In the center of Kharkov, a forest recalls the past. They say that the trunks are full of bullets from the firing squads of the war. Not the one they fear is about to happen, a kind of Russian punishment, but World War II. The one they waged, shoulder to shoulder, with their comrades from Moscow, Leningrad, Vladivostok or Ufa.
The city has that gray tone of the cities rebuilt with sweat and calories of the communist system. During World War II, the Germans and Russians fought over the city in four battles. Between December 1941 and January 1942, some 30,000 people were killed by the Nazis and buried in a large mass grave, known as Drobitski Yar. As in many massacres of those years, the majority of the victims were Jews, although the system imposed the narrative that they were Soviets, period.
Historian Jean López has drawn on military archives to take the reader behind the scenes of this confrontation between Russians and Germans in his book ‘Kharkov 1942’. The painful lessons of Kharkov served Moscow to learn how to stop the Nazis.
Before the Nazi occupation, Kharkov was the most populous city in Ukraine. Kiev took the crown from him, although Kharkov continued to be more proud: its turbine factories made the USSR move, and today they propitiate the energy miracle of Asia, so hungry for almost everything.
In Kiev no one is from Kiev, but in Kharkov people are very much from Kharkov. During the early years of the USSR (whose foundation marks a century this year), Kharkov was the capital of the Ukrainian SSR. The ‘red’ past that is now rejected is also that of the lost capital, everything goes in the same package. So let Kiev proudly wear its crown, Ukrainians smile much more walking forward than when looking back.