Kiev – The Jewel In Somebody Else’s Crown
To my way of thinking, Kiev has always been more of a prize than a player. Rich and powerful, yet never strong enough to function as the heart of its own empire, the city of Kiev was a welcome addition to whoever gained control of it.
Kiev served as part of one foreign state or another for most of its history. This struggle largely ended after Kiev became part of the Russian Empire in 1667. Following the collapse of the Russian Empire towards the end of the First World War, Kiev briefly served as capital of an independent Ukrainian state until it fell to the Bolshevik rulers of the new USSR. Kiev then became the capital of the puppet Ukraine SSR in 1934.
Kiev played a major role in the 1941 and 1943 campaigns on the Eastern Front during World War II. In 1941, Kiev was at the center of the largest battle of encirclement and annihilation in history. Nearly a million men were trapped along the middle Dnepr as Kleist’s First Panzer Army drove from the west and Guderian’s Second Panzer Army sliced down from the Northeast to meet up in the rear of Marshal Budenny’s defending forces.
An estimated 663,000 men were captured but this gigantic tactical disaster is deemed a strategic error since it delayed the German assault on Moscow and allowed the onset of winter weather to delay the final assault on the Soviet capital. Later, in December of 1943, Kiev was again the prize as the last large-scale German offensive on the Eastern Front attempted to regain the recently-lost city of Kiev but failed in the Battle of Zhitomir.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kiev again became capital of an independent Ukraine in 1991 but remains subject to many of the same extra-territorial forces that have always afflicted the city. The large and powerful Russian Federation remains its neighbor for better or worse, and has a tendency to regard Ukraine as a sort of escaped province to be regained rather than as a friendly and independent neighboring state. Kiev’s historical legacy rolls on.