Myth 15 – The Dnieper Hydroelectric Dam in Zaporizhia, Khreshchatyk Street and the Assumption Cathedral in Kyiv Were Destroyed by the Nazis


The Dnieper Hydroelectric Dam in Zaporizhia, Khreshchatyk Street and the Assumption Cathedral in Kyiv Were Destroyed by the Nazis

Serhii Horobets

Kyiv-Hero. A Compilation of Materials on the Heroism of Kyivians during the Great Patriotic War

“By the order of the German command, troops looted, blew up and destroyed an ancient cultural monument – the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra.”

The Essence of the Myth

The “German barbarians” planted mines on the Dnieper Hydroelectric Dam in Zaporizhia, Khreshchatyk Street and the Assumption Cathedral in Kyiv.

Fast Facts

The Dnieper Hydroelectric Dam was mined by NKVD officers with the goal of preventing the rapid approach of the Wehrmacht. The result was huge numbers of casualties among civilians and Soviet troops. Planting mines on Khreshchatyk Street, the Assumption Cathedral in the Pecherksa Lavra and downtown apartments in Kyiv was also organized by Soviet security forces.

Detailed Facts

The Soviet security services planted mines extensively in cities which they then handed over to the Germans. They then detonated the mines so they would inflict maximum damage to the enemy according to the “scorched earth tactics” proclaimed by Stalin on 3 July 1941.

In Stalin’s speech, he called for the destruction of everything of value in areas that were threatened by enemy occupation in order to make it impossible from the Nazis to remove anything. He also called for the organization of subversive activities in the occupied territories:

“In areas occupied by the enemy, guerilla units, mounted and on foot, must be formed; sabotage groups must be organized to combat enemy units, to foment guerilla warfare everywhere, blow up bridges and roads, damage telephone and telegraph lines, set fire to forests, stores and transports. In occupied regions conditions must be made unbearable for the enemy and all his accomplices. They must be hounded and annihilated at every step, and all their measures frustrated.”

However, this call was mainly related to resources such as vehicles, fuel, grain, livestock and foodstuffs, and the destruction of monuments of global significance and important engineering structures during the retreat was not supposed to count.

Stalin’s speech was based on the provisions of the Directive of People’s Commissars of the USSR and the Central Committee of the Communist Party on 29 June 1941 for party and government organizations along the frontline areas to mobilize all their forces and means to defeat the Nazi occupiers.

Dnieper Dam, destroyed by NKVD units in August 1941

During the implementation of the “scorched earth tactics”, Soviet military command and the NKVD killed tens of thousands of civilians and Soviet troops. The removal and destruction of stockpiles of food in the fall and winter caused a famine in the Nazi-occupied territories.

From the perspective of international law, the “scorched earth tactics” is to be considered a war crime.

The most famous manifestations of these tactics during the retreat of the Red Army in 1941 was the destruction of ancient architectural monuments of central Kyiv and the Dnieper Hydroelectric Dam in Zaporizhia.

On 18 August 1941 at about eight in the evening, NKVD officers detonated the Dnieper Dam, without any warnings. The 20 ton explosion destroyed 165 meters of the dam, resulting in a 20 meter wave of water washing away the city strip. It swallowed up Khortytsia Island and reached the cities of Marhanets and Nikopol – located almost 80 kilometers downstream of the Dnieper.

Ruins of the Assumption Cathedral (1942)

The number of victims is not known because no one could even began counting them. Most researchers usually say about 100,000 dead, including 80,000 residents of Zaporizhia and its surrounding area, refugees from neighbouring regions and close to 20,000 Soviet soldiers who could not escape the city. German command estimated that their losses in manpower were about 1,500 people.

The reason for this action was the fear of a rapid onset of German troops, whose main forces only came into the area in early October 1941.

In Kyiv, before the surrender of the city to the Germans, the communist authorities began to destroy stocks of food, the water supply, a power plant and blew up four bridges. According to eyewitnesses, the bridges were still being used by retreating Soviet troops during the explosion.

It was then that the Soviet secret services placed mines in almost the entire city center. The buildings along Khreshchatyk Street, the State Bank building, Opera Theatre, the Central Party Committee building in St. Michael’s Square and the NKVD building on Volodymyrska Street, the Lenin Museum – the former pedagogical museum, where at one point the Ukrainian Central Rada met are all locations that were targeted. There is also evidence of attempts to place explosives in the St. Sophia Cathedral, one of the oldest Orthodox churches.

View of the ruined Khreshchatyk Street (September 1941)

In the Lavra monastery, in addition to the Assumption Cathedral, other buildings were also loaded with explosives.

The Germans were in no hurry to enter the city, practically not attacking it and only strengthening its surroundings. They planned to save Kyiv in order to house their garrisons there.

German troops entered Kyiv on 19 September 1941.

Interestingly, the Soviet Information Bureau did not report the surrender of the Ukrainian capital until 21 September. In Kyiv, for more than a day, the occupiers were in the city and the Soviet radio and newspapers continued to argue further that “on 20 September, our troops fought persistent battles with the enemy along the entire front and especially fiercely in Kyiv.” Obviously, the Soviet Information Bureau lied. It is these little things that formed the distorted Soviet vision of this war.

The explosions that occurred on Khreshchatyk Street on 24 September started a huge fire. The Germans tried to extinguish it, dragging hoses from the Dnieper River and pumping out water. However, the Soviet underground cut the hoses. Prior to this, the Soviets had removed the fire trucks from Kyiv and there were not enough German fire engines. The fire lasted nearly two weeks. Around the Khreshchatyk Street area, 324 buildings were destroyed and thousands of Kyivans were left homeless.

The explosions by the Soviet secret services were blamed on the Jews in Kyiv by the German occupational authorities and it was used to justify their mass killing in Babi Yar on 29 and 30 September 1941. During these two days, the Nazis shot almost 34,000 children, women and the elderly.

The explosion of the Assumption Cathedral in the Lavra occurred on 3 November 1941, two hours after the visit of the Slovak President Jozef Tiso. His visit took place at 12:30 pm.

There are several versions of this event. At 14:30 there were small explosions in the cathedral. Then, two people ran out, one of whom was in a Red Army uniform. One of the police guards noticed the fugitives and opened fire as they ran – all were shot. After a few minutes, the Assumption Cathedral soared into the air and was destroyed by a tremendous explosion. The body of the sappers lay in the ruins of the cathedral until March 1942.