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Rena's Memories

Part 10 (Nazi Occupation)

Explosions at Lavra

Life started to resume some normalcy and my father was asked to help with historic things. I’m digressing now, but recently I’ve seen news articles about the Russians pilfering art and historical objects from Germany, but the Germans stripped Russia clean. Whatever they could put their hands on that had valuable artistic interest or historic interest they shipped to Germany. And, of course, they tried to preserve the historic monuments, even the ones they couldn’t ship, like Lavra.


So my father was helping the Germans – they even had functioning museums. We continued living in Lavra, but the Germans were finding and disengaging all these mines and time bombs in the city, and they were finding lots and lots of them. And before they could turn on the electricity – the bombs were connected to the electricity – they tried to disarm what was there. They weren’t sure if they cleared all the mines, so all the population of Lavra had to leave. And so we moved into our friend’s apartment.


I’m starting to remember events that preceded our move. One of them was that I was walking through the main gate of Kiev Lavra, and I heard this explosion. I ran as fast as I could for cover as huge rocks were coming down from overhead. It was a miracle that I was not hit. Others were not as lucky An ancient Lavra building went up into the air. Later on Uspensky cathedral also blew up. And of course they had been mined by the Soviets. 

The Soviets didn’t care about their monuments. Uspensky was a big historical loss. When Luke and I went there in 1974 we took a guided tour with a group of Americans and Canadians. The guide was telling us how the Germans destroyed the city. Someone asked why the Germans would destroy a city they just occupied (including the buildings they were living in). The guide ignored the question about the ordinary buildings and and answered that they liked to destroy historical monuments. They began to ask probing questions as to why, what were the reasons, what did they have to gain, didn’t they collect art? And the guide was getting more and more confused, and was repeating the same sentence, which was a “party-line” memorized sentence which said that the Germans didn’t want the people to have an identity and things like this — which was ridiculous because the Germans tried to preserve cultural treasures. This lie surprised me. The entire population of Kiev knew who destroyed the city.


The Germans valued art and history. They were interested in preserving the historical buildings. They also tried to take as much of the art as they could back to Germany. This was not easy because there were few trains available – the Nazi army had first priority.

Click on images to enlarge.

Lavra a.png
Lavra b.jpg

I found these photos on separate web sites. Then I managed to find the location by taking a virtual walk around Lavra. It was difficult because the top photo was labeled as being in Kiev Perchesk Lavra but is actually outside the compound walls and across the street. It's the Holy Theodosius Monastery (Свято-Феодосіївський чоловічий монастир). 

 These and many more photos can be found here.


Map of Lavra from      Upper Lavra is on the left. 


Rena had just walked through the main gate when she had to run for cover.


1 - The main gate/ (also a church) that leads to 


3 - The “square” (not very square)  and to


4 - Uspensky Cathedral (Успенський собор - also translated as Dormition Cathedral or  Assumption Cathedral) which was mined by the Soviets.


The red circle approximately marks the numismatic museum Rena’s father was in charge of. The apartment she grew up in was in a long building toward the left of the map (marked by the red star.

Lavra ruins a.jpg

What is left of Uspensky Cathedral 1943 matches the photos to the right

click here for source


Uspensky Cathedral 1943

click here for source

Rena’s father, Valentin Shugaevsky, is mentioned in several internet articles on Kiev Lavra. Here are two excerpts that have to do with the explosion of the Uspensky Cathedral. The translation is by Google Translate. Corrections are welcome.


Rosenberg’s ministry (mentioned below) was the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce which was the Nazi organization that appropriated art and cultural artifacts. Rosenberg was one of the main Nazi theorists and also the Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories.


“Shugaevsky told me another version of the destruction of the cathedral. It was not touched for a long time. There were exhibited icons of the middle and new ages, church vestments, gold, silver and other church vessels. He believed that the tragedy was caused by the fact that the Germans, had not finished repairing the electricity, and the lights were turned on to sort the materials of the exhibition. Then the Soviet explosives ignited. ”


Hungarian scientist, archeologist, art historian Nandor Fettih, who was sent by Rosenberg’s ministry to the capital of Ukraine to list cultural values:

“Shugaevsky (appointed by the occupation authorities in September 1941 as director of the Lavra Museum) led us to a huge ruin, where among the fragments of walls you could see fine sewing with gold.



Uspensky 1974.jpg

Ruins of Uspensky Cathedral in 1974. Photo by Luke Ocone.

Kiev b.jpeg

On the left; Uspensky Cathedral in 1918. The photo is by F Gubchevsky, a Ukrainian expatriate living in Prague and a friend of Valentin. Rena remembers playing under the horse chestnut trees when she was a child. Uspensky Cathedral was rebuilt after Ukraine became an independent nation.

After the Lavra buildings sustained damage, Rena’s father (Valentin) worked for the Germans, moving the remaining historical objects out of the damgaed buildings at Lavra to protect them from the weather. Some of these probably went to Germany. The rest were moved to a new museum near downtown Kiev. More will be written about this in a forthcoming chapter.


The Soviet mining of Kiev is well documented. My mother was told that the mines were connected to electricity, an article in Wikipedia, History of Kiev, has a slightly different story.


Before the evacuation, the Red Army planted more than ten thousand mines throughout Kiev, controlled by wireless detonators. On 24 September, when the German invaders had settled into the city, the mines were detonated, causing many of the major buildings to collapse, and setting the city ablaze for five days. More than a thousand Germans were killed.[34]


One of the Soviet commanders was captured and revealed the location of many of the mines which the Germans were able to defuse. I don't know if the Lavra mine was one that they tried to defuse. If I understand the quote above, Valentin thought that the the Lavra explosion was ignited by an electrical spark from faulty wiring. 

More information can be found here.

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