Battle for Lviv
The story is a part of the theme The Epoligue of the War, prepared within the program The Complicated Pages of Common History: Telling About World War II in Lviv.
By the end of
July 26, it became known at the front headquarters that the German command had
begun withdrawing the troops of the Lviv group to the southwest. To avoid the
destruction of the city, on July 27 at dawn the troops of the 3rd Guards Tank
Army attacked Lviv from the west, and the 60th Army attacked the city with the
forces of the 23rd Rifle Corps from the north, the 28th Corps from the east and
the 106th Corps from the southeast; the 10th Guards Armoured Corps of the 4th Armoured
Army continued to wage intense fighting in the city. The 38th Army was
advancing from the south. We tried to avoid street fights in the city, but it
appeared to be impossible. (...) On the morning of July 27, Lviv, a regional
center of Ukraine, an important road junction and a major industrial and
cultural center, was liberated from Nazi invaders. The defeated German units
were hastily retreating to the west...
(Ivan Konev, Notes of the Commander of the Front)
The troops of the First Ukrainian Front under the command of Marshal Ivan Konev began the Lviv-Sandomierz operation on July 13, 1944. The approach of the Soviet army to Lviv started with the battle of Brody (July 13-23, 1944). The Ukrainian Waffen SS Division “Galicia" took part in it on the side of the Germans and was defeated (about 70% of its military were killed). The outcome of the battle determined the further course of the operation, and the Nazis began to retreat from Lviv before the arrival of the Red Army, destroying a number of strategic objects and setting fire to military depots.
The fears and hopes of Lviv residents concerning the end of the war were different. The question of whether the Soviet rule would return and what to expect from it was very worrying, as most citizens remembered the Soviet repression of 1939-1941. For many residents, the re-arrival of Soviet rule meant a new occupation. Aristocrats moved to the West for fear of class persecution, expropriation of property, and deportation. Many members of nationalist organizations decided to flee, in particular because of fear of Soviet persecutions and accusations of collaborating with the Nazis. Kost Pankivsky, the head of the Lviv branch of the Ukrainian Central Committee, wrote about those days as follows:
This was the
swansong of the German conquerors of the Galician land. After their departure
came a new Bolshevik occupation. (...) In the evening of July 19, 1944, at 5
o'clock, I visited Metropolitan Andrey, Bishop Yosyf Slipy and Bishop Nykyta
Budka, announcing my departure from Lviv. Half an hour later, the last string
of vehicles with UCC workers left Lviv.
(Kost Pankivsky, The Years of German Occupation, 1965)
The ground offensive of the Red Army was supported by General Krasovsky's 2nd Air Army, which had been carrying out air raids on Lviv since the spring. First of all, strategic objects were bombed, such as the Sknyliv airfield, the main railway station, Pidzamche and Persenkivka stations, but bombs were also dropped on residential neighbourhoods around vul. Horodotska, Kopernika, Zelena, Sapiegi. Compared to other Eastern European cities, such as Kovel, Ternopil or Warsaw, Lviv was not badly damaged by air strikes. However, after the bombings, there was often no water, electricity and gas in the city. Residents of Lviv had to hide in basements for weeks. Many lost their homes, about a hundred died and 400 were injured. Lviv residents awaited possible street fights with fear as the hostilities could lead to the destruction of the city and significant civilian casualties. Wanda Niemczycka-Babel recalls the last months of the Nazi occupation as follows:
On that fateful
night in April 1944, we, the inhabitants of ul. Zielona, also experienced the
effects of the Soviet air raid (...). The night was horribly long in its
darkness, in the closed space of the basement, in the constantly repeated
intensifying roar of aircraft engines, quite expectedly interrupted by a dry
cracking sound and a shock that knocked all of us, hands and arms tightly
clasped together, to the ground, sprinkling us with soft, sticky soot, a layer
of dust and crumbs of the walls. (...) The breach in the roof above the
staircase caused it to collapse, which made it impossible to use the stairs.
(Wanda Niemczycka-Babel, The Years of War, 1939-1945)
At the same time, for the surviving Jewish residents of Lviv, the arrival of the Red Army was long-awaited, because it meant rescue from the Nazis and the opportunity for the first time in many months to get out of hiding:
I must say that
the city was under the Germans for three years (1941-1944), but we met five or
six Jews, who were hiding from the Germans due to their acquaintances all this
time. One evening, Semen informed me that on the occasion of the liberation of
the city, several local Jews were inviting us to visit. These people endured
for three years but survived and were happy about it. We were greeted
exceptionally well. The table was set as before the war: Moskovskaya vodka,
sausage, ham, canned fish and meat. How could they keep all this? Everything
was delicious, and we had a fine time, like at home.
(Evgeny Bessonov, The Tank Landing)
Simultaneously with the Red Army troops, the operation to liberate Lviv was carried out by soldiers of the Home Army, who hoped to use the new geopolitical situation to restore Poland's pre-war eastern borders. Units of the Red Army and the Home Army fought against the Germans together as allies, and on July 27 they captured the city center, the area of the main railway station and the Citadel. However, the period of the Soviet regime’s peaceful coexistence with the Polish structures changed to repression and persecution just a few days later. Lviv became Soviet again for several decades.
Even before the end of World War II, the city authorities decided to create a Memorial to the Soldiers of the Soviet Army on vul. Pasichna, on the site of a former cemetery of Russian soldiers who died in 1914-15. It was planned to partially restore the military graves and install a 25-meter-high Victory Monument. In July 1945, the construction of the "Hill of Fame" began. Parts of the sculptural composition of the complex were made in Vienna and delivered to Lviv in 1946. Due to difficult post-war conditions, a much more modest version of the Memorial was implemented, and its official opening was delayed until 1958.
2. Иван Конев, Записки командующего фронтом (accessed on 13.02.2019)
3. Кім Науменко, У роки Другої світової війни (accessed on 13.02.2019)
4. Олександр Шишка, "Радянські військові меморіали", Галицька брама, 5-6 (53-54), 1999
5. Damian Karol Markowski, Anatomia strachu. Sowietyzacja obwodu lwowskiego 1944–1953. Studium zmian polityczno-gospodarczych, Warszawa, 2018
6. Wanda Niemczycka Babel, Lata wojny: 1939-1945, (accessed on 13.02.2019)
Translated by Andriy Masliukh