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The Heroic Feat of Leningrad

Article by Elena Moskal

St Isaac's Cathedral in the days of siege. Taken
If you look at a modern map of Russia, you will not find the city Leningrad, but only one called St.-Petersburg. With its majestic, restless, and at times, tragic history, this city is indissolubly connected with the history of the whole country. Leningrad: It is the young, proud, beautiful city St. Petersburg of the 19th century; the revolutionary city Petrograd in the beginning of the 20th century, and it is the city, where the severe fighting with fascism amazed the whole world with its courage. The undefeated Leningrad of the forties is now the St.Petersburg of today (and has been so since 1992), which has recently celebrated the tercentenary.

Every year in St. Petersburg we celebrate two special dates. We commemorate the Second World War and the Great (Soviet) Patriotic war of 1941-1945, - on January 18th and on January 27th. The generation of people who were direct participants and eyewitnesses of the events, whose courage and force approached the hour of the great victory over fascism, is gradually leaving us. My article is dedicated to them.

Antiaircraft guns on the field of Mars, 1942, taken
In 1941, the (German) Fascist Army faced problems in their quick attempt of capturing Leningrad. They dreamed to see the city prostrate, to raze it to the ground, to do away with all it’s citizens, but they didn’t take into account the Leningraders’ spirit, courage, selflessness, faithfulness and love for their Motherland and their city. When fascists failed to take Leningrad by storm they chose different tactics – prolonged siege, starvation, prolonged bombardments. In 1942, Leningrad was attacked by enemy bomber aircraft 390 times, and in 1942 there were 2490 bomber aircraft attacks (which is 6-7 attacks per day not counting the bombardments). The city was cut off from the rest of the country by fascist divisions, therefore food and other necessities could be brought to the city only by air, water, or on the ice road across the Ladoga Lake (in winter). This ice route was named the Road of Life, as it was the only way to evacuate people - children and elderly people were considered first for evacuation from the besieged city. Medical supplies and food, ammunition and armament were being brought along this road, despite bombings and bombardment. It was written in one of the Leningrad newspapers of those times: “The history of Ladoga Road is a poem confirming the courage, persistency and firmness of the Soviet people”.

The Road of Life on the Ladoga Lake, taken from

It was an unbelievably cold winter in ’41 and ’42 and hundreds of thousands of people died from horrendous starvation. People died in their flats, at work places, in hospitals, in the streets……there was no heating or electricity in the houses, water-supply and sewerage didn’t operate, stoves were stoked up with the wood at first, then it was the furniture or books…people took water from the rivers directly and brought it home on children’s sledges. Meanwhile, food was given only if one had coupons and God forbid if one lost these coupons, as there would be unavoidable starvation ahead. In those severe and horrendous days, the daily amount of bread was 250 grams for workers and 125 grams for the rest of the people. Other food was given also with coupons, but only sporadically, as food storehouses were burned in a fire after an air bombing in the first days of the war.

Artillery bombardments on Nevsky Prospect,
photo by D. Trakhtenberg, 1942, taken from
But, Leningrad continued to breathe and struggle. The citizens went to work in the cold and in claustrophobic, murky factories plant’s as they had to help the front, to treat medically wounded men, or to teach the remaining children. People had to do this in spite of the severe horrors of war and siege. They had to live this out!

The Fire on Badaevsky food storehouses,
photo by B. Vasyutinsky,
the 8-th of September, 1941, taken from
What helped Leningraders to defend their city and win? Was it the astonishing power of spirit, the feeling of mutual aid, or the common fate of resistance fighters and citizens of the besieged city that helped the whole country? Perhaps, the main thing was belief in victory, belief in the peaceful world and the clear sky above, belief that in the future children would laugh carelessly and rejoice every moment, and that there would not be deafening bomb explosions, wails of the missiles, blood, hatred or cruelty. The light at the end of the tunnel could be seen, but Leningraders had to pass through 900 excruciating days of the siege to make it happen.

On January 18th 1943, at midday, the resistance fighters of Leningradsky and Volkhovsky led an offensive which severely destabilized the blockade. The constant railway connection with the Main Land (or, as it was called at the time The Big Land) was established. And only a year later, on January 27th 1944, Leningrad was fully liberated from the enemy siege. That evening the most long-awaited, most deafening and most joyous artillery salute thundered in honour of the liberation. It was followed by a bitter minute of silence in honour of those who were mournfully buried and who unfortunately had not lived to see that day.

Artillery salute in honour of the liberation from the siege,
photo is taken from
Every January 27th, thousands of people commemorate sacred places around the city. They put red carnations on nameless graves in the Piskariovskoe Cemetery, where hundreds of thousands of Leningraders, who perished in the siege days, were buried. They assemble at the Monument of Victory at ‘Pobedi (Victory) Square’ to remember those who withstood and won the brutal fight; they go to the Flower of Life memorial to honour the lives of thousands of children; they go to the monument ‘Broken -off Ring on the Road of Life’ to pay tribute to those whose efforts paid for the pulse of Leningrad.

Every year fewer veterans come to these monuments and dimmer are the chime of medals ‘For the Defence of Leningrad’. But their children and grandchildren come in their place, as it is their fortune to live in a world without war, and the generation gap doesn’t mar this passing of time.

If you ever happen to visit our city, please bow to the heroic city Leningrad, in memory of its feat and its citizens, who paid an unbelievable price and hundreds of thousands lives in order to save the beauty and grandeur of the city for people all over the world.

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