The building of the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station, also called the Dneprostroi Dam, was initiated in the early 1920’s, and it resembles one of the peak accomplishments of the Soviet-Era industrialization. Lenin’s slogan “Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country“, was the force behind an initial 5-year plan intended to bring electricity to all parts of the country.
The Soviet industrialization was followed by a huge propaganda effort. Soviet politician and Marxist theorist Leon Trotsky would fuel the propaganda on many occasions. In a 1926 speech, just before the construction of the dam began, he stated: “In the south, the Dnieper runs its course through the wealthiest industrial lands; and it is wasting the prodigious weight of its pressure, playing over age-old rapids and waiting until we harness its stream, curb it with dams, and compel it to give lights to cities, to drive factories, and to enrich ploughland. We shall compel it!”
The gigantic station was erected in the midst of a deserted countryside land. A specialist company called Dneprostroi was initiated to facilitate the activities. The dam was designed by a group of engineers led by Prof. Ivan Alexandrov, who later became head of Gosplan, the agency responsible for all central economic planning in the Soviet Union.
Constructivist architects Viktor Vesnin and Nikolai Kolli, along with notable American specialists, also made their inputs in completing the grand project.
The construction of the dam began in 1927 and the plant started to produce electricity by late 1932. General Electric manufactured the first five power generators; the station supplied energy for key industries for aluminum production, much needed for the Soviet aviation, and successfully developed the countryside region.
The Red Army dynamited the dam during WWII
At the time of its building the Dneprostroi Dam was the largest power plant in the whole of Europe. Undoubtedly it made an important strategic point for the Soviets. As the country was invaded by Germany in 1941, the retreating Russian Red Army troops dynamited the site. The hazardous event killed thousands of innocent civilians, as well as Red Army officials who were crossing the river.
American journalist H.R. Knickerbocker would report in 1941: “The Russians have proved now by their destruction of the great dam at Dniepropetrovsk that they mean truly to scorch the earth before Hitler, even if it means the destruction of their most precious possessions… Dnieprostroi was an object almost of worship to the Soviet people. Its destruction demonstrates a will to resist, which surpasses anything we had imagined.
I know what that dam meant to the Bolsheviks … It was the largest, most spectacular, and most popular of all the immense projects of the First Five-Year Plan … The Dnieper dam, when it was built, was the biggest on earth and so it occupied a place in the imagination and affection of the Soviet people difficult for us to realize … Stalin’s order to destroy it meant more to the Russians emotionally than it would mean to us were Roosevelt to order the destruction of the Panama Canal”.
The Germans additionally dynamited what was left of the dam in 1943, and by the end of the war, there was hardly anything left of it. Reconstructions took place between 1944 and 1949. General Electric participated in the revamp and built the dam’s new generators that weighed an astonishing 2,250,000 pounds. The station was resumed, with electricity production by 1950.
Nowadays part of Ukraine, the dam remains the largest hydroelectric power station on the Dnieper River, placed in Zaporizhia.
The construction allows the river to elevate the water up to 37 meters and makes the entire Dnieper navigable. After so many years, the dam is still remembered as one of the greatest wonders of the Soviet industrialization programs.