The first few weeks of the German invasion of the USSR saw a tremendous advance by German forces. Three armies advanced on Leningrad in the north, Moscow in the center and Kyiv in the south. Von Kleist’s First Panzer Group had advanced more than 400 km in less than 18 days, reaching Kyiv’s outer defenses in mid-July 1941. However, to avoid street fighting the Group swung south along the Dnipro. Army Group South could not complete the encirclement of Kyiv.

Hitler then changed the priorities of attack; General Guderian’s Second Panzer Group, which was east of Smolensk and advancing on Moscow, swung south to attack east of on 25 August. Stalin forbade the withdrawal of Lt. General Kirponos’ South-West Front, which had been defending Kyiv. As a result, his armies were encircled in a massive pincer movement around the city, with Army Group South meeting up with Guderian near Romny, about 200 km east of Kyiv in early September. Soviet forces that surrendered in Kyiv numbered some 665 000 – the largest number of POWs captured in a single battle. The German authorities treated them abominably – they were simply surrounded with barbed wire and left under guard in an open field without food or shelter. Most soon perished.

However, the diversion of Guderian’s Second Panzer Group away from the offensive on Moscow played a large part in ensuring that the Wehrmacht could not take the city before the harsh Russian winter set in – the Wehrmacht would advance to the outskirts of the Soviet capital but would be forced back with a massive Red Army counteroffensive.

When the Germans entered Kyiv, they found that the city had been packed with mines and bombs by the retreating Soviet forces. Khreshchatyk, the city’s main street, was blown up, as were many important buildings. The destruction of the infrastructure of the city was a part of the Soviet “scorched earth” policy in which nothing of value was to be left to the enemy by retreating armies.