Art Review: WWII in Ukraine as seen by Georgiy Malakov

The Internet ushered in a new version of the history of the Soviet Union created online by hundreds of Russian, Ukrainian, Baltic and other users who put their efforts into interviewing surviving witnesses, studying old periodicals and private archives, and arguing about grand events and minute details of history in forums. They have a common purpose: to uncover and publicize the truth about the Soviet Union to replace Soviet propaganda.

It would be hard to find a family in the former Soviet territories that has not been affected by WWII.  My generation grew up with all sorts of wartime stories passed on in families. How much were we told? Episodes were skipped because our grandparents or parents did not want us to spill them in public. Narratives were edited to conform to the official history version. Still, the adults occasionally shared uncensored memory bits, usually with a warning: “Don’t tell others”.

In the 90’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the wartime generations gained the freedom and the Internet to share information, fill in gaps and answer many questions suppressed in the past. Thousands of personal accounts and memoirs by WWII veterans and civilians have been uploaded to online archives like Unfortunately, only a small part of this historical treasure has been translated into English.

Nevertheless, there are different kinds of memoirs that cut through language barriers: works by artists who lived through the war. One of them was Georgiy Malakov, a Ukrainian graphic artist who in his childhood already showed his talent. When Germans occupied his hometown of Kiev in 1941, he was 13 years old and could not live without drawing. Georgiy chronicled his experiences in his pictures, developing a visual diary of life in the Nazi-occupied city. This   album   contains works he drew either during the war or soon after the war, as well as his later graphics based on old sketches like this one:

Closed area: Kreshchatik is burning. Watercolor, ink, pen (1959).

Per Stalin’s orders many buildings in Kiev were mined as the Soviet Army retreated. When Germans took over the city, Soviet secret agents left behind set off the radio controlled mines. The explosions resulted in raging fires, casualties among Kievans and Germans and loss of homes by many civilians.

Linocut prints by Georgiy Malakov:

Kiev on June 22, 1941 when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Luftwaffe bombed Kiev at 4 am the same day. Nobody in the city knew that a war had started (1961).

 Kreshchatik, the main central street, is burning. September 1941 (1961).

During a German air raid. Judging by the New Year tree, it is late December 1943/early January 1944. Kiev railway station is visible in the window (1965).

Hiking home after the liberation of Kiev. During the last days of the occupation the Nazi government ordered the residents to leave the city under the threat of death (1962).

Picture sources:

My ROW80 progress:

  • Made a post about Georgiy Malakov and assembled an album of his artwork. It took lots more time than I expected. First, Internet Explorer installed on my laptop went on strike. After struggling with it for two days, I switched to Mozilla Firefox. Second, the process of uploading multiple images to my blog and translating Ukrainian captions turned out more arduous than I thought. Along the way I discovered an interesting Russian website with a day-to-day overview of events in wartime Kiev, which sidetracked me for hours;
  • Started reading The Turbulent World of Franz Göll: An Ordinary Berliner Writes the Twentieth Century, but advanced little because of the issues above;
  • Revisions – none.

This week’s ROW80 goals:

  • Focus on revising the part covering the Battle of Berlin and its aftermath;
  • Continue reading The Turbulent World of Franz Göll: An Ordinary Berliner Writes the Twentieth Century by Peter Fritzsche, time permitting;
  • Make a book review post. No complicated graphics!


Book Review: Harvest of Despair: Life and Death in Ukraine Under Nazi Rule by Karel C. Berkhoff


In his book, Karel Berkhoff diligently presents the politics and realities of life in the Reichskommissariat Ukraine, the largest colony of the Third Reich.

I appreciated the author’s careful avoidance of labels like “traitors” or “resistance”. Instead, Berkhoff thoroughly portrays the complexities, contradictions and variations across different regions of Ukraine. He clearly distingiushes between largely nationalistic Western Ukraine and historically pro-Russian industrial regions in Eastern Ukraine, and between the rural and urban communities.

It is a great depiction of how the locals’ attitudes toward the Nazi occupiers evolved from neutral curiosity or enthusiastic welcome to widespread fear and hatred. One of the chapters is devoted to the famine in Kiev engineered by the German authorities because Hitler doomed the city to extinction. The harvest of 1941 was plentiful in many areas, and lots of peasants found their lives much improved once the collective farms imposed by the Soviet rule disintegrated. However, the German policies of robbery and exploitation along with the forced reinstatement of collective farming soon drove the agricultural sector into the ground. Routine brutality and disregard for human rights were nothing new for residents of Ukraine, but the German government took violence and oppression to new heights, making many people view the Stalin rule as benign, even desirable, and fueling the armed partisan resistance.

I found this book very educational regarding the ethnic strife in Ukraine, since the subject is scarcely covered in other sources on the Nazi occupation of Soviet territories. Annihilation of Polish villages by Ukrainians and vice versa, open anti-Semitism of many locals along with some civilians risking their lives to save Jews, alienation of local ethnic German communities against Slavs, and many residents’ indifference to national labels, often not bothering to figure out whether they were Russians or Ukrainians until the Nazis occupied their homeland and Ukrainian nationalist extremists reared their heads – Berkhoff takes care to cover every piece of the ethnic mosaic that made up Ukraine.

Harvest of Despair is the most comprehensive book about the Reichskommissariat Ukraine that I have found so far. Although the writing is dry at times, Berkhoff uses many personal accounts and anecdotes to enliven the historical facts.

The book could benefit from more detailed maps of different areas of Ukraine. Berkhoff notes many cities, towns, villages and districts, which can be confusing for a reader not very familiar with Soviet geography. The map included is too general and does not show most of the localities mentioned.

My ROW80 progress:

  • Finished reading Harvest of Despair;
  • Posted a new book review;
  • Revised my current chapter almost up to the start of the Battle of Berlin.

This week’s ROW80 goals:

  • Start reading The Turbulent World of Franz Göll: An Ordinary Berliner Writes the Twentieth Century by Peter Fritzsche;
  • Revise the part covering the Battle of Berlin and its aftermath;
  • Make a post about an Ukrainian artist’s rendition of his experiences in Nazi-occupied Kiev.

ROW80 Check-in

The last three days  I was going in circles. I have an episode in which the two main characters finally have a chance to talk one-on-one and tell about themselves. The first version of the dialogue sounded stilted and forced. It was too unnatural for two strangers to reveal incriminating details about themselves in a casual chat.

In the second version of the episode I brought in a bottle of Bordeaux. It helped a bit, but the female character was still wary and refused to drink more than one glass. The male character consumed most of the wine and was unhappy.

On the third re-write I added a bottle of Riesling to the Bordeaux, and the ice broke. The conversation flowed, albeit a bit incoherently, but the girl ended up sitting in the man’s lap. Now I am throwing out the old “morning after” part and writing a new one with the hangover factored in.

No modern history research is possible without period photos. Bundesarchiv picture database is a treasure trove of photos and posters from the Third Reich era. Another fabulous archive is BPK (Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz) . It has a great collection of color photos of Nazi-occupied Ukraine. However, since those are German archives, you will need to use German search terms and German spellings of geographical names. For example, Kiew instead of Kiev, Charkow instead of Kharkov or Russland instead of Russia. Ukraine is spelled the same in German.

Since one of my main characters is an Ostarbeiterin, a female forced laborer from the Soviet Union, here are a couple of Bundesarchiv photos showing such women.

At a factory in Berlin these women workers ate their lunch in a separate room to prevent mixing with Germans. Note the OST badges that they were required to wear. Some of them are very young. Many of the forced laborers were teenagers and children as young as 1o years old.
Forced laborers from the Soviet Union at an automotive repair shop in Berlin.
Goals for this week:
  • Rewrite the part leading up to the Battle of Berlin, and, if time allows, the part covering the Battle of Berlin;
  • Finish Harvest of Despair by Karel C. Berkhoff;
  • Post a book review.

ROW80 Check-in

Progress made as of ten minutes to midnight, Sunday, January 8:

– Posted a book review: Berlin at War by Roger Moorhouse;

– Revised about 10K words out of planned 20K. The 10k words shrank to about 7K after revision, and I re-wrote about 2k from scratch;

– Read about 1/3 of the book, Harvest of Despair by Karel C. Berkhoff.

Conclusion: I should not put off  my work on the novel until after dinnertime when my kid is most likely to ask for help with his homework.

The part I am working on involves a mouth organ, also called harmonica. A Wehrmacht soldier playing his harmonica is an age-old cliche in the Soviet WWII fiction. Still, I went for it because a harmonica works well for the suspense in my novel.

For the purpose of my story, the design of the harmonica needs to be flashy and easy to remember. After shuffling through pictures of 1930’s-1940’s harmonicas online, I came across this album of Art Deco harmonicas. My favorites in it are:

Rosenkavalier Luxe made by Hans Rolz, Germany

Dinora made by Emil Friedel, Germany

I am inclined to use a Rosenkavalier harmonica because the initial owner of it is anything but a chivalrous Knight of the Rose. On the other hand, the female character who sees the harmonica later is very likely to remember the word Rosenkavalier.

Book Review: Berlin at War by Roger Moorhouse

As I have said before, my novel takes off in 1945 Berlin. For a reader with an average knowledge of WWII that would bring to mind classic images of destroyed Tiergarten and popular depictions of the mayhem in Central Berlin as the Red Army fought its way to the Reichstag.

The reality is that the war effects varied across Berlin because the city was huge. Here is a comparison of the levels of destruction and civilian casualties for Berlin-Mitte (Central Berlin) and Berlin-Reinickendorf, a northern suburb, immediately after the Battle of Berlin.

Berlin-Mitte             Berlin-Reinickendorf

% of residences destroyed:          over 50%                       19.8%

% of population lost:                          52.6%                            3.8%

Source: Reinickendorf 1945/1946. Die erste Nachkriegszeit  by Ulrike Wahlich, Heimatsmuseum Reinickendorf, 1995

To develop the settings in my story I needed a broader view of the city and its dwellers throughout the whole war. The last months of the war were a mere culmination of the years of the Nazi regime. Each of my Berlin characters, even minor ones, had been shaped by years of life in the city.

This book is a good starter reading for those who want to learn more about wartime Berlin: Berlin at War by Roger Moorhouse.

The book provides a ground-level view of daily life in Berlin: food rationing and foreign loot, press and radio, parades and air raids, popular enthusiasm and individual resistance, war profiting and survival struggle, humor and depression, and much more. Paradoxically, the residents of the Third Reich capital were among weakest Nazi supporters. I am inclined to attribute it to their proximity to the government apparatus and better awareness of the politics in the higher circles. Nevertheless, with the largely conformist attitude of the public, many Berliners eventually became complicit in the Nazi regime.

The author tracks changes in the moods of Berliners throughout the wartime and portrays a wide range of the city denizens: Jews, forced laborers from all over Europe and regular Germans. He draws on personal accounts and diaries to give us the emotional feel of what it was like for different people to live in Berlin.

I found it remarkable that, while the public knowledge of the Nazi concentration camp system was limited, the German populace largely ignored thousands of forced laborers brought into the city. Germans and foreign slaves lived in separate universes, although they walked the same streets and worked side by side in the same factories and institutions. It is truly sad to realize how certain types of popular culture and ideology could breed blindness and conformity. After all, was it so bad to believe that you belonged to the master race and could have the inferior races at your disposal?

Moorhouse’s narration is engaging and vivid, which makes his book an enlightening journey in time for a mainstream reader. It also provokes a lot of thoughts on how social order and ideology can affect a person’s sense of right and wrong.

ROW80 Goals


My main goal is to finish the first draft of my historical fiction, Scorched Earth, in 80 days.

I do not plan on specific word count to do per day or week. Instead, my weekly goal will be writing or revising a specific chapter. For me, NaNoWriMo worked great as a way to overcome the initial inertia and get myself in the process of writing.  However,  in the end I worked chiefly to make the word count.  The result was messy writing and word-padding. This time I want to use my writing time more efficiently. At this point I already have the whole story mapped out, which makes it easy for me to break it into chapters.

For this week my goal is to finish revising the part I wrote during NaNoWriMo (about 20K words remaining).

Deadline: Sunday, January 8th.

Location: Berlin-Reinickendorf, more exactly the garden allotments near Miraustrasse and then an apartment in Borsigwalde.

Timeline: April-June 1945,  just before, during and after the Battle of Berlin.

I have been doing historical research for my novel for over two years, and there is still a lot to research. My reading for this week: Karel C. Berkhoff, “Harvest of Despair: Life and Death in Ukraine Under Nazi Rule.”

I will post weekly reviews of books and sources I studied for my novel.

A Round of Words in 80 Days


Here it is: I am starting this blog to tell the world about the novel I am writing.  I wrote about 1/3 of the first draft during NaNoWriMo 2011. Although I made the required 50k words, my historical fiction is far from complete. Now I have signed up for A Round of Words in 80 Days in a hope to finish the first draft.

The working title is Scorched Earth. As the story develops, I will most likely change the title. Here is the synopsis:

A Wehrmacht deserter and runaway Ostarbeiterin run into each other in heavily bombed Berlin of March 1945. Their looks marked by the grueling years of the war, they don’t recognize each other at first. The man and woman have met years before in Nazi-occupied Ukraine, but each of them suppressed the memory of that encounter.

As they scramble to rebuild their lives in postwar Germany, glimpses of recognition force them both to face their wartime deeds, tragedies and blind loyalty to the respective totalitarian regimes that nurtured them as soldiers in this war.