WW2 hero receives state award

Russia's leader has given a state award to a WW2 veteran, Aleksey Botyan, who took part in the liberation of Eastern Europe. Several other veterans, as well as prominent Russian artists and scientists, received state awards.

Aleksey Botyan has been rewarded for his courage and heroism during the liberation of the Polish city of Krakow and helping prevent its demolition.

“It's an honour for me to give the Honour of the Hero of Russia to a military intelligence officer. Thanks to his courage, Krakow, one of the most beautiful European cities was saved for Poland and the whole world,” said Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

Aleksey Botyan, who turned 90 in February, served in intelligence during World War II.

In 1944, he and a group of 600 men were on a covert mission in Nazi-occupied Poland. The task was to speed up the Red Army's offensive against Nazi forces and find out what their plans were.

“The Germans intended to blow up the city and two main dams in case of the Red Army's offensive. They kept huge stockpiles of explosives in one of the old Polish castles. If the Red Army moved ahead, they could have blown up the dams and flooded the whole city and then blown it up as well,” recalls Aleksy Botyan.

The group discovered where the Germans kept their explosives. They made the first move and blew them up.

Today many in Poland question the Red Army's role in saving Poland and Krakow from the Nazis. And that hurts those who were part of that.   

“We always considered it a rescue operation and helping the Red Army move further into Germany. That was our main mission. And several times I came to Krakow, I was always welcomed as somebody who did exactly that. People thanked me for saving the city. My only aim then was to end that war,” says Mr Botyan. 

If it was not for Aleksey Botyan and his men, Krakow could have shared the fate of Warsaw that was 90% destroyed by the Nazis.