Myth 1 – The Great Patriotic War


The Great Patriotic War

Yana Prymachenko

Statement of the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Russian Federation concerning the adoption of the Ukrainian Parliament’s package of laws on decommunization, 10 April 2015

“By trying to eradicate the term the ‘Great Patriotic War’ and replacing it with the ‘Second World War’ in Ukraine, the current Ukrainian government is not only seeking to create the essence of a large scale historical confrontation but also inflict a deep insult upon their veterans, taking away from them their sacred holiday, betraying the memory of millions of Ukrainians who fought in the ranks of the Red Army and who gave their lives to protect their Fatherland from fascism.”

The Essence of the Myth

Terms: the name “Great Patriotic War of the Soviet People against German-Nazi Invaders” meant the unified fight against the enemy-adversary for the united Soviet Fatherland and was the only correct historical terminology.

Fast Facts

The “Great Patriotic War” – is the ideologically branded Soviet name for the armed conflict between the USSR and Germany from 1941–1945, a component of the Second World War. The chronological scope of the Great Patriotic War and its ideological content is expressed in its very name and does not correspond with the experience of the Ukrainian people during the Second World War.

Detailed Facts

The Great Patriotic War is Soviet historiography and an ideological concept which was created by the Soviet Union and which is still compulsively used by the Russian Federation as an alternative to the term “Second World War” in the hopes of preserving its influence in Ukraine and the former Soviet republics. In the beginning, the phase was an ordinary ideological cliché. It first appeared in Stalin’s radio speech on 3 July 1941: “The war with fascist Germany cannot be considered an ordinary war. It is not only a war between two armies. It is also a great war of the entire Soviet people against the German-fascist armies. The aim of this national patriotic war in defence of our country against the fascist oppressors is not only to eliminate the danger hanging over our country, but also to aid all the European peoples groaning under the yoke of German fascism.” From 1939–1941, Soviet propaganda called this global conflict the “Second Imperialist War”, being completely unsympathetic to the victims of Nazi aggression and their desire to protect their homelands. Instead, the Communist

“The Motherland is Calling!” The most famous Soviet war poster urging citizens to defend their homeland - the USSR

The “Second World War” and the “Great Patriotic War” are not identical concepts of either chronology or geography.

International gave instructions to the Communist Parties in European countries to criticize their government for their efforts on focusing on defence against the invaders.

After 23 August 1939, Communist and Nazi collaboration lasted 22 months until 1941. The name Great Patriotic War is just a fig leaf for the alliance between Hitler and Stalin. Soviet propaganda after Nazi aggression tried to cover up this prior cooperation between the two totalitarian regimes.

The concept of the Great Patriotic War offers a simplified “black and white” image, where the USSR was a “good power” and their opponents were the “forces of evil”. The reality was much more complex.

Ukraine’s participation in the Second World War was not limited to the confrontation of the USSR and Germany in 1941–1945.

From the very beginning, already from 1 September 1939, Ukraine was affected by the war. By the last day of the Second World War – 2 September 1945 – in nearly all of the fronts of the armed forces there were Ukrainian soldiers and officers who took up arms, not only in the USSR but also in Poland, Canada, the USA and other countries of the United Nations.

In the summer of 1941, many residents of Ukrainian towns and villages were not fully aware of the threat of Nazism to the fullest extent. Already from September 1939, Soviet propaganda paid a lot of attention to the cooperation with their allies, the Third Reich. The Soviet propaganda organ, the Pravda newspaper, published the telegram from Hitler and Ribbentrop on 23 December 1939 where they warmly welcomed Stalin’s 60th birthday. Stalin replied: “The friendship of the peoples of Germany and the Soviet Union, cemented by blood, has every reason to be lasting and firm.”

Soviet propaganda misinformed a significant portion of the Soviet population which ceased to perceive the Third Reich as a potential enemy. The memory of the 1918 German experience was also still prevalent in Ukraine.

Only eight years passed since the Holodomor and only three from the Great Terror. During the decades that preceded the Second World War, the communist regime killed at least five million people in Ukraine. Many seriously believed that the beginning of the German-Soviet war was an opportunity to free themselves from Bolshevism.

Soviet propaganda, Stalin’s repression and the memory of the past became fodder for society to view the Germans positively. Some even hoped they were liberators from the communist calamity.

The Ukrainian NKVD showed this confidence in Kyiv in the summer of 1941. The mass surrender of captured soldiers and officers of the Red Army was also evidence that hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens were not ready to fight for the Stalinist regime and did not perceive the war to be patriotic.

The Soviet myth of the Patriotic War always emphasized the heroism of the Red Army during their offensive against the Wehrmacht and avoided some unfavourable facts. The overall picture is significantly different from that black and white and simplified version of this chapter in history.

Order of the Patriotic War, 1st grade – one of the visual elements of the Soviet myth of the Great Patriotic War