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.