Kurenevskaya tragedy, 60 years later. How and why one of the largest catastrophes happened in Kiev – history, archives, photos
Author: Elena Nasyrova
Exactly 60 years ago, on March 13, 1961, the Kurenev tragedy occurred. On this day, a powerful mudflow destroyed the protective dam in Babi Yar and fell on Kurenevka. Elena Nasyrova, editor-in-chief of the VARTO publishing house, tells about the circumstances and causes of the tragedy especially for NV.
The catastrophe, which caused great destruction and claimed several hundred human lives, was not a natural cataclysm, but a sad result of unconsciousness and thoughtless human activity.
Geographically, Babiy Yar is a large tract located between Syrets and Lukyanovka from west to east, and between Dorogozhitskaya and Kirillovskaya streets from south to north. Its territory is riddled with a system of ravines. The largest one has a length of about two and a half kilometers, several branches-spurs depart from it, and the depth in different places ranges from 20 to 50 meters. Before reaching the Dnieper valley, the yar adjoins a high hill where the Kirillovsky monastery has been located for a long time. In the last quarter of the 19th century, on the territory of the yar – closer to Lukyanovka, in the Kirillovskaya grove – an Orthodox cemetery was gradually formed, and in the south at the end of the 19th century a Jewish cemetery appeared, on the western border of which land was allocated for the burial of Karaites and Muslims, as well as Bratskoye for graves military. The area was unattractive and not suitable for life, so people did not settle there. Back in the 1920s, a walk in the yar was actually exotic, and few people from Kiev spent their free time there.
Kievans for a walk in Babi Yar. The year is 1939. From the family archive of N. Akimova / Photo: Courtesy of Elena Nasyrova
After Kiev acquired the status of the capital ( 1934), a large-scale plan for the reconstruction and improvement of the city was developed, and huge transformations began. In accordance with this plan, on the territory of Babi Yar, they were going to create a giant park of culture and recreation, along its western side, lay an asphalt highway from Degtyarevskaya Street towards Frunze Street ( now Kirillovskaya), and extend Melnikov Street ( now Yuri Ilyenko) through the territory of the Jewish cemetery and bring it to the axis of the modern Olzhych Street. Somewhat later, in 1940-1941, they decided to build on the territory of the yar in the area of a psychiatric hospital ( now the Kiev City Psychiatric Hospital No. 1 named after IP Pavlov) a large ski base and a springboard. The decision of the Kiev City Executive Committee of November 20, 1940 says: “The building of the ski base is designed on a site free from tree stands at a distance of about 250 meters from the ski jump. The construction site is the upper plateau of Babi Yar. “
Babi Yar on a schematic plan of the area in 1941. From the preparatory materials for the book by T. Evstafieva and V. Nakhmanovich Babiy Yar: Man, Power, History / Photo: Courtesy of Elena Nasyrova
Most likely, the plans for the improvement of the yar, or at least some of them would have been implemented, but everything was changed by the war and the Nazi occupation of Kiev in 1941-1943. Babi Yar went down in history as one of the most terrible pages of the Holocaust. Tens of thousands of Kiev Jews were killed here, as well as civilians – representatives of other nationalities, Soviet prisoners of war, Kiev underground fighters, hostages, OUN activists, patients of the psychiatric hospital. Pavlova. A few days after the liberation of the city from the Nazis, a group of British, American and Soviet journalists arrived in Babi Yar, and at the end of November 1943 the first articles about the tragedy appeared.
The correspondent of ” New York Times” V. Lawrence passed from Kiev Telegraph interview with the famous Kiev architect Aleshin, which is all the time the occupation was in the city. The next day P. Aleshin and Deputy Head of the Verkhovna Rada M. Bazhan once again went to Babi Yar with foreign correspondents and former prisoners of the Syrets prisoner of war camp who, in the last days of the occupation, took part in the burning of the remains of the dead. Then the Nazis hastily tried to cover up the traces of their terrible crimes. Later M. Bazhan recalled: “… one of the overseas correspondents, which I in the first days of the visit of Kiev took to Babyn Yar, imoviv three and shudder: I stand on the most terrifying place of the earth.”
P. Aleshin, M. Bazhan in the center of a group of foreign correspondents and former prisoners of the Syrets camp at Babi Yar. November 1943. Photo by K. Lishko / Photo: Courtesy of Elena Nasyrova
Without a doubt, a logical step would be to create a memorial in Babi Yar as a place of mourning and memory of more than 100 thousand people who were shot. In March 1945, even before the final victory in the war, the Council of People’s Commissars and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine adopted a resolution ” On the construction of a monumental monument on the territory of Babi Yar.” True, the first priority then was the restoration of the destroyed center of Kiev and the restoration of infrastructure, which required huge investments, so the creation of the monument was postponed indefinitely.
Meanwhile, in Babi Yar there were constantly operating ” grave-diggers”, shady personalities, poking around at night at the bottom of a huge ravine in search of things and jewelry of the murdered Jews. Several years passed, and at the end of the 1940s, a wave of anti-Semitism began to grow in the USSR, officially supported at the highest state level. Its apogee was the shooting of members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and the shameful case of doctors. It was then that they started talking about the death of “ Soviet citizens” in Babi Yar , who should not be divided along ethnic lines.
In order to shut the mouths of dissent and destroy the collective memory, the authorities approached the solution of the problem radically: they decided to liquidate Babi Yar, in order to later make a park for walks and a sports area with a stadium here. Economically, this was justified by the construction of a large Syretsky residential area and the need to increase the production of bricks for the construction needs of the city, since it was possible to direct the slurry runoff from the clay pits of the Petrovsky brick factories No. 1 and No. 2, located on Syretskaya street, into the yard.
Chronicle of the Kurenev disaster
Before the clay became a raw material suitable for the production of bricks, stripping works were carried out in the clay quarry, that is, the top layer of soil above the clay was removed. Then this layer must be disposed of, simply put, somewhere to take out. To reduce production costs and reduce the cost of raw materials, the All-Union Office for the Design and Production of Earthworks by Hydromechanization Stroyhydromechanization proposed a variant of mixing the top layer of soil with water, followed by the removal of this slurry through pipes. We considered two options: dumping the generated waste into the Dnieper or, using a hydraulic pump, into the nearby Babi Yar. The second option was, firstly, cheaper, and secondly, it made it possible to prepare the territory for the creation of a recreation park – this is how the authorities killed two birds with one stone.
On March 28, 1950, the Kiev City Executive Committee, without much hesitation, made a decision on “the expediency of washing the spurs of Babi Yar … by means of hydromechanization with the discharge of pulp into Babi Yar.” At the same time, the height of the alluvium was provided to the level of the earth’s surface, which ultimately led to the creation of a huge swamp over the residential area of the city – Kurenevka. The technical project was developed by Moscow specialists, it seems, without leaving the site, without taking into account the Kiev hydrological and geological features. As a result, instead of concrete dams, earthen dams were designed, the flood runoff did not meet building standards, the author’s construction supervision was not carried out, etc.
This was followed by operational violations: work on pumping the pulp into the yard was carried out all year round, instead of the envisaged eight months a year, they were carried out in two shifts a day, instead of one, without a break for clarification and water drainage. This led to the fact that already in the first two years, two spurs of the ravine were filled, and in December 1952 the city executive committee issued a permit to wash spur No. 3 ( which runs parallel to the modern Olena Teligi Street), which lasted until March 13, 1961. In total, more than 4 million cubic meters of soil were washed over ten years, of which 3 million 200 thousand in the third spur, where the accident happened.
In 1959, the Kiev public began to openly resent the barbaric washout and destruction of Babi Yar. On October 10 of that year, the writer V. Nekrasov wrote an article “ Why hasn’t it been done?” Published in the Literaturnaya Gazeta: “Is it possible? Who could have thought of it – to fill up a ravine 30 meters deep and frolic and play football at the place of the greatest tragedy? No, this cannot be allowed! ” Then he took a photograph of the area.
Washing out of Babi Yar. 1959 year. Photo by V. Nekrasov from the archive of V. Kondyrev / Photo: courtesy of Elena Nasyrova
We will not go into technical details and give a list of regulatory documents. The declassified documents were first published in 2004 in the book by Tatyana Evstafieva and Vitaly Nakhmanovich Babiy Yar: Man, Power, History , most of the materials were used in a scientific article by Tatyana Evstafieva On the 50th anniversary of the Kurenev tragedy , written ten years ago by order of the VARTO publishing house and published on the site .
We only fix that all three terraces ( three spurs of the ravine) were separated by washed-up dams, the height of the first was 25, the second and third – 10 meters. Filtered purified water was discharged through pipes and discharged into special wells. In the first section there were two such wells, and in the second and third only one. By the beginning of 1961, the design height of the reclamation was reached in all areas, but the work continued at the same pace. In the third spur, on the way to the upper reaches of the yar, there was a small lake, and when they started to wash it, in violation of the project, they built another small dam 1 meter high, dividing the third spur into two parts. The discharge of clarified water from the lake was provided by a pumping station, which was dismantled on March 7, 1961, but the pumping of pulp into the lake was not stopped. Melted water was also added after the snowy winter of 1960/1961.
Long before the tragedy, residents of Kurenivka complained about the frequent flooding of the Spartak stadium and the water seeping into the basements of their homes. After March 7, under the influence of strong winds, waves arose in the overflowing storage facility, which gradually destroyed the newly created sand dam, forming gullies in it. Several streams began to pour into the well in the third section. According to the recollections of eyewitnesses, citizens signaled to the authorities about a possible accident, they even tried to get an appointment with the Chairman of the Kiev City Executive Committee A. Davydov. But not only were they not heard, but also accused of creating panic.
Chairman of the Kiev City Executive Committee Alexey Davydov / Photo: Courtesy of Elena Nasyrova
Early on Monday morning, March 13, the water, gradually arriving, began to flood the Spartak Stadium, the tram depot, basements and the first floors of private houses on Frunze Street. By rush hour, a huge deep puddle formed in front of the stadium and a traffic jam of trucks and cars, several trams, trolleybus and buses arose. A large number of people turned out to be in the most dangerous place under the mountain: someone stayed in the transport, others went out and walked, others just watched what was happening. Inhabitants of the flooded houses carried out their belongings and themselves moved to the second floors of houses, from where they watched all the incoming water. At first, the employees of the tram fleet relied on their own strength, since during floods and downpours, this happened before, and the employees of the hospital No. 2 of the Podolsk district ( now clinical hospital no. 15) two fire engines were called to pump out the water, which eventually ended up in the epicenter of the accident.
At about 8 o’clock in the morning, the pressure of a huge mass of dirty water, mixed with sand and clay, broke the first dam, rolled from a 25-meter height to the second, instantly destroyed it, and then washed away the third. At about 8:30 am, an unrestrained mudflow 4 meters high and 20 meters wide rushed down at a speed of 3-5 meters per second and hit Kurenevka.
The Greek Yannis Evdos, who was then a student of the KPI, became a witness and participant in these events. Two weeks before the tragedy, he married a woman from Kiev and moved to her in Kurenevka. In the book Communism is a big utopia, he describes the events as follows: “In one leap I find myself on the roof. … I had not yet had time to properly turn in the direction of the oncoming water, as the wild scream of frightened women pierced the air. Turning around, I see a huge brown shaft at a distance of 300 meters, which rolls threateningly towards us. A huge swampy-water wall is rapidly approaching … “.
The mud completely flooded the Spartak stadium, part of Frunze Street, where transport, residential buildings, a tram park were in a traffic jam and spilled over into a huge swamp over an area of about 30 hectares. Dirty water with clay flowed down for another two hours after the main wave left and filled the area between Frunze and Novokonstantinovskaya streets with silt.
Pulp-filled Spartak Stadium (foreground) and flooded residential area on Frunze Street / Photo: Courtesy of Elena Nasyrova
The main blow was taken by the tram fleet named after. Krasin ( now Podolsk tram depot). It was practically destroyed, only part of the workshop-preventorium and part of the hostel remained. 50 employees died under a layer of mud, the full list of whose names was established only by the beginning of the 1990s.
The flooded area of the tram park named after Krasina / Photo: Courtesy of Elena Nasyrova
The situation was aggravated by the fact that the pillars of the electrical transport contact network collapsed, which did not have time to de-energize, and a high-voltage wire fell on the LAZ bus crowded with people. The surviving passenger recalled: “The man in front of me … for a moment jerked open the doors and stepped forward. I follow him. ” The stream knocked the woman down, but she miraculously managed to swim out and get to the fence of the stadium. “When I climbed on it, there was an explosion – the bus, from which I got out a few moments ago, was engulfed in flames. Someone knocked down the front door, but only a woman and two girls were saved. … The rest were burned to death. “
A terrible picture is also painted in his memoirs by the Kiev scholar Dmitry Malakov. Having learned about the disaster, in the evening of that day, he went to Kurenevka, taking his camera with him. From above I saw ” dakhi and lattice of huts, parkanіv and іzny mottle, scho leaning on the surface. Zhovtavoi massi washed navkі with stern, like a float from the water, a trolleybus on the eighteenth route. … A tram car is lying far behind in the same position. ” And he listened to the conversation of the people standing next to him: “the little girl … vkazuyu on one kind of place in the clay:“ Otam Petro to lie down ”. The hut was standing right up against the yar, it was a torrent, Petro didn’t rise far up the hill, but hid away. ” There could be no question of any photographing – people in civilian clothes, but of a characteristic appearance, walked towards the author, leading a man with a camera, pale with horror, under the arms. On the neck of one of the escorts hung a roll of light-up film.
An overturned tram caught in the epicenter of the tragedy / Photo: Courtesy of Elena Nasyrova
Digging an overturned tram / Photo: Courtesy of Elena Nasyrova
Work on lifting the tram and trolleybus / Photo: Courtesy of Elena Nasyrova
Military units were involved in the rescue work. And connected with this is the story of another camera, which has nothing to do with “secret” filming, but demonstrates shameful looting. The wife of the said Greek student reached their home in the afternoon to try to save some of their belongings. “By that time, the military forces with the appropriate equipment had already arrived, and it was forbidden for anyone to approach the scene.” The military took things out of dilapidated houses and took them to nearby schools. The woman saw that they were working in their house, loading simple furniture, a suitcase with clothes and boxes, in one of which was her husband’s camera ( then the thing is expensive, inaccessible to the majority). She asked to give it back, but heard that she would receive everything later. The things were taken away before her eyes, but the camera remained in the hands of the soldier.
The military of the Kiev garrison during rescue operations on Frunze Street / Photo: Courtesy of Elena Nasyrova
Military armored personnel carrier BTR-152 during rescue operations / Photo: Courtesy of Elena Nasyrova
In an atmosphere of complete absence of information ( in the USSR, by definition, there could never have been accidents, therefore such events were not announced in the news or commented on in the press) rumors spread throughout the city: they talked about two or three thousand dead and hundreds of flooded and destroyed houses. “The enemy’s radio station” Voice of America, which, despite the bans and the work of jammers, was listened to by many Kievites, already at 14 o’clock broadcasted the first message about the disaster. This dispersed the panic even more, as the data on five thousand dead were announced. It is clear that before the completion of the rescue work, no one could know the real picture, but the figure of 145 deaths, named later in the government report, did not correspond to reality.
To hide the real picture, the city authorities ordered to bury those killed by the disaster in different cemeteries of the city, and they tried to resettle the neighbors in the destroyed communal apartments on Frunze Street away from each other throughout Kiev, preventing their further communication.
A temporary bridge for the movement of people, installed by the military in the first days after the disaster / Photo: Courtesy of Elena Nasyrova
Flooded private houses on Frunze Street / Photo: Courtesy of Elena Nasyrova
In the days of liquidation of the consequences of the accident / Photo: Courtesy of Elena Nasyrova
Immediately after the disaster, an operational-investigative group was created, which included investigators for especially important cases under the prosecutor of the republic, as well as the State Expert Commission to identify the causes of the accident in the Babi Yar region and the Government Commission to eliminate the consequences of the accident. Reports ” on the progress of work on liquidating the consequences of flooding and destruction in the area of the street named after Frunze of the Podolsk district of Kiev” were sent daily to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine.
The search for the dead continued for several weeks, according to the recollections of Dmitry Malakov, “the stench was tiring at night – when there were dozens of floodlights installed on the stoops and dakha of the suspicious budinks. People were known in small munitions. First they were pissed off from the hoses of exposing, and the message was overwhelmed. The morgues did not start, the corpses were piled at the doorways of the lycores, vimknuvshi scorched. Dozens of kiyans were chasing at the digging sites, encouraging people to bite the native people, who lived that day. Trawled zhakhlivi situations, if kivsh ekskavator or less than a bulldozer shmatuv inadvertently was tilo and just looking at the unauthorized zoik … “.
An ambulance stuck in mud and rubble at the scene of the accident / Photo: Courtesy of Elena Nasyrova
All this time, the KGB was collecting information about the mood in the city. The agents broadcast the conversations of the townspeople, in which there was dissatisfaction with the lack of reliable information, the false numbers of the reports, the opaque performance of rescue operations, and even direct accusations of the then mayor Davydov. By the way, a year and a half after the accident, he died suddenly, according to the official version, from a heart attack, but they said that it was suicide. For many years, the boulevard on Rusanovka bore the name of Davydov, and only in our time it was renamed in honor of Igor Shamo, the author of the Kiev anthem.
In addition to justified discontent, some of the Kievites fell into mysticism, voicing different versions of the catastrophe: from the revenge of Babi Yar for the oblivion of the innocent murdered Jews to the influence of the unlucky number 13 and even God’s punishment for the closure of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, which happened just on the eve of the tragedy – March 11, 1961 of the year.
Specialists of the State Construction Committee of the Ukrainian SSR show a delegation of British builders the territory of a man-made disaster. In the distance – the building of Petropavlovskaya Street. From the collection of D. Malakov / Photo: Courtesy of Elena Nasyrova
The government commission completed its work quickly enough and voiced a conclusion about flagrant violations in the design, construction and operation of the facility in Babi Yar. Investigation was carried out on the initiated criminal case. The trial took place on August 24, 1961, several people were found guilty and sentenced to different terms of correctional labor. Some of the officials paid off with their posts, including the completely innocent head of the Kiev Tram and Trolleybus Administration P. Makarenko.
We must pay tribute to the Kiev trams, especially a group of enthusiasts headed by the director of the departmental museum Lidia Arkhipovna Livinskaya ( 1928-2010) and the head of the technical department of the tram and trolleybus management Kazimir Antonovich Bramskoy. For thirty years they did not forget about the tragedy, clarified the lists of dead friends and comrades, slowly gathered and commemorated them on a sad date, and in 1991 they spent on the territory of the depot. Krasin the first civil funeral service and supported the decision of the administration and the trade union committee of the TTU to perpetuate the memory of the victims of the disaster.
List of employees of the tram fleet named after Krasin at the entrance to the depot on Frunze Street. Early 1990s / Photo: Courtesy of Elena Nasyrova
On January 5, 1995, in front of the entrance to the Podolsk tram depot, a memorial sign with a granite slab was unveiled, on which the names of all fifty deceased employees were engraved.