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Living Ц or Falsified? Ц History

 

In Ukraine, historical reenactments began to be performed fairly recently and have not yet gained a wide popularity. One of such reenactments Ч The Battle for Kyiv Ч has become a regular event. This year it will be held for the seventh time.

Reenactments of historical events, mostly battles, began to be staged as long ago as two thousand years ago in ancient Rome. The Romans staged recreations of famous battles within their amphitheaters as a form of public spectacle. The two main reasons for staging them were probably patriotic sentiments and an insatiable Roman desire for bloodthirsty fun. In the Middle Ages tournaments often reenacted historical themes from Ancient Rome or elsewhere. In the nineteenth century, reenactments were held in a number of countries. During the early twentieth century they became popular in Russia (for instance, reenactments of the Siege of Sevastopol in the Crimean War of the mid-nineteenth century, the Battle of Borodino in 1812 in the war fighting against Napoleon, and others). Historical reenactment is a type of roleplay in which participants attempt to recreate some aspects of a historical event or period. This may be as narrow as a specific moment from a battle, or as broad as an entire period.

Historical reenactments may be staged for educational purposes, or be competitive events for purposes of entertainment. Some museums and historic sites employ reenactment groups with high standards of authenticity at special events. Most reenactors are amateurs who pursue reenactment as a hobby.

The Second World War was arguably the most traumatic event for Ukraine of the twentieth century (with the collectivization of the late nineteen twenties and early thirties, Great Famine of 1932–1933 that followed and Civil Wars of 1918–1920 being other events of enormously tragic consequences for Ukraine). Nazi Germany, brushing aside the non-aggression pact that had been signed with the Soviet Union in 1939, invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, and by the end of summer the German troops occupied vast territories of the Soviet Union, most of Ukraine included. The early successes of the invaders became possible not only thanks to the great military skills of the German army, but to a large extent because of the incompetence of the soviet high command, lack of well-trained officers (Stalin’s purges of the 1930s decimated the officer corps of the country), lack of enthusiasm on the part of many soldiers to fight for their “Soviet Motherland”, their lack of military skills and by other factors.  Because of Stalin’s devastatingly incompetent orders (Stalin, the soviet communist dictator, assumed the top command of the soviet armed forces), the Germans, in the Battle of Kyiv, surrounded and taken prisoner over 600,000 soviet troops in August 1941 (very few soviet POWs survived). In early September, they entered Kyiv. The occupation lasted for over two years, until November 1943 when the soviets took the city back from the Germans.

The soviet leaders and high military command did not regard  human life — that of soldiers in particular — to be the most precious thing in the world and let their soldiers die in hundreds of thousands when they ordered to capture a city or a strategic point by a certain date, a soviet holiday of one sort or the other. In the case of Kyiv it was the Seventh of November, the day when the soviets celebrated what they called “the Great October Socialist Revolution” (“October Revolution” celebrated in November? It was only of so many absurd things of the soviet times).

The order of the soviet Supreme Command to have Kyiv taken before the holiday cost over 200,000 Red Army soldier lives. The soviet troops had to get across the Dnipro River under never-relenting enemy fire. In some units, out of three thousand people who began crossing and entered battle to capture bridgeheads, as few as twenty five survived.

It is the events of early November 1943 that the reenactments of the Battle for Kyiv are designed to recreate. Viewed objectively, these reenactments produce an impression of being colorful military pageants rather than “living history”.

This year, there will be two WWII reenactments. Or rather, one of them was already held in May in commemoration of the victory over Germany in WWII. The other one, devoted to The Battle for Kyiv, will be held in early November, in all likelihood in the village of Novo-Petrivtsi, not far from Kyiv (learn more at www.battleforkyiv.org.ua).

Novo-Petrivtsi happened to be the place from which the central thrust of the soviet offensive was launched. It was from Novo Petrivtsi that the movements of the troops were coordinated and commanded (there is a sort of open-air museum there with WWII trenches and command posts open for tourists).

The Battle for Kyiv reenactments involve amateur reenactors wearing Red Army and Werhmacht uniforms (uniforms are provided by the reenactors themselves) and doing realistically portrayed battle scenes. Before the reenactment, there are rehearsals, of course, with military advisers and historians providing advice. The Battle for Kyiv reenactments are usually supported by public non-government organizations, the Ministry of Defense, the City Administration of Kyiv, The Battle of Kyiv Museum, and other organizations. Some reenactments were watched by high officials, president of Ukraine included. The Ministry of Defense and aviation clubs provided planes to make the reenactment look more authentic. Special care was taken to prevent any injuries from explosions and fired blank cartridges. No live ammunition was used.

The viewers admitted that the battle looked real enough, with army nurses pulling the “wounded” from the field, and surgeon assistants carrying “amputated limbs” out from field surgery tents.

Over 500 reenactors from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Germany took part in the last such reenactment. Weapons and armored vehicles were quite authentic; uniforms, though made recently, looked quite authentic too.

After “the battle” is over, the audience is invited to partake of the simple dishes cooked at the field kitchen and take close-up pictures of the WWII military equipment. But before the battle no “civilians” are allowed to come close to “the battlefield.” Those correspondents who are allowed to come close to the scene of action must have period cameras, that is such cameras that were actually used in the nineteen forties, or if they were made later they must be exact replicas of the older ones; photo journalists can, actually, use cameras of newer makes only in case they are “camouflaged” to look like the old ones.

Reasons given for participating — and watching — vary. Some participants are interested in getting a historical perspective on a particular period of war; some can trace their ancestry back to an individual or individuals who were involved and they want to know “how it felt”.  Others participate for the escapism that such events offer. Still others like wearing uniforms and getting the feel of weapons in their hands.

The reassessment of the pivotal events in the history of Ukraine is a long and torturous process. People of more advanced age, who lived in the soviet times and who absorbed dogmas and inventions concocted by the soviet authorities and propaganda, have a hard time accepting the hard facts — so they prefer to stay with soviet myths. The bitter truth that in the Second World War the central clash was between two totalitarian regimes of approximately equal ferocity and that it was not just a fight of Good against Evil comes particularly hard for so many people in Ukraine, regardless of age, to accept. For millions of Ukrainians it was not a “Great Patriotic War” as it was styled by soviet propaganda but a great tragedy of having one totalitarian regime attempting to delete the other one from the map and fighting it out on Ukraine’s territory. Some Ukrainians took up arms against both regimes; many were drafted into the Red Army and fought for the soviets; the majority did their best to simply survive. Very unfortunately, the Ukrainian history textbooks for secondary schools continue, in some respects, to sustain soviet myths, and the current Russian propaganda, which the people of Ukraine are massively exposed to through Russian periodicals and television broadcasts freely available in Ukraine, contributes to maintaining distorted and falsified historical views.

In this light, one can’t help asking — are reenactments of The Battle for Kyiv kind really worth staging? Would it not be better to reveal the truth about WWII with a much less pomp but in a convincingly presented manner?

 

 

 

 

 

Reenactors dressed as Red Army officers are allowed to use cell phones and other means of modern communication.

 

 

 

T-34 was recognized to be the best tank of WWII; originally, it was designed
and first built in Kharkiv in 1940.

 

Based on an essay by Viktor SYDORENKO

Photos by Stanislav POTANIN

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