What life was like in Soviet Ukraine (PHOTOS)

Celebrations of the Revolution anniversary in Kiev, 1970

Celebrations of the Revolution anniversary in Kiev, 1970

N.Selyuchenko/Sputnik
Ukraine (officially known as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in Soviet times) was the Soviet Union’s breadbasket, as well as a key health tourism destination and industrial center. Its sea, climate, nature and hospitality attracted tourists from all over the country.

This is one of the famous Stalinist skyscrapers in Moscow. True, the hotel was completed only after the death of Stalin, and its name was personally chosen by new Secretary General Nikita Khrushchev — Ukraina. The reason was simple: Khrushchev had spent almost his whole life in Ukraine, and had served there first as Chairman of the Council of Ministers and then as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. He was a keen supporter of friendly ties between the “fraternal peoples” of Russia and Ukraine. In addition, one of his first decisions as Secretary General was to present Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 (which back then made little de facto difference). 

View of Hotel Ukraina.

For many centuries, Russia and Ukraine were united, hence the Russian and Ukrainian peoples are often described as fraternal. In one of the monuments of old Russian literature (The Tale of Bygone Years), Kiev is called “the mother of Russian cities,” and the phrase is still used today.

In 1954, the USSR widely celebrated the “300th anniversary of the reunification of Ukraine and Russia” — referring to an event that took place in 1654, when the hetman of the Zaporizhzhya Cossack army, Bogdan Khmelnitsky, requested to serve Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich Romanov (father of Peter the Great). 

Gala concert on the “300th anniversary of Ukraine’s reunification with Russia”, Kiev, 1954

For many years, the region that became part of the Russian Empire was known as Malorossiya (Little Russia). After the 1917 Revolution, Ukraine gained autonomy and joined the USSR as a separate republic, and in 1991 became an independent state. 

Architecture and cities

In many Ukrainian cities, you can see all the hallmarks of typical Soviet architecture: Stalinist Empire-style buildings, low-rise khrushchevka apartment blocks, and Lenin monuments (many of which are being demolished as part of the de-Sovietization process).

And yet the country still surprised visitors with its diversity: Crimea was — and still is — home to tsarist summer palaces, where pioneer camps and guest houses were sited. Western Ukraine was a relic of old Europe. Whenever a European setting was needed for a Soviet film, Lvov was top of the list. And Odessa was effectively built by Europeans, a kind of southern St Petersburg.

Khreshchatyk, Kiev’s central street, 1979
Kiev, Lenin monument, 1950s

Bridge over the Dnieper River, Kiev, 1965
Streets of Dnepropetrovsk, 1970
Odessa National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater, 1969
Pioneers Palace, Sevastopol, 1970
Pioneers on an excursion to Vorontsov Palace, Crimea, 1970
Swallow's Nest palace, Crimea, 1968
Lvov, 1970

Breadbasket

Ukraine is a “black earth” region with wonderful soil for agriculture. Combined with the mild climate, it is great for growing not only cereals, but all kinds of fruits, grapes, watermelons, etc.

Other Soviet people living in harsh climates looked on with envy, and those with relatives in Ukraine often received parcels of juicy apricots or melons. Ukraine produced flour, bread, dairy products, and fresh fruit and veg for the whole Soviet Union. It also had (and still does) a strong wine-making industry. Sugar production from beetroot was another major part of the agricultural complex.

Fruit and veg sellers on a street in Yevpatoriya, Crimea, 1979
Street trading in Kharkov, 1958–59
Grape harvest in Crimea, 1970

Collective farm harvest, Cherkasy Region, 1935

In 1932–33, Ukraine suffered a massive famine that claimed 2–7 million lives, according to various estimates. It was due to crop failure and the seizure of food from the peasants by the authorities. This event, known as the Holodomor, is viewed very differently by Russian and Ukrainian historians and politicians. Modern Ukraine considers the actions of the Soviet government a genocide against the Ukrainian people, while Russia points to the fact that similar actions caused starvation elsewhere in the Soviet Union too. Read more about the famine in the USSR here.

Health tourism

Ukraine had everything for a healthy, restful vacation. The Black Sea coast in Crimea, Kherson, and Odessa was teeming with sanatoriums and resorts. Crimea also offered mountain hiking, and in the Carpathian Mountains there was skiing to be had!

Ukraina sanatorium, Crimea, 1959

Yalta beach, 1969
Rodniki recreation center at the Black Sea Shipbuilding Plant on the banks of the Southern Bug River, 1974
The southern coast of Crimea, 1981

Building cottages for tourists in the Carpathian Mountains, Ivano-Frankivsk Region, 1970

On the frontline

During WWII, Ukraine was the center of many decisive battles. In 1941–42, German troops occupied almost all of it. Jews were forced to live in ghettos and executed en masse. The notorious Babi Yar is a ravine in Kiev, where more than 100,000 people were shot. In 1943–44, the Soviet army liberated the whole of Ukraine. However, the damage was colossal — countless villages burned to the ground, cities destroyed.

 “Hand over Kiev!” Crossing the Dnieper, 1943

Odessa in the first days after liberation, 1944

Industry

Mining, energy, engineering, metallurgy... These are just some of the industries that flourished in Soviet Ukraine. Construction progressed at breakneck speed throughout the republic, and factories and mines operated at full capacity.

Zaporozhets cars, made by the Zaporozhye Automobile Plant, 1970
Soviet LAZ-697 bus, manufactured by the Lvov Bus Factory, 1970

Tractor plant in Kharkov, 1958-59
Zaporozhstal Metallurgical Plant, 1974
Welding of stators at Kharkov Turbogenerator Plant, 1958–59

Miners at the Gvardeiskaya mine, Krivoy Rog, 1970

Chernobyl

One of the most tragic events in the life of Soviet Ukraine was undoubtedly the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. A nuclear reactor exploded, throwing a huge amount of radiation into the air. The tragedy was compounded by the authorities’ failure to inform local residents and people in nearby regions, causing many to suffer and even die from the effects of radiation sickness.

Read more about the Chernobyl accident here.

Measuring the radiation level after the explosion of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, 1986

Measuring radiation from a helicopter, 1986

Life, pure and simple

These photos depict life as it was in Soviet Ukraine, including May Day celebrations, Soviet interior design and fashion, and brightly embroidered national costumes.

Kindergarten No. 1 of the Arsenal plant in Pechersk District, Kiev, 1953

May Day celebration in Kharkov, 1974

Senior foreman with family, Odessa, 1971

Sightseers on the Potemkin Stairs, Odessa, 1968

Young people in Western Ukraine, 1940
Fish trading at an Odessa market, 1970
Tourists on the deck of a ship on the Danube, 1969

On a street in Odessa, 1970

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