WW2 archives declassified after 60 years

After more than six decades, the Russian military is releasing documents that have remained classified since the end of WW2. The archives should give historians a more accurate account of the military and civilian losses during the war years.

Millions of pages will be given the devoted attention of historians at the very least.

“This decree by the Defence Ministry allows historians and researchers to access detailed information they have been denied so far. And I believe this is a very good thing to happen,” says Colonel Sergey Ilyenkov from the Armed Forces Archive.

But not all see the declassification as being positive. Many historians say the nature of these documents is traumatic. Relatives of those who died in action will be able to access each page and what they may find is not necessarily a pretty picture.

“There are many facts of the war that we do not know yet. And it's not only the number of those who died, which we believe to be many more than the figure we refer to now. For the veterans, and their relatives, a lot of the information is going to be painful to accept,” said Vladimir Vsevolodov, a historian.

In 1939, the Soviet Union and Germany signed a non-aggression pact – that Hitler, at the very least, had no intention of keeping.

And in June 1941, Operation Barbarossa began, with German forces launching a broad invasion of the Soviet Union.

During Stalin's rule, the estimated loss of civilian life during the Great Patriotic War was around 10 MLN. By the time Mikhail Gorbachev was in power, historians began talking of figures closer to 27 MLN. And the declassified documents are expected to give a more accurate estimate of military and civilian death during the war years.

It is also expected to help most find out the fate of, and some even find the people, they have been wondering about for decades.