views updated May 17 2018


KIEV (Kiov ), capital of Ukraine.

The Jewish Community before 1667

Kiev's central position on the River Dnieper at the commercial crossroads of Western Europe and the Orient attracted Jewish settlers (*Rabbanites and *Karaites) from the foundation of the town in the eighth century c.e. At first most of them were transient merchants from both east and west. According to letters dated 930 from the Cairo *Genizah there were Jews in Kiev at this time. Ancient Russian chronicles relate that some Jews from *Khazaria visited Vladimir, the prince of Kiev, to try to convert him to Judaism (986). About that time a Jewish community already existed in the city. Jewish merchants from the West (Radanites) took part in the trade of the city, and were called in Hebrew sources "goers to Russia." The abbot of Kiev, Theodosius the Blessed (11th century), is said to have visited Jewish homes at night and to have held disputations with the householders. There were two Jewish suburbs of Kiev, Kozary and Zhidove. A "Gate of the Jews" is mentioned at the time of the riots which broke out on the death of Prince Svyatopolk (1113), when the populace also attacked Jewish houses and burned them. *Benjamin of Tudela mentions "Kiov, the great city," and *Pethahiah of Regensburg visited the town on his way to the Orient (12th century). At the end of the 12th century two Jews, Ephraim son of Moses and Anabel Jasin, served in the court of the prince Andrey Bogoliubski. During the same century *Moses of Kiev lived in the town. He corresponded with Jacob b. Meir *Tam in the west and the gaon*Samuel b. Ali in Baghdad. Under Tatar rule (1240–1320) the Jews had been protected, earning them the hatred of the Christian population. With the annexation of Kiev to the principality of Lithuania (1320), the Jews were granted certain rights ensuring the safety of their lives and property. Several of them (such as Simkha, Riabichka, Danilovich, and Shan in 1488) leased the collection of taxes and amassed fortunes. As the Jewish community increased in numbers so did the number of scholars, although the statement found in several sources, "from Kiev emanate Torah and light," is an exaggeration. During the 15th century *Moses (b. Jacob Ashkenazi the Exile) of Kiev ii wrote commentaries on the Sefer Yeẓirah, on the Pentateuch commentaries of Abraham *Ibn Ezra and others, and held disputations with the Karaites. In the Tatar raid on Kiev (1482) many Jews were taken captive. In 1470 Zekharia, whom Russian sources link to the beginning of the Zhidovstvuyushchiye movement (Jewish heresy), left Kiev for Novgorod.

Like the rest of the Jews in the principality of Lithuania, the Kiev community was expelled in 1495. When the decree was revoked (1503), the community was reestablished. However, in 1619 the Christian merchants obtained from King Sigismund iii a prohibition on permanent settlement of Jews or their acquisition of real estate in the town. They were allowed to come into Kiev for trading purposes alone and might remain one day only in an inn assigned to them. In spite of this, many Jews continued to live in the town under the protection of the Vojevoda (district governor) and noblemen in their properties in town (who saw them as a source of income). Russian sources relate that Jews were killed in Kiev during the *Chmielnicki massacres (1648). On the demand of the citizens, John ii Casimir of Poland and Czar Alexis renewed the prohibition on Jewish settlement (1654). This became final with the annexation of Kiev to Russia (1667). The Russian Orthodox academy there fomented hatred of the Jews and its students attacked any Jew they found trading in the town.

From 1793

After a break of about 150 years the community of Kiev was reestablished in 1793, after the second partition of Poland. In 1798 the community acquired land for a cemetery. The earlier conflict between the Christian citizens and the Jews began once more. While the Jews struggled for settlement in Kiev, the economic and commercial center of the southwestern region of Russia, the citizens persistently endeavored to expel them, basing their claim on the status quo since Sigismund iii and adding that "holy" Kiev was "profaned" by the presence of the Jews.

In spite of this in 1809 there were 452 Jews in Kiev (of about 20,000 total population), and their numbers rose by 1815 to about 1,500 (not including transients), with two synagogues and other communal institutions. The citizens proceeded with the demand to expel the Jews but owing to the negative stand of the governor, Czar Alexander i ordered them to leave the city. Eventually Cẓar *Nicholas I acceded to the demands of the citizens and at the end of 1827 residence in Kiev was forbidden to Jews. In part due to representations by state officials, who pointed out that the expulsion would worsen economic conditions in the town, the execution of the decree was twice deferred. In 1835, however, on the expiry of the last postponement, the Jews left the town, and the Jewish community facilities ceased to function. Despite this, they still played an important part in its economic life, for Jewish merchants came in their hundreds to the large annual fairs held from 1797 in Kiev in January. With their assistants and servants, they made up 50–60% of the fairs' participants. In 1843 Jewish temporary visitors were officially permitted, provided that they resided and bought food in two specially appointed inns. These were leased by the municipality to Christian agents, who were empowered to deliver to the police any Jew who did not stay in them. At the beginning of the reign of Alexander ii these inns were abolished (1858), and instead a special payment to the municipality was levied upon the Jews as compensation for the losses caused by the abolishment of the inns. In 1861 two suburbs, Lyebed and Podol, were assigned to those Jews entitled to reside in Kiev (wealthy merchants and industrialists and their employees, members of the free professions, and craftsmen). The number of Jews in Kiev increased to 3,013 (3% of the total population) in 1863 and to 13,803 (11.8%) in 1872.

In May 1881 a pogrom raged in the streets of the city, supported and encouraged by the governor-general, General Drenteln. Jewish houses and shops were looted, and many people were injured; 762 families were completely ruined. The damage caused was evaluated at 1,750,000 roubles. From that date the authorities began sporadically to investigate the residence rights of the Jews in Kiev. Until 1917 the city became notorious for the police " oblavy " ("hunt attacks") for Jews without residence rights. For example, expelled in 1883 were 1,179 persons, in 1884 1,254, in 1885 1,368, and in the first half of 1886 2,076. The night searches and expulsions continued almost until wwi. In 1891 the authorities ordered that a considerable portion of the income of the Jewish community be allotted to the police to cover the cost of their measures to prevent Jews' entering the town. In spite of all these persecutions, the number of Jews in Kiev continued to increase. From 31,801 (12.8%) in 1897, it rose to 50,792 (10.8%) in 1910 and 81,256 (13%) at the end of 1913. In fact the number of Jews was greater, since a large number evaded the census. Many Jews also lived in the suburbs and townlets around Kiev and only came into the city daily on business. There were some wealthy Jewish families in Kiev, who included many of the magnates of the southwestern Russian sugar industry (the *Brodsky and Zaitsev families). Many Jews were employed in their factories in the town and the vicinity. There was a very active branch of the Society for Enlightenment of Russian Jews, which maintained 21 Jewish schools in the town and the district, as well as a library of 6,500 books. The city also had many Jewish physicians, lawyers, and other members of the liberal professions. Kiev University attracted Jewish youth; in 1886 Jewish students numbered 236 and in 1911, 888 (17% of the total number of students), the largest concentration of Jewish students in a Russian university. In Kiev were born Golda Meir (Mabovich), who became prime minister of Israel, the writer Ilya *Ehrenburg, and some Hebrew writers, notably J. Kaminer, J.L. *Levin (Yehalel), M. Kamionski, I.J. Weissberg, E. *Schulman, and A.A. Friedman. *Shalom Aleichem, who lived in Kiev for some time, described the town in his account of life in Yehupets. According to the 1897 census, 29,937 Jews (out of 31,801) declared Yiddish as their mother language. There were 12,317 who earned incomes, divided into three main groups: artisans (42%), merchants (24%), and army service (10%). The artisans were mainly occupied as follows: the clothing industry (54%), metal works (11%), woodworking (9%), and printing (6%). The main occupations of traders were in farm products (34%), textiles and clothing (16%), and building materials (7%). The Jewish merchants constituted 44% of all the merchants in Kiev.

In the wake of Jewish revolutionary activity, a large-scale pogrom occurred on Oct. 18, 1905. Neither army nor police controlled the rioters, who ran amok unhindered for three days. Indeed, soldiers protected the hooligans from the Jewish *self-defense organization. The rioters attacked the houses of the wealthy, but their attacks were mainly directed against the poor suburbs. However, the pogrom did not interrupt the development of the community, which became one of the wealthiest in Russia as well as one of the most diversified socially. In 1910 there were 4,896 Jewish merchants in the town, 42% of all the merchants there, but nevertheless 25% of the community had to apply for Passover alms during that same year. The community was officially recognized in 1906 as the "Jewish Representation for Charity Affairs at the Municipal Council." Its income from the meat tax (see *korobka) and other sources amounted to 300,000 rubles annually. A Jewish hospital for the poor which served the whole of Ukraine was opened in 1862, followed by a hospital specializing in surgery, a clinic for eye diseases (under the direction of M. *Mandelstamm), and other welfare institutions. In 1898 a magnificent central synagogue was built by means of a donation from L. *Brodsky. From 1906 to 1921 S. *Aronson was rabbi of Kiev; notable as *kazyonny ravvin ("government-appointed rabbi") were Joshua Zuckerman, the first to be appointed to this office, and S.Z. Luria. Between 1911 and 1913 Kiev was the site of the notorious *Beilis blood libel trial and the town was then racked by the agitation of the members of the *Union of Russian People ("Black Hundreds"). In 1911, after the assassination of prime minister Stolypin by a Jew in Kiev, severe pogroms were on the point of breaking out there, but the authorities decided to restrain the rioters.

During World War i, residence restrictions in the town were lifted for Jewish refugees from the battle areas. The years 1917–20 were years of upheaval for the Jews of Kiev. With the February 1917 Revolution, all the residence restrictions were abolished and Jews at once began to stream into the town. In the census at the end of 1917, 87,246 Jews (19% of the total population) were registered. A democratic community was established, led by the Zionist Moses Nahum *Syrkin. Meetings and congresses of Russian and Ukrainian Jews were held in Kiev, the central institutions of Ukrainian Jewry were set up there, and Jewish writers and communal workers of every shade of opinion and party became active in the town. Books and newspapers were published and cultural institutions, led by the Hebrew *Tarbut and the Yiddish Kultur Lige, engaged in a variety of activities. In the spring of 1919, the number of Jews had grown to 114,524 (21%).

With the first conquest of the town by the Red Army, which lasted from February to August 1919, Kiev became a haven for refugees from the pogroms sweeping the provincial towns of Ukraine. The running of the Jewish community was handed over to the *Yevsektsiya, and the systematic destruction of communal institutions, traditional Jewish culture, and national parties began. With the retreat of the Red Army, an attempt was made to form a Jewish self-defense unit. When *Petlyura's forces entered the city they arrested the members of the self-defense unit and 36 of them were executed. A month after Kiev was occupied by *Denikin's "Volunteer Army," thugs initiated a period of pillage, rape, and murder of the Jews which lasted until the "Volunteers" were driven out by the Red Army (December 1919). The Jews in Kiev suffered heavily during the famine and typhus outbreak of 1920. In the August 1920 census they constituted one third of the town's population. In 1923 Kiev had 128,041 Jews (32%), 140,256 (27.3%) in 1926, and in 1939, 224,236 (of a total population of 845,726).

In the years 1920–22 the famine and typhus epidemic ravaged Kiev and took a heavy toll on the Jewish population. oze, the jdc, and other relief organizations from abroad organized food and medical help. The Jews went through a process of proletarianization, engaging in physical labor or crafts; later in the second half of the 1920s half of them were government employees. In 1926, 16,690 Jews were members of trade unions (out of 77,257). The number of Jews in heavy industry grew to 4,080 in 1932. In 1931 they constituted 80% of the 3,300 workers of the shoe factory.

During the first 20 years of the Soviet regime, Kiev became a major center of the officially fostered Yiddish culture, with a school system catering to many thousands of pupils and students, culminating in institutes of higher education and learning, such as the department for Jewish culture at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences (1926) which in 1930 became the "Institute of Proletarian Jewish Culture" under the direction of Joseph Liberberg. This state-sponsored activity attracted even Jewish writers and scholars from the west, such as Meir *Wiener and others. Some valuable research works on Yiddish language and literature were published there. Many Yiddish poets and writers, among them David *Hofstein and Itzik *Feffer, lived and wrote in Kiev. There were also the All-Ukrainian Jewish State Theater, a Yiddish children's theater, Yiddish newspapers, journals, and publishing houses. In the early 1930s Liberberg and some of his associates headed a group of Yiddish intellectuals who went to the newly established Jewish autonomous region in *Birobidzhan to organize Jewish educational and cultural work there in conjunction with the Jewish academic institute in Kiev. Several years later, with the forcible liquidation of all Jewish institutions, including libraries and archives in Kiev, one of the most important centers of Soviet Yiddish culture ceased to exist.

[Yehuda Slutsky]

Holocaust Period

The fall of the city to the Germans on Sept. 19, 1941 marked the end of Kiev Jewry. A considerable part of the Jews living in Kiev in 1939 were among the 335,000 evacuees; some managed to flee eastward to central Russia, just before the Nazi occupation. Between September 20–24 buildings in the Khreshchatik area where headquarters of German military units were housed blew up, and many German soldiers and officers were killed. Thousands of hostages, among them many Jews, were taken and executed. On September 26 the city commander convened a meeting in which participated Friedrich Jaeckeln, commander of police and ss on the Southern Front; Dr. Otto Rash, head of Einsatzgruppec; and ss Colonel Paul Blobel, commander of Einsatzkommando 4a. It was decided to annihilate all the Jews of Kiev. Blobel was in charge of the execution, with the help of units of the German Police and Ukrainian Auxiliary Police. On September 28 (Tishri 7) 2,000 notices in German, Ukrainian, and Russian were posted in Kiev, announcing that "All the Zhids (Jews) of Kiev and the suburbs are to appear on Monday, September 29, 1941, at 8:00 a.m. on the corner of Melnikovskaya and Decktiarovska streets [near the cemeteries]. They are to bring their documents, money, other valuables and warm clothes, linen, etc. Any Zhid found disobeying these orders will be shot. Citizens breaking into flats left by the Jews and taking possession of their belongings will be shot." (For Jew the derogatory word " zhid " was used and not the usual evrei.) Since the location was near the Petrovski goods railway station, and owing to the rumors about evacuation of the Jews to other towns or camps, nobody suspected what was coming. On the morning of September 29, tens of thousands of Jews concentrated there were led through Melnik Street to the Jewish cemetery in the Babi Yar ravine, stripped naked, and led in groups to the edge of the ravine, where they were machine-gunned, their bodies falling into the ravine. At the end of the day heaps of earth were thrown over the bodies, burying both dead and wounded. According to the official report of the s.s. unit in charge of the mass extermination, 33,771 Jews were murdered in Babi Yar on Sept. 29–30, 1941. A later report said that about 36,000 Jews were killed then.

Babi Yar continued to be a mass execution ground throughout the German occupation. On October 1–3 Einsatzkommando 5 murdered in Babi Yar 2,500–3,000 Jews, including 308 mentally ill. All the time Jewish prisoners of war, mostly from Darnitsa camp, were executed. Hiding in the city were many Jews, some in mixed marriages. Many of them were denounced by local Ukrainians, caught, and shot. From spring 1942, Jews who were caught were sent to labor camps in the city, such as that on Kerosinnaya Street (5,000 prisoners of war and 3,000 Jews), Pecherskaya Street, and Institutskaya Street. The number of inmates diminished due to selections, starvation, and daily killings. In May 1942 the Syretsk camp (near Babi Yar) was opened, and in December it housed 2,000 inmates, more than a third of them Jews. The regime was very cruel – prisoners were shot for the smallest infraction or for not being able to work. On August 18, 1943, 100 prisoners from Syretsk were taken to Babi Yar, and soon the group was enlarged to 321 inmates. Their task was to eradicate any sign of the mass graves in the ravine. A bonfire was made from railway ties, and excavators opened the graves. The prisoners, whose legs were in chains, took the bodies, searched them for valuables and gold teeth and fillings, and threw them into the bonfire; any bones remaining were ground, and the ashes spread around and leveled. A garden was planted on the site. The prisoners lived in two bunkers dug into the wall of the ravine, kept closed by an iron grate that was shut for the night; opposite them was a machine gun position. The Russian Fedor Yershov, a senior kgb officer, organized an escape group. They managed to find a key to the grates, a wire cutter to cut the chains, and a few knives. On September 28, 1943, they learned through the interpreter (a Jewish prisoner) Yakov Steyuk (Stein) that their work was finished and that the following day they were to be shot and cremated. At about 3 a.m. on September 29, they cut the chains, opened the grates, and escaped under the cover of fog. Many were machine-gunned, among them the leader Yershov, and only 15 succeeded in remaining alive until the liberation of Kiev on November 6, 1943 – among them nine Jews. The State Commission to Investigate Nazi Crimes in Kiev could not locate graves to exhume in Babi Yar, so they set the approximate number at 100,0000. According to Steyuk, who reported daily to the Germans on the numbers of burned bodies, an estimated 45,000 belonged to Jews. To this number we may add figures attained from other exhumed mass graves, such as Syretsk, Darnitsa, and reach an approximate number of 60,000 Jewish victims. Jews were active in the city's underground, including Shimon Bruz, one of the underground city party committee who died in a fight with the Gestapo, and Tania Markus, who carried out various sabotage acts and was caught and executed in summer 1942.

In the struggle against *antisemitism in the Soviet Union, Babi Yar became a symbol of pro-Jewish support, crystallized in the poem Babi Yar by Yevgenii *Yevtushenko. Despite recurring requests by Soviet intellectuals, including Yevtushenko and Viktor Nekrasov, the Soviet authorities refused to erect a monument to those massacred there. Jewish survivors made attempts to hold a memorial day each year, circumspectly choosing the eve of the Day of Atonement. When in early 1959 the ravine was filled with earth, and Babi Yar was turned into a new residential area, there were protests from Jews and non-Jews alike. In 1961 a flood swept away the earth and destroyed the houses; many people were drowned. At the end of the 1960s, the ravine of Babi Yar remained a desolate wasteland. "In Babi Yar there is neither monument nor memorial" (Yevtushenko). It was only in 1976 that a stone with an inscription was put there, but it mentioned Soviet citizens, not Jews.

[Benjamin West /

Shmuel Spector (2nd ed.)]

After World War ii

At the end of World War ii, when thousands of Jews began to return to liberated Kiev, they often encountered a hostile attitude on the part of the Ukrainian population, many of whom had been given, or had taken, the dwellings and jobs of the absent Jews. There were even isolated physical clashes between Jews and Ukrainians. In the 1959 census, their number was 154,000 (13.9% of the total population). Nearly 15% of them declared Yiddish to be their mother tongue. Out of about 14,000 Jews living in the smaller towns of the Kiev district, around 33% declared Yiddish to be their mother tongue. In 1979 there were 132,000 Jews in the city.

The only synagogue in Kiev, with room for about 1,000 persons, was situated downtown in the Podol quarter. On holidays, particularly on the Day of Atonement, also the memorial day of the Babi Yar massacre, several thousands attended the service, overflowing into the courtyard and the street. A number of services (*minyanim) were held in private homes, but when their existence was discovered, they were closed and the owners severely punished. A mikveh, a place for the ritual slaughtering of poultry, and a maẓẓah bakery were attached to the synagogue. From 1960 until 1966 the baking of maẓẓah was prohibited and several Jews were punished for baking them illegally in their homes. The last rabbi to officiate in Kiev was Rabbi Panets, who retired in 1960 and died in 1968; a new rabbi was not appointed. Until 1960 the synagogue board's chairman was Bardakh; the atmosphere was relatively relaxed, and visitors from abroad, who arrived in increasing numbers from the late 1950s, were cordially received. The situation changed abruptly in 1961, when a new board, headed by Gendelman, was appointed. Gendelman, in an aggressive manner, implemented meticulously the instructions of the Soviet authorities, harassed members of the congregation, and prevented any contact between them and foreign visitors. He was eventually forced to resign in 1967 because of the growing tension between him and the congregation.

In 1959, on the 100th anniversary of the birth of *Shalom Aleichem, a plaque was affixed to the house where he lived before World War i, bearing the text: "Here lived the famous Jewish writer Shalom Aleichem (Rabinovich)." Shortly afterward the plaque was replaced by a new one on which the words "famous Jewish" and "Rabinovich" were omitted. In May 1966 a group of Kiev Jews went to Moscow and submitted a petition to Mikhailova of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, about the establishment of a Yiddish theater in Kiev. The petition stressed the fact that 82 Jewish actors were ready to participate. M. Goldblat, one of the survivors of the Yiddish theater in the U.S.S.R. and the last director of the Yiddish theater in Kiev, declared his readiness to organize the new Yiddish theater. The petition also included a list of plays by Jewish Soviet and classic writers for the repertoire. The petition was rejected.

In 1957 four elderly Jews were sentenced in Kiev to several years of imprisonment for "Zionist activity." One of them was Baruch Mordekhai Weissman, whose Hebrew written diary about the "black years" was smuggled out and published anonymously in Israel, under the title "To my Brother in the State of Israel" (1957). At the trial Weissman was not accused of smuggling out his manuscript, but of keeping Hebrew newspapers and participating in a "Zionist circle."

In 1959 the Kiev municipality opened a new Jewish cemetery and decided to close the old one at Lukyanovka, near Babi Yar, which had been desecrated and partly destroyed during the Nazi occupation. Local and foreign Jews were allowed to transfer the remains of their relatives to the new cemetery if they defrayed the expenses involved. American rabbis arranged for the transfer of the remains of the ḥasidic rabbis of the Twersky family, and the president of Israel, Iẓḥak Ben-Zvi, received permission from the Soviet head of state to transfer to Israel the remains and the tombstone of his friend Ber *Borochov (1963).

Kiev continued to be a center of Yiddish writers, many of whom had served terms of imprisonment under Stalin. Among them were Itzik Kipnis, Hirsh Polyanker, Nathan Zbara, Eli Schechtman, and Yehiel Falikman. Several books in Yiddish and translations in Russian and Ukrainian were published between 1960 and 1970. The Ukrainian authorities usually prevented Jewish cultural events from being held in the city.

During the campaigns against "economic crimes" two Jews, B. Mirski and Shtifzin, who worked in a Kiev publishing house for art books, were sentenced to death (1962). At that time the local Ukrainian press indulged in almost undisguised antisemitic incitement. This campaign culminated in the publication of T. Kichko's notorious "Judaism without Embellishment" by the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian Republic (1963). Though the book was later censured by the ideological commission of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party in Moscow, Kichko reappeared in 1968 with a new anti-Jewish book, "Judaism and Zionism," and was rewarded by the authorities for his achievements in "anti-religious education."

The refusal of the municipal authorities to erect a memorial in Babi Yar, after an exhibition of models for such a memorial was officially arranged in 1965, was ascribed to the popular antisemitic atmosphere prevailing in the city. Protests against this omission were voiced by Russian and Ukrainian writers (e.g., Y. Yevtushenko, V. Nekrasov, Ivan Dzyuba, and others).

When an international poultry exhibition took place in Kiev in 1966, and Israel was represented by a stand equipped with exhibits and explanatory literature, tens of thousands of Jews from Kiev and all over the Ukraine streamed there. After the Six-Day War (1967), Jewish national feeling reemerged publicly in Kiev. The anniversary of Babi Yar became a rallying day for Jews, most of them young, who came not only to recite Kaddish but also to express their Jewish identification. Wreaths bearing inscriptions in Yiddish and Hebrew were laid and there were occasional attempts to make speeches, but on every such occasion the police intervened to remove the wreaths and silence the speakers. After one such gathering a young Jewish engineer, Boris Kochubiyevski, was arrested in 1968 on the charge of "spreading slander against the Soviet regime," after he and his non-Jewish wife Larissa had applied for an exit permit to Israel. In May 1969 he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment with hard labor. At his trial Kochubiyevski made a passionate speech, declaring his Zionist credo. In summer 1970 an open letter was published abroad, addressed to the prime minister of Israel, Golda Meir, to un Secretary General U Thant, and to various international institutions, signed by ten Jews from Kiev who claimed the right to settle in Israel. In August 1970 the same ten persons wrote a second letter to President Shazar, making it known that, after having been refused exit permits, they had renounced their Soviet citizenship and asked to become citizens of Israel.

Though most of Kiev's Jews emigrated in the 1990s, Jewish life revived at the community level as the city became the seat of the Ukrainian chief rabbinate and a Jewish day school was opened.

[Zvi Ofer]


A. Harkavy, Ḥadashim gam Yeshanim (1886–1912), no. 1, 6–12; no. 2, 13–17; I.N. Darevsky, Le-Korot ha-Yehudim be-Kiev (1902); Ettinger, in: Zion, 21 (1956), 107–42; idem, in: Roth, Dark Ages, index; Gurevich, in: Shriftn far Ekonomik un Statistik, 1 (1928), 104–5; J. Lestschinsky, in: Bleter far Yidishe Demografye, Statistik un Ekonomik, 5 (1925), 149–67; A. Druyanow, in: Reshummot, 3 (1923), 221–36; A.A. Friedman, Sefer ha-Zikhronot (1926), 195–227, 315–97; A. Golomb, A Halber Yorhundert Yidishe Dertsiung (1957), 95–114; B. Dinur, Bi-Ymei Milḥamah u-Mahpekhah (1960), 311–420; A. Pomeranz, Di sovietishe Harugei Malkhus (1962), 44–60, passim; Die Juden-pogrome in Russland, 2 (1909), 339–406; G. Reitlinger, Final Solution (1953), 233–5; M. Malishevski, Yevrei v yuzhoy Rossii i v Kiyeve v x–xii vekakh (1878); I. Zinberg, in: Yevreyskaya Starina, 11 (1924), 93–109; M. Kulisher, ibid., 6 (1913), 351–66; Y. Galant, ibid., 264–78; idem, in: Zbirnyk prats Zhydivskoyi istorychno-arkheografichnoyi komisii, 1 (1928), 149–97; Rybynsky, in: Yubileyny zbirnyk D.I. Bagalya (1927), 938–55; E. Turats, K istorii kiyevskogo pogroma (1906); P.T. Neyshtube, Kiyevskaya yevreyskaya bolnitsa 1862–1912 (1912); Badanes, in: Vestnik yevreyskoy obshchiny, 2 (1914), 49–54; 3 (1914), 33–37; Polyakov, in: Yevreyskaya Letopis, 2 (1923), 17–36; 3 (1924), 60–70.


views updated May 29 2018



Kiev (Kyiv in Ukrainian) was the ruling center of Kievan Rus, the largest political entity in medieval Europe. After Vladimir the Great, the grand prince of Kiev (980–1015), began to Christianize his realm in 988, Kiev became famous for its churches and monasteries. The Cave Monastery (Pecherska Lavra), founded in 1015, attracted thousands of pilgrims to the city each year until Soviet times. St. Sophia Cathedral, initially built between 1037 and 1100 and named for the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, retains much of its original interior even in the early twenty-first century. By 1200, Kiev had become one of Europe's largest cities. Its estimated population of fifty thousand equaled that of Paris and exceeded that of London.

In 1240 the Mongols destroyed Kiev, and the city subsequently fell under Lithuanian, Polish, and ultimately Muscovite Russian control. Although it retained some importance as a religious, educational, and trade center, it had not recovered the size or significance it had enjoyed in medieval times even by the turn of the nineteenth century. Then, Kiev had only twenty thousand inhabitants and consisted of three barely connected settlements, each walled and villagelike in appearance: Podil, the trade district that lay along the Dniepr River; Pecherske, the site of the fortress and the Cave Monastery; and High City, sometimes called Old Kiev, the location of many of the town's most majestic churches. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, Kiev's Contract Fair, held in January, brought together Polish landowners, Great Russian and Jewish merchants and traders, Ukrainian oxcarters and peasants, "itinerant dentists, Kazan soap boilers, Tula samovar smiths, Berdychiv booksellers, and hawkers of exotic delights from Persia, Bukhara, and the Caucasus," among others, and served as the city's most important social and commercial event.

Tsar Nicholas I (r. 1825–1855) Russified Kiev, establishing St. Vladimir University in 1834 partly for this purpose. Russian became the language of governance, education, and upward mobility. Most Kiev residents spoke Russian or a blend of Russian and Ukrainian called surzhyk. From the early 1870s, when railway lines to Moscow and the Black Sea port of Odessa (Odesa) were completed, Kiev grew very rapidly. Its three settlements fused into a modern city, and the Khreshchatyk, built along a wooded ravine, became its commercial center and one of imperial Russia's most famous main streets. Major employers included the rail yard and Greter & Krivanek, which manufactured machinery, much of it for Ukraine's sugar beet industry, but light industry dominated the city's economy. In 1870 Kiev had 70,000 residents; by 1914, 626,000. By then, of the cities in the Russian Empire, only St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Warsaw were larger.


After the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II (r. 1894–1917) in March 1917 (February, Old Style), Ukrainian nationalists organized the Central Rada in Kiev, which called for a self-governing, free Ukraine linked with Russia in a democratic federation. After the Bolsheviks (Communists) seized power in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) in November 1917, the Rada refashioned itself into the Ukrainian National Republic, which promoted the nationalization of industry and the seizure and redistribution of land. Armed conflict over control of Kiev began in December 1917, as Vladimir Antonov-Ovseyenko's Soviet Russian army advanced on the city.The Bolsheviks held the city briefly in 1918, but for most of the year the hetman (cossack leader, or military commander) Pavlo Skoropadsky (1873–1945) governed it in close alliance with occupying German forces. Referring to the city's relative peace and prosperity in 1918, the writer Konstantin Paustovsky (1892–1968) remarked that "Kiev was like a banquet in the middle of a plague."

However, from 14 December 1918, when the Directory, led by Volodymyr Vynnychenko (1880–1951), took the city, violence and repression returned to Kiev. The Bolsheviks reconquered the city in February 1919 and nationalized its services and larger enterprises. Various Ukrainian forces then held the city from the late summer until the Bolsheviks took it back on 16 December. In all, Kiev changed hands five times in 1919.

May 1920 brought a brief occupation by Polish and Ukrainian troops, but in June the Bolsheviks captured Kiev for good. By then, more than eight hundred buildings had been destroyed. Kiev's population, estimated at 467,000 in September 1917 and 544,000 in early 1919, fell to 367,000 in mid-1920, as residents fled into the countryside in search of food. By 1921–1922, industrial production had virtually shut down. Inflation soared. Adult workers were expected to live on two hundred grams of bread per day and six hundred grams of sugar per month. However, in 1921 the Soviet government announced the more relaxed New Economic Policy (NEP), which allowed for private entrepreneurial activity, and the economy began to rebound. By 1925, most Kiev enterprises were exceeding their prewar levels of output, and by 1926 Kiev's population had grown to five hundred thousand. The use of the Ukrainian language was encouraged during the NEP, and the number of Ukrainian speakers increased in Kiev, although Russian remained the primary language of the city. During this period of relative cultural freedom, Kiev remained an important center of artistic accomplishment, particularly for the Ukrainian and Russian avant-garde movements.


Kiev was greatly transformed under Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) and the First Five Year Plan, which began in 1928. Property was seized by the state, economic decision-making was transferred to Moscow, and industrialization proceeded with reckless rapidity. By 1932, fifty-seven machine-building enterprises were operating in Kiev, compared with only three in 1928. Greter & Krivanek, now called "Bolshevik," became a leading supplier of equipment for the Soviet chemical industry. During the First Five-Year Plan, Kiev factories also turned out barges, river boats, steel cable, farm machinery, rubber goods, construction equipment, tram wagons, and about one-quarter of Ukraine's light industrial output. Unemployment, officially 35,900 in 1929, was eliminated by 1930. The state took over all educational and cultural facilities. School tuition was outlawed in 1927, and within a year, according to Soviet sources, the percentage of children enrolled in schools jumped from 65 to 92. Dozens of technical institutes were established, reinforcing Kiev's tradition as one of the country's most important centers of learning.

During the Second Five-Year Plan, which began in 1933, wages were said to double on average and the percentage of women in Kiev's workforce continued to climb, reaching 43 percent by 1938, compared with 33 percent in 1931. In 1936, Kiev shops were printing forty-one regional newspapers and twenty-six journals, making the city one of the Soviet Union's most important publishing centers. By 1939 Kiev's population reached 850,000. However, life in the 1930s was difficult and often brutal. The extraordinary pace of urbanization, and the ongoing emphasis on industrial production, kept housing and consumer goods and services in short supply, something that would characterize the Soviet economy until its collapse. Moreover, Russians or Russified Ukrainians had begun to replace Ukrainians in Communist Party posts in 1927, and by 1929 Ukrainian intellectuals began to be arrested and charged with "national deviation." Increasingly, terror stalked the city. Kievans were murdered in the basement of the NKVD (secret police) headquarters and in Lukianivka Prison. Burial sites located just outside the city are said to contain the corpses of tens of thousands of victims from Kiev and elsewhere in Ukraine.

Kiev also suffered massive physical destruction in the 1930s. Soviet planners sought to reshape it into a model proletarian city, and in 1934 the capital of Ukraine was moved to Kiev from Kharkov (Kharkiv). Beginning in 1935, under Stalin's Ukrainian deputy Pavel Postyshev, many of Kiev's ancient churches and other cultural landmarks were demolished, probably because they were viewed as symbols of Ukrainian national pride. This destruction is documented by Titus Hewryk in The Lost Architecture of Kiev, cited in the bibliography.


Aerial bombardment of Kiev began on 22 June 1941, the very first day of Adolf Hitler's monumental assault on the Soviet Union code-named Operation Barbarossa. The Nazi armies advanced quickly. In the first three weeks of fighting alone, the Soviet Army lost two million men, 3,500 tanks, and 6,000 aircraft. On June 27 machinery and inventories began to be evacuated from Kiev's arsenal, which required 1,100 railway cars. Over the next two months, 197 enterprises were dismantled and sent eastward. Kiev's "Bolshevik" plant, for example, was reassembled near Sverdlovsk, in the Urals. In early July, some two hundred thousand Kievans began to construct antitank and anti-infantry fortifications around the city.

Stalin had initially refused Ukrainian Communist Party boss Nikita Khrushchev's recommendation to abandon Kiev, but given the hopelessness of the military situation, relented on 17 September. On 21 September, the battle for Kiev ended. The Germans captured some 665,000 Soviet troops in the encirclement of Kiev, which Hitler called "the greatest battle in world history," but in reality the victory gave the Germans no strategic advantage. By October, half of Kiev's 850,000 residents had been evacuated, mobilized into the Red Army, or killed.

The German occupation of Kiev lasted for two years. Policies designed to starve the remaining population were put into place; already in November 1941 one onlooker described Kiev "as a city of beggars." Epidemics swept the city; murder for bread became an everyday occurrence. Kievans were not allowed to enter many shops, trams, and theaters, and curfew was set at 6:00 p.m. Streets and buildings were given German names, and at least twenty-three German industrial enterprises were established in the city. By mid-1943, however, about eighty partisan and sabotage units were operating in or near the city. Perhaps twenty thousand people were involved in the Resistance, which carried out some nine hundred operations, mostly against railway lines and roadways, supply depots, and police facilities.

Although Hitler's goal of reducing Kiev to rubble was averted because of a shortage of bombs, by the time the Nazi occupation was broken, on 6 November 1943, eight hundred industrial enterprises and six thousand buildings (about one-sixth of the total number of structures in Kiev) had been destroyed. Soviet sources estimate that two hundred thousand Kievans were killed during the war and another hundred thousand were sent into Germany as conscript laborers. Valuable books, archives, and records had been looted from libraries, museums, and various institutes. The Khreshchatyk and the central district lay in ruins, and an estimated two hundred thousand Kievans were left without housing. Rationing of basic goods continued until December 1947. Kiev was declared a "Hero City" by the Soviet government, but the human tragedy of the battle for Kiev was not discussed openly until the Soviet political climate thawed briefly under Khrushchev (now Soviet premier) in 1962–1963. In January 1963, Leonid Volynsky published a short story in the journal Novy Mir (New World) about the battle, calling it "a vast and inexplicable tragedy."


With few exceptions, Jews had been forbidden to settle in Kiev until Tsar Alexander II (r. 1855–1881) liberalized residence restrictions. During the final decades of the nineteenth century Kiev's Jewish community grew rapidly, and by 1923 Kiev and Odessa, each with about 130,000 Jews, had the largest Jewish populations of any Soviet city. Pogroms against Kiev Jews had occurred in 1881, 1905, and 1919, but under NEP, Jewish councils (soviets) and law courts were established, permitting limited jurisdiction over Jewish communal affairs, possibly in an effort to reduce rabbinical authority. The use of Yiddish was permitted in both institutions. However, under Stalin this limited autonomy disappeared. All of Kiev's synagogues were closed between 1929 and 1931, though one was reopened on appeal.

During the Second World War, the Soviet press began to publish stories about Nazi extermination policies only in June 1941. In occupied Kiev, on 29 September 1941, Jews assembled at a designated corner in Lukianivka district, apparently believing they would be evacuated to the east. Instead, on 29 and 30 September, 33,771 Jews were massacred in a ravine-filled area on the city's outskirts called Babi Yar (Babyn Yar). Many were women, children, and elderly people. Perhaps one hundred thousand Jews would ultimately die at Babi Yar, as well as tens of thousands of Russians, Ukrainians, and others. About 140,000 Jews had lived in Kiev on the eve of the war. On 8 November 1943, Moscow Radio reported that the Red Army had found only one remaining Jew when it liberated the city. Babi Yar remains one of the most notorious symbols of Nazi barbarity in the Second World War.

After the war, plans for a public memorial at Babi Yar were shelved, and the government decided to flood and fill in the ravines. In 1961 the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko (b. 1933) was allowed to publish a poem indicting anti-Semitism that reminded his readers that "No monument stands over Babi Yar." The resulting furor forced Yevtushenko to rewrite his poem, adding the lines "Here together with Russians and Ukrainians lie Jews," and "I am proud of the Russia that stood in the path of the bandits." In 1966 a petition to restore Kiev's Jewish national theater was rejected, and its supporters were arrested. Ultimately, in 1976, a monument was built at Babi Yar. The inscription on the plaque notes only that some two hundred thousand Soviet citizens were killed on the site. It does not specifically mention Jews.


After the war, Kiev rebuilt again. In the ensuing decade, natural gas replaced coal as the dominant energy source in the city. Trams remained the basic mode of transportation through the 1950s, but more and more buses and trolley-buses appeared each year. Planning for a subway system began in 1945, and with the opening of five stations in 1960, Kiev became the third Soviet city to operate an underground. From 1.1 million residents in 1959, Kiev grew to 1.4 million in 1967, and 2.6 million in 1989, the year of the last Soviet census. The city remained the third largest in the Soviet Union. However, Stalinist and Nazi destruction had destroyed much of the beauty of old Kiev, a city known for its churches, glittering onion-domed hilltop monasteries, wooded ravines, and spectacular vistas. The rebuilt Khreshchatyk, for example, featured dreary monolithic Stalinist architecture called "Mussolini modern" by one scholar.

By the 1970s, Kiev had joined Moscow and Leningrad (St. Petersburg) as one of the Soviet Union's showplace cities. Here the quality of life far surpassed that of virtually all other Soviet cities and even more so, that of the backward Soviet countryside. Nevertheless, the quality of life in Kiev remained well below that of comparable cities in the West. Most residents lived in large, uniform, prefabricated, and often poorly constructed apartment complexes, and shortages of consumer goods and services persisted. These problems reflected the inefficiencies of the Soviet economy and the continued emphasis on heavy industry and military-related production. Travel outside the country was virtually impossible. In 1959, only 2,200 Kievans were allowed such travel, almost all of it to other Soviet bloc countries. A small Ukrainian dissident movement surfaced in the 1960s. It was suppressed, and the KGB retained tight control over the city.

As the liberalizing reforms unleashed by Mikhail Gorbachev (b. 1931) in the late 1980s brought unprecedented freedom to Soviet citizens, Rukh, a Ukrainian organization that originally stressed the revival of the Ukrainian language, became increasingly influential in Kiev. In January 1990, following the tactics of popular front movements in the Baltic states, hundreds of thousands joined hands in a human chain that stretched for three hundred miles from Kiev to Lviv (Lvov) and Ivano-Frankivske, commemorating the proclamation of Ukrainian independence in 1918. Independence came in 1991, but Ukraine could not easily shed the institutional and cultural legacy of Soviet communism. Ukraine's GDP (gross domestic product) declined by 60 percent during the 1990s. Hyperinflation—said to be 10,000 percent in 1993—ruined many, and barter became a major means of economic transaction. The shadow economy, or black market, continued to grow, accounting for perhaps half of Ukraine's GDP by the mid-1990s. Despite its rich farmland, Ukraine became a net importer of food. An oligarchy of Soviet-era bureaucrats and managers, many of them racketeers and commodity traders, came to dominate the economy of Ukraine and Kiev, though none added value by actually producing goods. Corruption, complex tax laws and regulations, a lack of public confidence in the banking system, and the absence of enforcement of property rights discouraged foreign investment. Ukraine's per capita GDP in 2004, estimated at $1,160, was about one-fifth that of neighboring Poland. Income inequality increased; health care worsened for many; and life expectancy declined. Still, signs of progress could be found. By 1997 inflation had fallen to 10 percent. In 2000 the economy began to grow, and by then Ukraine had created a stable currency, the hryvnia.

Kiev fared considerably better than Ukraine as a whole in the post-Soviet period. Privatization of small enterprises such as taxi services, restaurants, and retail shops proceeded rapidly. Although Ukraine received less direct foreign investment than any other eastern or central European country after 1990, Kiev got about 40 percent of that investment. Censuses taken in 1994 and 2002 revealed a population of 2.6 million in Kiev. "Nontraditional" migrants—especially Afghans, Kurds, and Vietnamese—settled in the city, creating new sources of tension. In 1999, police officials maintained that foreigners committed one-quarter of the city's crimes.

In the late 1990s, under the leadership of the mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko, the Khreshchatyk and the area around the large Bessarabsky Covered Market underwent significant renovation. Many new buildings were provided with their own heating systems (Soviet planners had supplied heat and hot water by means of central plants). Shopping facilities were greatly expanded. In Soviet times, there had been few vehicles on the streets other than taxis and delivery trucks. By 2004, eight hundred thousand vehicles were plying Kiev streets each day, and traffic volume and flow had emerged as sources of concern.

Perhaps because Kiev had been heavily Russified, it was slow to remove the symbols of Soviet rule, and most Soviet statuary remains, including the enormous Mother of the Motherland, erected during the rule of Leonid Brezhnev, that towers over the city. However, the city has helped finance the rebuilding of some of the splendid structures that were destroyed in the Stalinist and Nazi years, for example the baroque St. Michael of the Golden Domes, originally built in 1108–1113 and destroyed in 1935–1936, and the Cathedral of the Assumption, demolished in 1941.

Although Ukrainian has become increasingly the language of choice, Kiev remains a bilingual city. About 40 percent of the city's native inhabitants cite Russian as their native language, as do more than half of those who have moved to Kiev from other cities. However, usage of Ukrainian is likely to continue to rise, as in the mid-2000s only ten of Kiev's four hundred public schools were teaching exclusively in Russian (with the exception of Ukrainian language classes). The privately run National University of Kiev Mohyla Academy, whose origins date to 1615, was revived in 1991. It has become an important center for liberal arts learning. Students are accepted on the basis of merit, and all study in English and Ukrainian. Russian is not taught.

In November–December 2004, Ukraine had a hotly contested presidential election that highlighted the corruption and ethnic divisions that continue to plague the country. The winner, Viktor Yushchenko, pledged to move Ukraine closer to the West, end corruption, and reverse the post-Soviet drift. The fate of Kiev and its residents will largely depend on the success of such efforts in Ukraine as a whole.

See alsoBabi Yar; Russia; Soviet Union; Ukraine .


Berkhoff, Karel C. Harvest of Despair: Life and Death in Ukraine under Nazi Rule. Cambridge, Mass., 2004.

Gol'denveizer, A. A. "Iz Kievskikh vospominanii (1917–1921 gg.)." Arhkiv Russkoi revoliutsii 6 (1922): 161–303.

Hamm, Michael F. Kiev: A Portrait, 1800–1917. Princeton, N.J., 1993.

Hewryk, Titus D. The Lost Architecture of Kiev. New York, 1982.

Levin, Nora. The Jews in the Soviet Union since 1917: Paradox of Survival. 2 vols. New York, 1988.

Sarbei, V. G., ed. Istoriia Kieva: Kiev perioda pozdnego feodalizma i kapitalizma. Vol. 2. Kiev, 1983.

Suprunenko, N. I., ed. Istoriia Kieva: Kiev sotsialisticheskii. Vol. 3. Kiev, 1986.

Michael F. Hamm


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Kiev (Kiyev) Capital of Ukraine and a seaport on the Dnieper River. Founded in the 6th or 7th century ad, Kiev was the capital of Kievan Russia. It later came under Lithuanian, then Polish rule before being absorbed into Russia. It became the capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1934, and of an independent Ukraine in 1991. Industries: shipbuilding, machine tools, footwear, furniture. Pop. (2001 est.) 2,619,000.