Russia Marks Breaking of the Siege of Leningrad

More than a million residents died when German forces surrounded, attacked city
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 27, 2024 1:20 PM CST
Russia Marks Breaking of the Siege of Leningrad
People attend a wreath-laying commemoration ceremony Saturday at the Piskaryovskoye Cemetery, where most of the Leningrad Siege victims were buried during World War II, in St. Petersburg, Russia.   (Vyacheslav Prokofyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

The Russian city of St. Petersburg on Saturday marked the 80th anniversary of the end of a devastating World War II siege by Nazi German forces with a series of events attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin and close allies. The Kremlin leader laid flowers at a monument to fallen Soviet defenders of the city, then called Leningrad, on the banks of the Neva River, and then at Piskarevskoye Cemetery, where hundreds of thousands of siege victims are buried. Putin was joined by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Gatchina, a town outside St. Petersburg that once housed camps for Soviet prisoners of war, for the unveiling of a statue commemorating civilians killed in the Nazi onslaught, the AP reports.

The Red Army broke the nearly 2½-year blockade on Jan. 19, 1943, after fierce fighting. Estimates vary, but historians agree that more than 1 million Leningrad residents perished of hunger or in air and artillery bombardments. Blockade survivor Irina Zimneva, 85, said she's still haunted by memories of the tiny food rations during the winter of 1941-42. Each of her family members received 125 grams of bread a day, and Zimneva's mother pleaded with her to be patient as she begged for more. Zimneva said her mother's love got her through those dark days. "I don't know what other way (I would have survived)," she said. When Nazi soldiers encircled Leningrad on Sept. 8, 1941, Zimneva had more than 40 relatives there, she said; 13 of them lived to see the breaking of the siege.

Before the anniversary commemorations, an open-air exhibition was set up in central St. Petersburg to remind residents of harrowing moments in the city's history. The Street of Life display shows a typical blockade-era apartment, with a stove in the center of a room, windows covered by blankets to preserve heat, and the leftovers of furniture used for kindling. Visitors can also look inside a classroom from that time and see replicas of trams and ambulances from the early 1940s. For older residents, these are poignant reminders of a time when normal life had been suspended, with heavy bombardment largely destroying the city's public transit network, while death and disease spread through its streets. Putin was born and raised in Leningrad, and his World War II veteran father was wounded while fighting for the city.

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"If you touch the history, you feel that pain and horror that were happening here 80 years ago. How did people manage to survive? It's mind-boggling," said Yelena Domanova, a visitor to the exhibition. World War II, in which the Soviet Union lost an estimated 27 million people, is a linchpin of Russia's national identity. In today's Russia, officials bristle at any questioning of the USSR's role, particularly in the later stages of the war and its aftermath, per the AP, when the Red Army took control of vast swathes of Eastern and Central Europe. Moscow has also repeatedly sought to make a link between Nazism and Ukraine, particularly those who have led the country since a pro-Russia leadership was toppled in 2014.

(More Russia stories.)

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