World War II Battles in Ukraine & Soviet War Music Series: Part I

Aiming to run this set of articles throughout the month of May.


Writing about World War II today brings with it certain difficulties. For this series of articles, the intention is to remember and honor those who lived, fought and died in World War II, for… one reason or another. Aside from this first article, the focus is on the Battles fought within Ukraine during World War II - with some appropriately moving “Red Army Music”.  Alas, while not a Ukrainian soldier, I was once an American soldier and did spend time in Iraq as a civilian contractor - got out of the US Army after the Berlin Wall came down… and now live, married - in Ukraine, in Odessa for the past ten, the best ten, happiest years of my life.  So, if the perspective seems odd, it comes with the territory.

I will try to contain the worst of my vitriolic spew to this one paragraph.  May is Military Appreciation Month - but we have governments that treat our Veterans like shit. First, the simple matter is that we cannot afford governments who cannot afford to care for their Veterans - and their widows and fatherless children.   Secondly, extreme scorn should be leveled at the US Department of Homeland Security for being unable to distinguish between patriots and terrorists.   The schizophrenia of today is almost enough to make me do my patriotic duty and shoot myself, like other American veterans are doing…  perhaps after they get tired of waiting for the Veteran’s Administration to help them out.   /end rant

Of course, our “servicemen counterparts” in Russia today… deserve some similar consideration in that at the rate things are going they won’t have anything comparable to the Veteran’s Administration under its “Doctors for Tanks” economic strategy.  Brilliant, but makes “our” job a little easier… that is a job no one wanted to begin with, but hey the world likes to elect freaks to positions of freakish power.  /end of sympathy for Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine.

I’ll address the medical care being provided Ukrainian servicemen later in this series with (hopefully) greater depth.

It would be easier to remember and honor those who lived, fought and died for one reason or another in World War II if they numbered in the mere hundreds of thousands. In many of the single battles of World War II, more lives were lost in the opening hours and days than are lost in even the decades-long wars of today.

Катю́ша - “Little Catherine” - composed in 1938 by Matvei Blanter with lyrics by Mikhail Isakovsky.
(The Traditional Version not to be confused with the even better version by Zina.)

The Red Army of World War II bore the brunt of the fighting in World War II. It is necessary to characterize that the Army of the Soviet Union is NOT the Russian Army. As, at least then, it was called the Soviet Union for a reason – comprised (in varying degrees of “unity” – in a very loose sense) of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and of course, Russia itself.

It is necessary to point out that Bessarabia (Moldova and part of Romania), Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were annexed by the Soviet Union in agreement with Germany under the Molotov-Ribbentrip Pact of 1939 (under a secret protocol…  our politicians never tell us everything).  The Warsaw Pact, formed in the aftermath of World War II included Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Rumania.

It is also appropriate to note that when the opportunity to break away from the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact – virtually every last one of these countries (in effect) said, “Hell Yes!” That is except a very small part of Moldova, Transdneistr – which remains the poorest, most corrupt “area” in Europe exemplifying the marvels of Russian economics!

World War II was not quite the clear cut “good vs. evil” fight we might like to make it out to be. For some, the question to fight against Hitler or Stalin was a very difficult choice. Some fought against both all of the time – others fought against both at different times. If anything World War II proves nothing is ever TBTF… merely exceedingly difficult to stamp out completely.

An attempt will be made to briefly cover the different battles fought in Ukraine during World War II:

• The First Battle of Kiev (1941)
• The Siege of Odessa (1941)
• The First Battle of Kharkov (1941)
• The First Battle of the Crimea and Siege of Sevastopol (1941-1942)
• The Second Battle of Kharkov (1942)
• The Battle of the Kerch Peninsula (1942)
• The Third Battle of Kharkov (1943)
• The Fourth Battle of Kharkov (1943)
• The Second Battle of Kiev (1943)
• The Kerch-Eltigen Operation (1943)
• The Second Battle of the Crimea (1944)
• The Battle of the Dnieper (1944)
• The Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket (1944)
• The Kamenetz-Podolsky Pocket (1944)
• The Lvov-Sandomierz Offensive (1944)

A book could easily be written on each of these battles, and in all likelihood, probably has been. Beyond this list are scores of other smaller battles, hundreds of engagements, thousands and tens of thousands of firefights.

Kalinka - Written in 1860 by Ivan Larionov
To digress briefly, one may note that most of the fighting in Eastern Ukraine today is not all that different from the fighting waged in World War II. The weapons involved bear more similarities than differences, particularly as there is no significant “air war”. This leaves us with men, small weapons, artillery, armored fighting vehicles and tanks – employing much the same tactics and strategies of certain portions of World War II in both conventional and partisan warfare. The numbers of men and equipment are much smaller, thus a study of World War II is not without its merits for application today.

Anyways - for Victory in Europe Day and observing Military Appreciation Month - writing one article would be insulting.   It should be serious and funny, respectful and disrespectful, recognize that the worst of times will years later be remembered with nostalgia as the best of times… that one time enemies can indeed become the best of friends.  Again?  We better talk about that after this is all over - and after a few bottles.