Scorched earth is military policy whereby retreating armies destroy or dismantled everything in their path in order to deprive the advancing armies of food, shelter, natural resources, manufacturing, communications, or anything else that may be of use to them. Scorched earth has a devastating impact on civilian populations left behind by retreating armies.

Scorched earth was practiced with great ruthlessness and efficiency by the Red Army under direct orders of Stalin. Thousands of factories in Ukraine were destroyed or removed, the Dniprohes Dam at Dnipropetrovsk, the largest hydroelectric dam in Europe, was blown up, Khreshchatyk Street, Kyiv’s main street, was mined and blown up. Collective farms were ordered to destroy their crops and animals or to surrender them to the retreating armies. Because all of Soviet Ukraine was occupied by the Germans, the Ukrainian people suffered terribly from the scorched earth policy. The economy of Soviet Ukraine was almost completely destroyed by the retreating Red Army. The civilian population was thus abandoned by the Soviet regime.

During WWII, Ukraine suffered through two episodes of scorched earth – as the Wehrmacht retreated from Ukrainian territory in 1943-44, Hitler also ordered a scorched earth policy; some 28 000 villages were burned by the retreating Germans, and any and all resources that could be used by the advancing Red Army were either evacuated or destroyed.

The scorched earth policy had a fundamental impact on the war on the Eastern Front. More than half of the victims of war on the Eastern Front were civilians. This was the first time in the history of warfare that civilian casualties outweighed military casualties. Scorched earth, while depriving advancing armies of valuable resources, also ensured that the civilian population left behind would suffer enormous privation and misery.