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In the very first day of the Great Patriotic War (a part of the Second World War; started when Nazi Germany invaded the USSR in 1941), Kiev virtually became a front-line city, having suffered bombardment by the Luftwaffe. 197 large industrial enterprises, 32 higher and secondary educational institutions, research institutes, and over 335,000 inhabitants were evacuated to the east. The Kiev inhabitants converted part of the industrial enterprises to military production and constructed defence fortifications.
Thousands of Kiev inhabitants joined militia units and destroyer battalions and fought against superior enemy forces alongside Red Army units; this heroic defence, the 1941 Defence of Kiev, lasted for 72 days.
On 19th September 1941, the city was occupied by Nazi German troops. The Nazi Germans established a bloody regime of terror, violence and looting: over 200,000 people were murdered at the Baby Yar ravine and at the Syrets and Darnits concentration camps, 100,000 people were sent to Germany to work as slaves, over 800 industrial enterprises and 40% of the residential buildings were destroyed. The Kiev inhabitants selflessly fought against the occupation.
In 1941–1943, an underground resistance movement operated in the city; the movement included the Kiev City Communist Party Committee, the party committees of the city's districts and underground groups (Arsenalets, the Kiev Worker, Death to the German Occupants, and others).
On 6th November 1943, Kiev was liberated by the Red Army, during the Kiev Operation. The Soviet authorities highly valued the military feat of the Kiev inhabitants: in 1961, the Medal for the Defence of Kiev was established and the Hero City of Kiev was awarded with its second Order of Lenin; in 1965, the city received the Medal of the Gold Star. Assisted by all the other republics of the USSR, Kiev raised from ruins fast. Everything that had been destroyed by the Nazi Germans was rebuilt: the main street (Kreshchatik Street), the industrial enterprises, the higher educational institutions, the hospitals, and the residential buildings.
The memory of the heroic deeds of the people who defended the city in 1941 and of those who liberated the city in 1943 is eternalised in tenths of obelisks and commemorative plaques and in names of streets, squares, enterprises, and schools.
As early as in the heat of the battle for the liberation of Ukraine, in 1943, the government of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (then part of the USSR) adopted a decision to create a republican-level museum of the Great Patriotic War of the Ukrainian people.
However, quite understandably, there were more pressing matters to attend to during and immediately after the war: it was necessary to rebuild the city and the economy. For this reason, the museum had to wait until the mid-1970s.
In 1946, only one exhibition, called Ukraine's Partisans Fighting against the Nazi German Invaders, was opened, but it existed only until 1950.
On 17th October 1974, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Ukraine's liberation, the Ukrainian State Museum of the History of the 1941–1945 Great Patriotic War (the Museum, for short) was opened. From the very beginning, the Museum attracted many individual visitors and general attention of the community; it soon became clear that the Museum's collection, the size of which corresponded to the great scale of the topic, required more space. For this reason, preparations to construction of an entire memorial complex started; the complex was named the Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War.
On 9th May 1981, the new museum complex was opened. It consists of the following: the main square featuring the Alley of the Hero Cities and two sculptural compositions, The Assault Crossing of the Dnieper River and The Arms Transfer; the Gallery of the Front-Line and Home-Front Heroes featuring bronze high-relief compositions; the Cup of the Flame of Fame; an exhibition of military equipment and weaponry; a stand-alone building that houses two permanent relic exhibitions, The Tragedy and Valour of Afghanistan and Fighting Other People's Wars.
The Museum itself is situated inside the pedestal of the grand, 100-metre (330-feet) high statue called The Mother Motherland that has become one of the tourist symbols of Kiev.
In October of 1994 – May of 1995, the modern exhibitions were created to reflect the new historical realia of the independent Ukraine. The exhibitions, which have been constantly improving and enlarging, include relics from the holdings and documents obtained in these last years. Of the highest priority are Ukraine-related topics that reflect the contribution of Ukraine to the victory over Nazism. A significant attention is also dedicated to the other sections of the Soviet-German front, to the large-scale battles of the Second World War, to the creation and activities of the Allied Coalition, and to the heroism and sacrifices of the rank-and-file soldiers.
The main exhibition occupies 16 rooms of a total area of 5,000 square metres (54,000 square feet), and it contains over 15,000 museum items. What is special about this exhibition is that historical material is presented with easily comprehensible symbols and images. By combining means based on documents, relics, artistic symbols, audio and video, a general reconstruction of the main events of the Second World War is achieved.
The exhibitions of all the rooms are thematically and chronologically united by a common emphasis on "going through the war". The relic materials are used to create an artistic and historical image of each topic, which is then developed, made more concrete and complemented by the display cases of the corresponding room.
The Beginning of the Second World War.
This department starts from the materials that reflect the economic and political situation in Germany, the USSR, and Ukraine on the eve of the war. It presents documents related to the origins of the Second World War and to the social and political circumstances of the time when it was starting. The next rooms of the Museum are dedicated to the initial period of the war including the Defence of Kiev that lasted from 11th July to 26th September. The Crimean Peninsula was a scene of fierce fighting. Exhibits of the Museum tell us about the Defence of Sevastopol that lasted for 250 days and about the Kerch-Feodosia Landing Operation executed by Soviet troops.
The Period of Occupation.
During the period of occupation, around 5,000,000 civilians were murdered. The Museum presents a map of Ukraine that shows 300 Ukraine's villages that were burned down together with their inhabitants during punitive operations of the Nazi German forces. The exhibitions clearly demonstrate the history of the crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis. Barbed wire, murder weapons (for example, a guillotine, a gallows, and a bone crusher), corpse disposal equipment, prisoner identification numbers, children's footwear from Majdanek, clothes of a Buchenwald prisoner, a small piece of soap out of human fat and gloves out of human skin made in Auschwitz - and the cynical slogan from the Buchenwald main gate, Jedem das Seine (German for "Everyone Gets What He Deserves"), hanging over all this.
The Resistance Movement.
The next stage presents the Ukrainian resistance movement: the activities of the partisans and members of the underground resistance, the participation of Ukrainians in resistance movements in the USSR and other countries as well as the activities of Ukrainian nationalist organisations such as the Organisation of the Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. The exhibitions do not shun from such difficult topics as the fate of the SS Galizien Division mainly made up of Ukrainian volunteers and the tragic events in the West Ukraine after its liberation from the Nazi invaders.
The Turning Point and the End of the War.
The further exhibitions are dedicated to those large-scale battles of the Second World War that determined the turning point and marked the beginning of Nazi Germany's crushing defeat. The Liberation of Ukraine. The Battle of Kursk, the Assault Crossing of the Dnieper River, the Battle of Dnieper, and the Battle of Kiev make up one of the heroic and, at the same time, tragic pages of Ukraine's history. The unique exhibit: a flag raised by Soviet soldiers over a Berlin airfield.
The Hall of Memory is the culmination of the Museum's exhibitions and the end of "going through the war". The hall features a large memorial table of 27 metres (88.5 feet) in length, with front-line everyday-life objects, embroidered rushniks (Ukrainian decorative towels) and condolence letters placed on it.
The Hall of Victory is the last room of the Museum. The white-marble pylons contain inscribed in gold the names of almost 12,000 people who bear the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union and of 201 people who bear the title of the Hero of Socialist Labour. These people received their titles for their heroic deeds performed during the War.
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