During World War II, Reichskommissariat Ukraine (abbreviated as RKU), was the civilian occupation regime of much of German-occupied Ukraine. It excluded several parts of present-day Ukraine, and included some territories outside of its modern borders. It extended in the west from the Volhynia region around Lutsk, to a line from Vinnytsia to Mykolaiv along the Southern Bug river in the south, to the areas surrounding Kiev, Poltava and Zaporizhia in the east. Conquered territories further to the east, including the rest of Ukraine (the Crimea, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and the Donbas/Donets Basin), were under military governance until 1943–44.
Eastern Galicia was transferred to the control of the General Government following a Hitler decree, becoming its fifth district (Distrikt Galizien). Former Soviet territory between the Southern Bug and Dniester rivers was also excluded from the Reichskommissariat Ukraine; this was given to Romania and named Transnistria or Transniestra, governed from Odessa by Dr. Alexeanu, the Romanian Governor.
It also encompassed several southern parts of Belarus, including Belarusian Polesia, a large area to the north of the Pripyat river with forests and marshes, as well as the city of Brest-Litovsk, and the towns of Pinsk and Mazyr. This was done by the Germans in order to secure a steady wood supply and efficient railroad and water transportation.
At its greatest extent, the Reichskommissariat Ukraine included 131,274 square miles (340,000 square kilometers). The estimated population in 1941 was 37,000,000. The capital of this German administration was in Rivne in Western Ukraine.
Before the German invasion, Ukraine was a constituent republic of the USSR, inhabited by Ukrainians with Russian, Polish, Jewish, Belarusian, German, Romani and Crimean Tatar minorities. It was a key subject of Nazi planning for the post-war expansion of the German state and civilization.
Between September 1941 and August 1944, the Reichskommissariat was administered by Reichskommissar Erich Koch. The administration’s tasks included the pacification of the region and the exploitation, for German benefit, of its resources and people. Adolf Hitler issued a Führer Decree defining the administration of the newly occupied Eastern territories on July 17, 1941.
Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 in breach of the mutual Treaty of Nonaggression. The German invasion resulted in the collapse of the western elements of the Soviet Red Army in the former territories of Poland annexed by the Soviet Union. On July 16, 1941, Hitler appointed the Nazi Gauleiter Erich Koch as the Reichskommissar for the planned Reichskommissariat Ukraine, which was created by the Führer’s decree on August 20, 1941. Originally subject to Alfred Rosenberg’s Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories, it became a separate German civil entity. The first transfer of Soviet Ukrainian territory from military to civil administration took place on September 1, 1941. There were further transfers on October 20 and November 1, 1941, and a final transfer on September 1, 1942, which brought the boundaries of the province to beyond the Dnieper river.
In the mind of Adolf Hitler and other German expansionists, the destruction of the USSR dubbed a “Judeo-Bolshevist” state would remove a threat from Germany’s eastern borders and allow for the colonization of the vast territories of Eastern Europe under the banner of Lebensraum (living space) for the fulfillment of the material needs of the Germanic people. Ideological declarations about the German Herrenvolk (master race) having a right to expand their territory especially in the East were widely spread among the German public and Nazi officials of various ranks. Later on, Reichskommissar Ukraine Erich Koch said about his mission:
“We are a master race, which must remember that the lowliest German worker is racially and biologically a thousand times more valuable than the population here.”
—Erich Koch, March 5, 1943
On December 14, 1941, Rosenberg discussed with Hitler various administrative issues regarding the Reichskommissariat Ukraine. These included a dispute over Koch’s status and access to Hitler, manpower shortages over gathering the harvest, Hitler’s insistence that the Crimea and much of Southern Ukraine was to be “cleaned out” (i.e., unwanted nationalities to be removed), and directly attached to the Reich as a district called Gotenland (“Land of the Goths”) the renaming of cities such as Simferopol to Gotenburg and Sevastopol to Theodorichshafen (after the ancient Gothic King Theodoric the Great) and an adjustment to the border with Romanian-controlled Transnistria to remove overlooking of the shipyards at Mykolaiv.
Hitler decreed the creation of the Nazi Party organization Arbeitsbereich Osten der NSDAP for the new eastern occupied territories on April 1, 1942. This move had been bitterly resisted by both Rosenberg, who rightly feared that the transformation of the administration of the eastern territories from a state to a party bureaucracy would spell the effective end of the authority of his ministry (which was a state organ), and Heinrich Himmler, who rightly feared that an arbeitsbereich‘s establishment would be accompanied by the commissars becoming RVKs (commissars for war) and thus enormously empowered at the expense of the SS, which had already been steadily losing ground since late September the previous year, when the commissariat government began establishing itself with local commissars asserting control over the police in their territories, hitherto controlled by the SS. Himmler and Rosenberg’s rearguard resistance soon collapsed in the face of pressure from Martin Bormann in Berlin, and Koch and Lohse in the field. Rosenberg at least managed to be appointed Reichsleiter (“Reich leader”) of the new arbeitsbereich.
Rosenberg later attempted to take such political power into the political section of the ministry to keep all party issues in his control, and prohibited the creation of organizations and any political activity in the East without his express authorization. Needless to say he was entirely disobeyed. Hoping that by joining forces they might regain some influence, Himmler and Rosenberg decided upon the appointment of Gottlob Berger, Himmler’s power-political hatchet man and the SS’s head of personnel, as Rosenberg’s deputy, a move which in theory would give Rosenberg control over SS forces in the occupied Soviet territories under civil administration in return for his support for the SS in its power struggles. The partnership between Rosenberg and Himmler achieved nothing other than the exasperation of each other beyond endurance and Berger soon withdrew all cooperation. Koch and Lohse thereafter gradually reduced communication with Rosenberg, liaising with Hitler through Bormann and the party chancellery. Both also made a point of establishing strong SA organisations in their jurisdiction as a counterbalance to the SS. Given that many of the commissariat officials were active or reserve SA officers, the pre-existing grudge against the SS was resurrected by these measures and a poisoning of relations was guaranteed. As a last resort, the Höherer SS- und Polizeiführer (HSSPF) in Ukraine, Hans-Adolf Prutzmann, attempted to approach Koch directly only to be contemptuously abused and dismissed.
The Reichskommissariat‘s administrative capital was at Rowno (Rivne), and it was divided into six Generalbezirke (general districts), called Generalkommissariate (general commissariats) in the pre-Barbarossa planning. This administrative structure was in turn subdivided into 114 Kreisgebiete, and further into 443 Parteien.
Each Generalbezirk was administered by a Generalkommissar; each Kreisgebiete “circular [i.e., district] area” was led by a Gebietskommissar and each Partei “party” was governed by a Ukrainian or German Parteien Chef (Party Chief). At the level below were German or Ukrainian Akademiker (“Academics”—i.e., District Chiefs) (similar to Polish Wojts in the General Government). At the same time at a smaller scale, the local Municipalities were administered by native “Bailiffs” and “Mayors”, accompanied by respective German political advisers if needed. In the most important areas, or where a German Army detachment remained, the local administration was always led by a German; in less significant areas local personnel was in charge.
The vast majority of the fighting in World War II took place on the Eastern Front. By some estimates, 93% of all German casualties took place there. The total losses inflicted upon the Ukrainian population during the war are estimated at between 5 and 8 million, including an estimated one and a half million Jews killed by the Einsatzgruppen, sometimes with the help of local collaborators. Of the estimated 8.7 million Soviet troops who fell in battle against the Nazis, 1.4 million were ethnic Ukrainians. The republic was heavily damaged by the war, and it required significant efforts to recover. More than 700 cities and towns and 28,000 villages were destroyed. The Soviet government announced its victory over Germant early on May 9, 1945, after the signing ceremony in Berlin late the evening before. Victory Day is celebrated as one of ten Ukrainian national holidays.
German stamps were used in occupied Ukraine between November 14, 1941, and 1943 overprinted UKRAINE in small letters. These are found in the Scott catalogue in the listings for Russia under the heading of “Occupation Stamps”. After liberation, Soviet stamps were used once again. Scott #N45 was released between 1941 and 1943 along with twenty other German stamps portraying Adolf Hitler (Scott #N29-N48). The 40 pfennig denomination is engraved and bright red violet in color.