Myth 4 – The War Started on 22 June 1941 for Ukraine


The War Started on 22 June 1941 for Ukraine

Serhii Horobets

Soviet Wartime Song

“The Twenty-Second of June
At Exactly Four O’clock
Kyiv was Bombed, We were Told,
This is what Started the War”

The Essence of the Myth

For the Ukrainian people the war against the Third Reich’s aggression against the USSR started on 22 June 1941.

Fast Facts

The participation of Ukrainians in the Second World War was not limited to the period of confrontation between the USSR and Germany in 1941–1945. The Second World War, from the very beginning, began in Ukraine. Within the Polish army, many Ukrainians fought against Germany in the first hours of the war on 1 September 1939. From 17 September, the Ukrainians also fought on the side of the USSR against the Poles. The the crossing of the Red Army of the state border of Poland meant the actual entry of the Soviet Union in the Second World War on the side of Nazi Germany in September 1939.

Detailed Facts

Even before the Second World War, on 14–18 March 1939, Ukrainians in Carpatho-Ukraine fought for their freedom from Hungary, which also supported Nazi Germany. According to various sources, the short fight for Carpatho- Ukraine cost the lives of between 2,000 to 6,500 thousand of its defenders.

Ukrainians in the Polish army began to fight Germany on 1 September 1939.

On the first day of the war, the German Air Force bombed Lviv; during the first half of September – Lutsk, Stanyslaviv (today Ivano-Frankivsk), Ternopil, Drohobych, Sarny, Yavoriv, Stryi and other cities.

Among the million Polish soldiers, some 106–112,000 thousand (by some estimates up to 120 thousand) were Ukrainian. In September 1939 fighting, about 8,000 Ukrainian citizens of Poland were killed.

From 17 September 1939, the Red Army entered the conflict. After the Soviet invasion of Poland, Ukrainians took part in the fighting on the side of Poland and the USSR.

After the September campaign, about 60 thousand Ukrainians became German prisoners of war and over 20 thousand were sent into Soviet captivity.

Also, several hundred Ukrainians entered the war in the Wehrmacht under “Bergbauernhilfe” units (“Mountain- Peasant’s Help”).

Campaign posters calling to “Stand Up in the Ranks of the Carpathian Sich!” (1939)

Later, Ukrainian citizens of Romania, Slovakia and Hungary were mobilized into the armies of these countries.

In the Red Army, Ukrainians took part in the Soviet-Finnish War of 1939–1940. Particularly in the Soviet 44th and 70th Infantry Divisions, which were operating completely in Ukraine. The first of these were thrown into the Battle of Suomussalmi from 7 December 1939 till 8 January 1940. The 44th Division was almost entirely lost – with the loss of about 17.5 thousand people which exceeded 70% of its personnel. Almost 1200 soldiers were captured. The death toll for Ukrainians in the Soviet-Finnish War was estimated at approximately 27,000 people (according to some other sources – 40 thousand).

The first Ukrainian units who fought on the side of Finland were formed in early 1940. Volunteers were recruited mainly among the Soviet prisoners of war. One of the most famous commanders of Ukrainian volunteers was a participant of Kholodnyj Yar and author, Yuri Horlis-Horskyj.

Wehrmacht soldiers near a road pointer outside Lviv (September 1939)

The tragedy of the Ukrainian people was the lack of their own state and therefore, they were distributed among all the warring parties in this conflict. At the beginning of the German aggression against the USSR, in June 1941, Ukrainians had already been in the maelstrom of the World War for more than two years.

Broken columns of the Soviet 44th Infantry Division from Ukraine, which were abandoned in the Finnish snow (Suomussalmi, December 1939)