During the Nazi occupation of 1941-1943, parts of Kyiv would have been unrecognizable. Many buildings were destroyed, including those on the main Khreshchatyk Street.
The World War II years – and the city’s stunning revival afterwards – are commemorated in a new photographic album “Kyiv: The City that Outlived the War.” Although the main focus is the war era, there are older pictures as well as contemporary shots of Kyiv by Viktor Zilberberg. All in all, there are about 250 photos, annotated in Russian and, conveniently, English.
The project began with an earlier album on Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. While working on it, the authors kept coming across pictures of Kyiv and decided to devote a separate album to the capital. Often, just identifying the city in a photo was difficult – unless it showed an obvious landmark like the Pecherska Lavra monastery in Kyiv.
Many of the photos came from archives in Germany. In occupied Kyiv, most of the German soldiers carried small photo cameras with them, unlike the locals.
“It is unfortunate that we now have to pay Germans for photos of our ruined cities,” said Volodymyr Bysov, one of the authors. Others came from private collections in Ukraine and abroad, although people were usually reluctant to share. In rare cases, someone heard about the project and contributed photos. For the Kharkiv book, a young Italian sent photos taken by his grandfather, an engineer whom Benito Mussolini’s regime had sent east to work on bridges during the war.
There are almost no people in the pictures. This is deliberate. Photos from the Kharkiv album were displayed in outdoor exhibitions and reached a large audience. There were uncomfortable cases where someone recognized themselves or a relative among the victims or in scenes that brought back unpleasant memories, the authors explain. Instead, they focused on cityscapes, leaving people in the background.
The album, which is not for sale, will be presented to museums, libraries and schools. It received support from a presidential grant. A representative from Ukraine’s state body for family and youth said he hoped that the album would encourage patriotism in young people. The organizers are planning a major exhibition for Victory Day on May 9 to run in one of Kyiv’s parks. They also hope to publish an album covering all Ukraine, which would include other cities such as Odesa and Lviv.
“Киев: Город, переживший войну,” by Gabriel Mykhailov, Volodymyr Bysov and Viktor Zilberman (2012)
Story by Annabelle Chapman