FACTORS OF DE-URBANISATION IN THE MILITARY ZONE OF UKRAINE (1941-1943)

NESTERENKO V.A.

  • During the war conflicts of the XX century civil inhabitants became the object of a military impact with the aim of undermining economic, political and moral potential of the opponent. Purposeful bombing the cities within the Soviet-German front was put into practice comparatively not very often. So the cities with an important strategic position and the locations of the desperate battles suffered the greatest losses and destructions. Kharkiv became such a place for Eastern Ukraine. In addition to war operations, a psychological effect played an important role for urban population migration. In the case of a front approaching, those urban inhabitants, who had the opportunity to leave the city, tried to do that. The leadership of the Third Reich hoped to capture a great number of undamaged industrial enterprises, units of equipment and resources of raw materials on the territory of the USSR. While leaving, the soviet troops removed or destroyed everything possible. As for the scale, this process has no precedents in the world history. Evacuation affected the population too. The figure of 3.5 mln people is mentioned by the representatives of modern Ukrainian historiography. Certainly, the lion’s share of those people comprised the urban population. During the retreat Wehrmacht troops acted the same way as the Red Army in 1941. The German implemented the tactics of ‘scorched earth’ with their inherent pedantry. Tens of thousands of persons, who had collaborated with the occupants (and the members of their families) were also evacuated. There was a fundamental difference between the policy of the German occupants and the Bilshovyks authority one. The Bilshovyks relied upon the proletariat and encouraged the process of urbanization objectively. While working out their own plans for exploiting the economic potential of Ukraine, the Nazis however considered only the rural inhabitants to be of some value. They took no interest in the urban population and its fate. Although during the period of a long-term war the occupants had to adjust their own policy and take steps towards rebuilding some industrial enterprises, in general it did not improve the situation. In terms of unemployment, prices increase and provision supply deficit the urban population was constantly on the verge of survival. In winter famine happened, especially in Kharkiv. In small towns and boroughs the situation was quite better because of a higher level of ruralization. The city inhabitants migrated to the country. According to the Nazis racial theory the Jews were on the lowest level, that’s why they became the object of total annihilation. But the quantity of the Jewish population in the cities of the North-Eastern Ukraine was quite small and the Jews were exterminated at the beginning of the occupation. Repressive measures against the representatives of other nationalities were closely connected with the resistance movement of mainly soviet partisans and underground activists. A prolonged war required more and more human resources, which caused the deficit of working hands in Germany. That’s why the occupants tried mass import of foreign workers. In total 2.4 mln ostarbeiters were brought from the territory of Ukraine. No doubt, a certain amount of those people originated from the urban population of the military zone. So, among the factors which caused decreasing the number of the urban population during the war period in the North-Eastern Ukraine one should mention the following: war operations, evacuation of the population and material resources, tactics of ‘scorched earth’, omnicide and repressions, recruitment of ostarbeiters. But the main reason for de-urbanization during the period of occupation was the problem of providing the city inhabitants with provision. Under the circumstances of the constant deficit of the foodstuff and consumer goods supplement (famine happened in Sumy and Kharkiv in winter 1941-1942) city-dwellers had to either survive where they lived or leave the cities and move to the countryside where the situation with provision was better.

  • NESTERENKO V.A. – Sumy State University, PhD (History), Assosiate Professor (Ukraine).

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