Bloody three-year deadlock remembered
Bombed out, isolated and taken to the brink of starvation, Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, survived 872 days cut off from the rest of the country.
When the German army encircled the city it was not the shells and bombs that the inhabitants feared most, it was hunger.
“It got far worse when the famine spread. There is nothing more terrible than famine, than to be there when your nearest and dearest starve to death,” remembers blockade survivor, Irina Skripachyova.
Those trapped inside the city had to resort to whatever means necessary to survive.
“A horse slipped on an icy street and collapsed. Immediately, people rushed out of their houses to chop it up. Our dad went out with an axe. He managed to get something like a hoof. The whole family lived off it for a week,” recalls Zinaida Goncharova, another blockade survivor.
Sometimes the need to eat saw people take drastic action.
“There were days when I would step outside my house and see dead people lying in the snow, with their buttocks severed for meat. This isn’t something we should try to cover up with heroic stories. That would be unfair to the history of the siege, and the people who endured it,” says Viktor Vilner, reflecting on what he saw back then.
Hitter designated Leningrad as one of his major objectives and from August 1941 the German Army's 'Group North' set about tightening the noose on the key Baltic port.
The blockade began on September 8, 1941, when German troops occupied the city of Shlisselburg, thus severing the last connection to Leningrad, cutting off the city’s supply of food and military equipment.
With all land routes to the city cut off, the only way to get aid to Leningrad was across Lake Ladoga.
During the short summer months boats were used, but in winter the frozen lake became a makeshift highway known as “the Road of Life”.
Vera Rogova was one of those who worked on the ice helping to take valuable supplies into the besieged city.
The perils of living on a frozen lake made the work dangerous enough without the constant German bombardment.
“One time, a driver from the mainland came to bring us breakfast. He noticed that one of our tents was sinking. ‘Come out, come out you devils, you are about to drown’ he shouted. The driver attached the tent to a truck and pulled it out onto solid ice,” recollects Rogova.
Many of the vehicles bringing in supplies didn't make it across the lake. Some of these have now been raised from the bottom of the lake and can now be seen in the Road of Life Museum, so that 70 years on, the sacrifice is not forgotten.
“Kids are never that interested in photographs but actually seeing a historic relic with their own eyes they always ask, ‘Is this thing authentic?’ And when you tell them, ‘Yes it is’ – that’s when their eyes widen,” says the director of the Road of Life Museum, Aleksandr Voitsekhonsky.
It's thought more than a million civilians died in the brutal 872-day siege, which finally ended in the bitter cold of January 1943.
Many of those who survived went straight into the fight to drive the Germans back, their experiences during the siege spurring them on.
“After we were evacuated, we joined the army to take revenge for what the Nazis had done to our people in this city, so many civilians lost their lives through hunger and shelling. So we proudly joined the Red Army to take revenge on the Nazis,” recalls Ivan Selyugan, another survivor of the siege.