A Desert of Destitution
|"Kyiv: Khreshchatyk and Prorizna Street after the fire of 1941" (source)|
September 6, 1943
The Russians tonight hold two-thirds of the Donbass and are moving westward at the rate of fifteen miles a day—so fast that the Soviet Union's richest coal country should very soon be completely in the hands of the Red Army.
The coal capital of Stalino is the only major Donbass city still held by the Germans, and the Red Army is only four miles east of there. Tonight's communiqué announces the capture of four big railroad and coal centers in the Donbass network, leaving only the western fringe of this vulnerable fuel basin in German hands.
The other big victory announced by the Soviet high command is the capture of the railroad junction of Konotop in the northern Ukraine. Konotop is 128 miles on the railroad east of Kiev. Now the Russians are advancing on an even bigger railroad junction: Bakhmach, seventeen miles west of Kharkov. Five railroads run into Bakhmach. It is the first station on the eastern edge of the Kiev railroad network.
We can assume that the Germans are firing and blowing up every building and mine pit and peasant's cottage in the path of their western retreat. The Ukraine tonight is scorched earth wherever the Nazis pass.
I saw examples of this earth scorching when I was in the Ukraine the day before yesterday traveling along the path of the German retreat from Belgorod to Kharkov.
The damage is so extensive that the occasional house that was new—unburned, without shell holes and not charred by fire—such scattered houses seemed almost to be showplaces. They stood out like the pyramids in a desert of destitution.
The most indestructible thing about a Ukrainian cottage is its big peasant stove. They are immense things as high as the house itself—sort of an enclosed indoor fireplace. Today their chimneys finger the horizon like the skeletons of peacetime.
But the people come back. They always come back, no matter how badly their homes are wrecked. Tonight they are sleeping in nearby haystacks, or in dugouts in the ground, or on the ground itself. They'll get up at dawn and start rebuilding the stove—and eventually build a house around it. The Ukraine has been kicked around and shot up and burned, but it is far from dead.
Now there is a rush to get the houses built before winter. Neighbors are helping neighbors. Not everyone is going to have a warm house by the time the first snow falls, but there will be enough shelter for the people who are left—the people who were not sent to Germany—to give the Ukraine a new lease on life.
It badly needs it.