28 September 2022

The 1961 Kurenivka mudslide in Ukraine

Posted by Dave Petley

The 1961 Kurenivka mudslide in Ukraine

On 13 March 1961 a very large landslide occurred in Kurenivka area of the city of Kyiv (Kiev) in Ukraine, although at the time it was a part of the Soviet Union.  The location is 50.486, 30.473, although there is little evidence of the landslide now. The event is now known as the Kurenivka mudslide (or the Kyrenivka mudslide in some cases).

The landslide was the consequence of a strange and tragic set of circumstances.  In September 1941, the Babyn Yar ravine at the top of the slope was the site of a Nazi atrocity in which 34,000 Jewish people were murdered.  The site continued to be the location of the murder of Jewish and other people through the Nazi occupation; it is estimated that 100,000 people were killed there.

Upon recapture of the city, the Soviet authorities sought literally to cover up the tragedy by burying the site beneath a landfill.  Subsequently, the ravine was filled with dense liquid waste from brick factories in the area.

Radio Free Europe has a good account of the events of 13 March 1961.  The previous evening the pumping station at the dam that was retaining the waste failed. At 8:30 am the dam collapsed, releasing at least 600,000 cubic metres of waste (some reports indicate 4 million cubic metres), including brickworks waste, mud, water and (dreadfully) human remains.  It is reported that landslide debris cascaded through the streets of Kurenivka for about two hours.  The Wikipedia account describes the burial of “a residential area, a tram depot, several industrial buildings and a cemetery, as well as traffic moving along the streets”.

The impact was devastating.  At least 50 people were killed at the tram depot alone.  The official toll is 145 people, but some investigations have suggested that 1,500 people lost their lives that morning.

Included in the Radio Free article about the Kurenivka mudslide are some archive images of the aftermath of the disaster.  This pair of images provides an interesting view of the scale of the event:-

The aftermath of the 13 March 1961 Kurenivka mudslide in Ukraine.

The aftermath of the 13 March 1961 Kurenivka mudslide in Ukraine. Image from Radio Free Europe.


In the aftermath of the landslide, the site was cordoned off by the Soviet authorities, and information about the disaster was suppressed.  It appears that there was an attempt to pin the blame of the chair of the City Council, Alexei Iosifovich Davydov.  He died in mysterious circumstances on 20 October 1965; the official version is that he committed suicide, although this is disputed.

The amount of detail available about the Kurenivka mudslide remains limited, and I suspect that there is little knowledge of this tragic event in the landslide community.  It is a disaster that is worthy of further, detailed study amidst the ongoing tragedy in Ukraine.