Between 1941 and 1944 the country was the scene of very hard battles in which Stalin’s Red Army and Hitler’s Wehrmacht faced each other. From bridges destroyed to stop the enemy to broken families: the conflict increasingly resembles the tragedy of 80 years ago
The invasion of Ukraine, an authentic conventional war, brings to mind some characteristics of the Second World War more than it did in the 1990s in reference to the former Yugoslavia, where the characteristics of the guerrilla prevailed. Moreover, Ukraine was in its time the scene of very hard battles in which, between 1941 and 1944, theRed Army of Iosif Stalin and Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht, which had invaded the Soviet Union with Operation Barbarossa. Among the images that come to us now from that tormented land, not a few depict monuments to the fallen of the Second World War, called by the Soviets the Great Patriotic War. And many others remember moments of that titanic clash, costing millions of deaths.
Fundamental in the ongoing conflict is the use that the aggressors make of the armored forces, which we see queuing up for kilometers. The flat territory favors the tanks of those who have to conquer a flat country like Ukraine. And rivers acquire great importance as natural obstacles to the advancement of motorized units. So for the defenders it is absolutely necessary to disable the bridges, systematically destroy them as the Ukrainians are doing, in order to slow down the enemy’s advance. Another hindrance to armored troops can be mudespecially now that the spring thaw is approaching.
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When fighting over long distances (Ukraine has twice the surface area of Italy) supplies are not always on time, so soldiers often make do by plundering the territory. The scene of Russian soldiers seizing hens stolen from a chicken coop is very eloquent from this point of view.
Here, too, raids from the past come to mind. Then there is the most tragic aspect, the involvement of civilian populations especially in cities. The images of Ukrainians crammed into shelters are all too closely reminiscent of those of the inhabitants of many cities, including Italian ones, plagued by bombing during the war. The blows, then as now, did not spare structures such as schools and hospitals. The bloody faces of the injured people who wander among the rubble of buildings will remain in our memory for a long time, like those of the victims of eighty years ago.
Equally dramatic, and equally familiar, are the photographs of the crowds that throng the stations to flee away from the area where bombs, missiles and artillery shells fall. She is a desperate humanity that has lost everything and carries with it the bare essentials towards a salvation that coincides with the bitter fate of exile. A population shift similar to the biblical ones that marked the world conflict is taking place, albeit spontaneously and not in a forced way. However, not everyone manages to leave elhe Russian strategy seems to be aimed at laying siege to cities, with the aim of starving them. The queues for the distribution of food that we have seen recall one of the most terrible episodes of the Great Patriotic War: the blockade imposed for nine hundred days by the Germans on the city of Leningrad (now called St. Petersburg), which caused the death of a number of inhabitants calculated between 800 thousand and one million. We are not yet at this point, but the images are impressive, with the sandbags around the monuments to protect them, which come from Kiev, Mariupol, Odessa, Kharkiv. Just Kharkiv (Kharkov in Russian) was the scene of four battles in the world war, testifying to its strategic importance. Further south, in the current secessionist region of Donetsk (then called Stalino) the Italian forces of the Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia also operated in 1941, later transformed into a real army and deployed on the Don.
Still on the subject of cities, several photographic shots capture the preparations that the Ukrainians are making in the event that the enemy decides to advance on them. Trenches, barricades, Molotov cocktails (device that takes its name from the Soviet Foreign Minister, very loyal to Stalin). In that case, a neighborhood-by-neighborhood, house-to-house battle is expected, in which the advantage that the Russians have in terms of tanks would be reduced in many ways. A situation, so far only potential, which brings to mind the epic battle of Stalingrad, on the Volga River, where the German 6th Army of General Friedrich Paulus got bogged down and encircled in 1942, only to be completely destroyed in early 1943. That city was reduced to rubble. We really hope we don’t see such a frightening scenario in Kiev or elsewhere.