Nikolai Fyodorovich Vatutin was born on December 16, 1901, in a village in the Voronezh region. He joined the Red Army in 1920, and his potential was quickly recognised. In 1926, he enrolled at the Frunze General Staff Academy in Moscow, graduating with honours in 1929. He took further courses at the Frunze and Voroshilov Academies in the 1930s. His rapid ascent has propelled by his abilities and also by the purges of the late 1930s, and in 1937 he was appointed Assistant Chief of Staff of the Kiev Special Military District, becoming Chief of Staff the following year. He was involved in the planning of the operations in eastern Poland in September 1939 and Bessarabia the following summer. Within months, he was appointed First Deputy Chief of the General Staff, where one of his first main tasks was in attempting to reform the Red Army after its inauspicious performance in the Winter War against Finland.
After the outbreak of war with Germany. Vatutin was posted to Leningrad as Chief of Staff of the Northwestern Front, where he launched a series of counter-attacks in July and August 1941 that slowed the German advance and allowed the city’s defences to be stabilized. After a short stint as Deputy Chief of the General Staff in Moscow, he was appointed to command Voronezh Front in July 1942. He ultimately failed to prevent the fall of the city, but successful defensive operations elsewhere along the River Don forced the Germans to switch their offensive southwest, towards Stalingrad. He then assumed command of the newly formed Southwestern Front, where he played a major role in both the counter-attack at Stalingrad and the operation against Operation Winter Storm, von Manstein’s attempt to relieve the encircled 6th Army.
Subsequently, Vatutin’s efforts to clear all the German forces from between the Northern Donets and Dnieper Rivers was initially successful, but he failed to heed intelligence reports about German reinforcements and over-extended his own forces, and von Manstein’s famous counter-stroke to the south of Kharkov inflicted a heavy defeat on Southwestern Front. Vatutin returned to Voronezh Front, which was moved to the southern sector of the Kursk salient, and subsequently liberated both Belgorod and Kharkov.
Vatutin and Manstein faced off again towards the end of 1943, with Vatutin’s now renamed 1st Ukrainian Front taking Kiev and forcing several bridgeheads on the western bank of the Dnieper during the first half of November. A series of counter-attacks by Manstein later in November and through December inflicted some heavy losses on Vatutin’s forces and even forced the Soviets back in places, but in January, the Korsun-Cherkassy operation, conducted by 1st Ukrainian and Ivan Konev’s 2nd Ukrainian Front, tore a major hole in Army Group South’s line.
On February 29, 1944, Vatutin’s staff car was attacked by Ukrainian nationalist partisans near the village of Mylyatyn in the northwestern Rivne region. He was transferred to Kiev with serious leg wounds but developed sepsis and died on April 15. He was buried two days later. The statue over the grave was designed by Yevgeniy Vuchetych, who also designed the Motherland monuments at the Museum of the Great Patriotic War in Kiev and Mamayev Kurgan in Volgograd. The inscription on the pedestal, in Ukrainian, reads “Герою Радянського Союзу генералові Ватутіну від українського народу.” In English, this reads “To the Hero of the Soviet Union General Vatutin from the Ukrainian people.”
The grave and monument stand at the edge of Mariyinski Park, opposite the Kiev Hotel on Mikhail Grushevskovo Street (вул. Михайл Грушевського). The nearest metro stations are Maidan Hezalezhnosti (Майдан Незалежності) and Khreshchatyk (Хрещатик).