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28 Jan, 2014 02:15

Russia marks 70 years since end of Leningrad siege

Russia marks 70 years since end of Leningrad siege

Russia has marked 70 years since the end of the Nazi's Siege of Leningrad, which claimed the lives of more than one million people. Germany's president has expressed “deep sadness and shame” at the 872-day assault that took place during World War II.

The survivors of the dramatic events retell the unimaginable suffering they had to go through in RT’s documentary. Also watch galleries of photographs taken in besieged Leningrad during the war and of the reenactment of the epic battle that broke the blockade of the city more than two years after it was encircled by Nazi troops.

A number of commemorating events took place across Russia in honor of the bravery and endless human sacrifice shown during the Nazi siege.

In St. Petersburg, some 1,500 people took part in a military parade showcasing Soviet-era wartime T-34 tanks, as well as modern Iskander ballistic missiles. Veterans and survivors of the siege watched the military procession in tears. Some attended from other cities from across Russia.

Despite the frost, nearly 2,000 young men and women built a human chain in front of the Winter Palace, creating a formation which said "900."

In the run-up to the anniversary, local authorities assembled an exhibition reconstructing part of a street in the city center with siege-related artifacts such as sandbags, boarded-up windows, theater bills, and old cars and trolleybuses.

January 27, 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin, middle ground center, participates in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Motherland memorial at St. Petersburg's Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery. (RIA Novosti / Michael Klimentyev)

A 3D panoramic view of the “breakthrough battle” of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 was also created by a youth search team, thanks to a Russian presidential grant in the city of Kirovsk in the Leningrad Region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin - a Leningrad native whose mother survived the horrors of the blockade and whose elder brother perished because of hunger - took part in all of the St. Petersburg events on Monday.

Putin laid a wreath at the Motherland monument in Piskaryovskoe Memorial Cemetery, the main resting place for victims of the siege.

January 27, 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin, foreground, participates in a wreath-laying ceremony at St. Petersburg's Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery. (RIA Novosti / Michael Klimentyev)

Surrounded by survivors of the blockade, Putin reminded that the world should never forget “the courage and heroism of the Soviet people and residents of Leningrad.”

He added that “360,000 civilians died in Leningrad over a period of just four months from the end of 1941 to the start of 1942. Britain lost nearly the same amount in the entire World War II.”

“Can you imagine the difference between the victims that the Soviet Union and other countries of the world laid on the altar of common victory?”

The celebrations in St. Petersburg concluded with a performance of the Requiem ballet at the Alexandrinsky Theater, which was dedicated to the city’s liberation. A military salute commemorated those who lost their lives liberating Russia’s second city.

This year, Germany’s lower house of parliament dedicated its memorial day to the victims of Nazi Germany to the people of Leningrad.

“Germany recognizes its historical responsibility for the suffering inflicted on the people of Leningrad and for the brutal warfare of its soldiers, commandos and SS formations,”
German President Joachim Gauck wrote in a letter to Putin.

(L-R) 95-year-old Russian author Daniil Granin, German President Joachim Gauck, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the President of the German Constitutional Court Andreas Vosskuhle attend a commemorative ceremony for the victims of Nazism at the Bundestag in Berlin on January 27, 2014. (AFP Photo / Wolfgang Kumm)

Daniil Granin – a 95-year-old war veteran, siege survivor, and acclaimed writer – was invited to the Bundestag to recall the horrific memories of his experience during the blockade. German President Gauck and Chancellor Angela Merkel also listened to his speech. Granin was only 22 years old when he joined the fight to protect Leningrad.

“Hunger was brought to the city to wage war, instead of soldiers,” Granin told the chamber in Russian through an interpreter. The German politicians were silent as the war veteran described the cases of cannibalism he witnessed.

“We had to load the corpses that were so emaciated they were as light as firewood onto wagons. For a long time I could not forgive the Germans,” he said.

US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul also recognized the Soviet people’s sacrifice, saying that more Americans must know about Russian valor and the Leningrad blockade.

“Not only the people of Russia, but also the people of the whole world owe a lot to those who stopped and drove away the Nazis. Without your victory in Leningrad and other battles of WWII, world history could have taken a totally different path,” McFaul said.