Ukraine paid the biggest price for victory in the Second World War. As a vital contributor to the Red Army and a key provider of industrial resources in the USSR, Ukraine incurred the largest number of casualties during WWII. Russia has claimed the victory for itself and has officially denied the Ukrainian role in the fight against the Nazis.
The real number of victims during WWII is still not fully known. Some relevant data is still held in Russian archives and is not available for non-Russian researchers. However, of the 41.7 million people living in Ukrainian Soviet Republic before the war, only 27.4 million were alive in Ukraine in 1945. Official data says that at least 8 million Ukrainians lost their lives: 5.5 - 6 million civilians, and more than 2.5 million natives of Ukraine were killed at the front. The data varies between 8 to 14 million killed, however, only 6 million have been identified.
Remarkably, in December 2010, the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin mentioned in an interview that the Soviet Union could have won the Second World War without Ukrainian forces. “We would definitely have won without Ukraine as a member of USSR, because we are the “winner state.” The war was won because of Russian industrial resources” he claimed. Nowadays, the Kremlin does its best to ignore Ukraine's contribution to victory in WWII and did not acknowledge Ukrainian army veterans on this year's Victory Day on May 9.
The contribution of Ukrainians to victory in World War II was not just limited to the 7 million Ukrainian soldiers in the Red Army. Hundreds of Ukrainians also served as generals and commanders. The flag of victory over the Reichstag was first raised by a Ukrainian from Sumy, Alex Berest, according to Rostislav Pyliavets, researcher at Ukrainian Institute of National Memory. In addition, about 2.5 million Ukrainians received commendations and were awarded with medals by the Soviet Union.
The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (Ukraiinska povstanska armia – UPA) was a partisan force that fought against both the Soviet and German occupations. UPA fought for an independent Ukraine, and the Army was to be the foundation for the army of the Ukrainian state. It was hoped that as the Germans and Soviets fought themselves to exhaustion, an independent Ukraine would be established. UPA was formed in late 1942; it was made up of units of various partisan forces operating in Ukraine, most importantly those led by Taras Borovets. The political leadership of the UPA was the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists- Bandera faction (OUN-B). In the fall of 1943, General Roman Shukhevych took command of UPA.
UPA was designed to be a large-scale partisan force; owing to the extensive experience and underground networks of OUN-B that existed in Ukraine, the UPA soon grew into a well-organized and effective fighting force. It took control of large areas of Volyn, Polissia, and Galicia. Unlike Soviet partisans that fought behind German lines, UPA could not rely on support or supply by any foreign power – it was supported by the local Ukrainian population and was thus a true “peoples’ army.” It is estimated that at its height UPA counted some 80 000 members. In 1944 UPA had about 40 000 fighting troops, organized into four groups – UPA North, South, East and West. Its area of action encompassed one quarter of the territory of Ukraine.
The Germans committed many units to the battle against UPA; the largest battle between UPA and German forces took place in July-September 1943. Despite the commitment by the Germans of a massive force, UPA managed to take twice as many German casualties as UPA itself lost. As the German army retreated from Ukrainian territory in 1944, UPA staged frequent raids for weapons and materiel.
Ukraine was also the largest contributor to the industrial resources of the USSR. Before the war, the Ukrainian SSR was a leading center for metals and mining, chemical production, tractors, and agricultural machinery. In 1940, Ukrainian mechanical engineers built 671 line-haul locomotives (73.4 percent of all-Union production) and 16 thousand tons of mining and metallurgical equipment (67.5 percent).
The share of industrial production in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic included 60 percent of coal, 67.6 percent of iron, 35 percent of manganese ore, 64.7 percent of iron, 48.8 percent of steel, 74.5 percent of coke, and 58.8 percent of steel pipes. In addition, Ukraine produced 43 percent of electricity in the Soviet Union. Ukrainian agriculture produced more than 20 percent of bread, 75.5 percent of sugar, 20 percent of meat and 15 percent of butter and oil of the Soviet Union.
The Ukrainian republic was also the leading producer of aircraft, locomotives, turbines and diesel engines for the Soviet navy. The USSR's shipbuilding factories were located in Ukrainian cities of Zaporizhzhia, Kerch, Kyiv, Mykolaiv, Odesa and Kherson. Ukrainian aircraft factories in Dnipropetrovsk , Kharkiv , Kyiv and Kharkiv produced combat aircraft and engines, as well as various units and spare parts for them.
The general demographic loss of Ukraine including those killed, deported, evacuated, the victims of concentration camps, and those who went into exile along with the retreating Nazis add up to at least 14 million people. This is the greatest single loss compared with the losses of other countries and nations in World War II. The USSR lost about 26.6 million lives in World War II. In comparison, the total losses in Germany were about 6 million. In fact, the total Ukrainian losses likely vary between 40 to 44 percent of the total casualties of the USSR.
Moreover, Russian historians often exclude the number of killed and repressed Ukrainians during the period of 1939-1941. During Stalin's repression in the prewar years and the first months of the war in Galicia and Volyn, thousands of victims were killed, repressed, or deported to Siberia. Reportedly, from 1944 to 1953 between the three Ukrainian oblasts of Galicia, Volyn and Rivne more than 500,000 people were repressed, of whom 134,000 were detained, 153,000 killed and 203,000 deported from Ukraine.
As one of the epicenters of military battles, Ukraine suffered heavily and lost millions of lives; millions more were left disabled. From June 22, 1941, until October 28, 1944, out of 76 strategic and front-line offensive and defensive operations of WWII, 29 were held on Ukrainian territory. The war destroyed 720 Ukrainian cities and towns and 28,000 villages, 250 of which were completely burned down. In addition, in Ukraine more than 16,500 industrial enterprises, 18,000 medical institutions, 33,000 schools, universities, colleges and research institutes, and 33,000 farms and state farms were destroyed as a result of World War II.
Institute of History of the National Academy of Scienses of Ukraine,