In 1941, as Nazi German troops swept through Soviet-era Ukraine, Josef Stalin’s secret police blew up a hydroelectric dam in the southern city of Zaporizhzhya to slow the Nazi advance.
The explosion flooded villages along the banks of the Dnieper River, killing thousands of civilians.
As Europe marks its Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism on August 23, a handful of Zaporizhzhya residents are battling for the recognition of the little-known wartime tragedy.
The day, which is also known as Black Ribbon Day outside Europe, coincides with the anniversary of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of nonaggression between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
Ukraine suffered heavy losses both during World War II and under Stalin.
The Zaporizhzhya events took place in August 1941.
As Nazi troops approached the city, Moscow sent in agents from the NKVD, the predecessor of the KGB, to blow up the city’s DniproHES hydroelectric dam.
The team successfully carried out its secret mission — which historians say was ordered by Stalin himself — tearing a hole in the dam and temporarily cutting off part of the city from the invaders.
But the explosion also flooded villages and settlements along the Dnieper River.
The tidal surge killed thousands of unsuspecting civilians, as well as Red Army officers who were crossing over the river.
Since no official death toll was released at the time, the estimated number of victims varies widely.
Most historians put it at between 20,000 and 100,000, based on the number of people then living in the flooded areas.
(thanks for the link, Ed!)