukrainians --- and generals were Ukrainians and many were born in Ukraine. These included Marshal Simon Timoshenko, Marshal Rodion Malinovsky, Marshal Ivan Konev, Marshal Yakiv Fedorenko, Marshal Kiril Maoskalenko, Marshal Serhiy Rudenko, General Andrey Grechko, Marshal Peter Koshoviy, Marshal Petro Leliushenko, Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, Marshal Andrey Yeremenko, General Yakiv Cherevichenko, General Fyodor Kostenko, Col. General Micahael Kirponos, Col. General Andrey Kravchenko, Admiral Mykola Basisty, General Iosif Apanesenko, and Marshal Alexander Vasilevsky.
Even the greatest hero of World War II, the brilliant Marshal Georgi Zhukov who signed the German surrender, was apparently of Ukrainian origin. He received the major credit for the Battle of the Dnieper and the capture of Berlin (which the Ukrainian Front Army of Ivan Konev almost captured before him).
Although born in Kaluga, Zhukov's original family name was Zhuk and his Ukrainian family was from Birky village in Poltava region of Ukraine according to the information of Zhukov's relative Varvara Hryshko (Molod' Ukrainy 14.X.1994, p. 2). When he was on the verge of taking Berlin Zhukov promised Nikita Khrushchev, who was then Head of the Communist Party of Ukraine, that when he captured Adolf Hitler he would first ship him in a cage to Kiev so that Ukraine could see him before Moscow. However, Hitler's suicide left only the Fuehrer's charred remains to be found by the Soviet Army. The search party, which found Hitler's remains in Berlin, was led by a Ukrainian, Lt. General Ivan Klimenko.
The Ukrainian experience in World War II is especially tragic because, unlike the "Russian glory" and the Jewish Holocaust, it is virtually an unknown page of history. There is no English language history on World War II in Ukraine that fully captures the pain, the terror, the horror and the human story of the suffering of the Ukrainian nation.
What priceless cultural treasures of architecture of Ukraine, world art and literature, were destroyed and looted in the War. Ukraine lost about 10,000,000 people, one out of four of its sons and daughters, in the War. We can only wonder what beauty, genius, and talent was lost to the world as a result of the Nazi German and Soviet annihilation of the Ukrainian people in 1939-1945.
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Copyright © 1995 Andrew Gregorovich
Copyright © 1995 Andrew GregorovichReprinted from FORUM Ukrainian Review No. 92, Spring 1995