88yo WWII veteran heroically revisits Siege of Leningrad horrors on YouTube

88yo WWII veteran heroically revisits Siege of Leningrad horrors on YouTube
A Siege of Leningrad survivor has stirred Russian YouTube with vivid stories of streets lined with corpses and people being so starved they resorted to eating jellied leather belts as he revisited his childhood war experience.

Sergey Berezovsky was an 11-year-old boy when the Nazis and their Finnish allies shut down Leningrad, the former imperial capital and the second largest city in USSR back in September 1941. The blockade which lasted 872 days was one of the longest and bloodiest in history as up to 1.5 million people died from hunger, cold, illnesses and injuries from bombings. 

One of Berezovsky’s YouTube followers said his recent videos nearly broke his heart.

I’m crying with you. It’s impossible to imagine what you went through. My soul is aching, tears stream down my eyes. 

Emotional reactions flowed online as the 88-year-old WWII veteran uploaded three videos on January in the wake of the 75th anniversary of the end of the blockade.

On the first day of the siege the Nazi planes destroyed the city’s principal food warehouse, Berezovsky recalls. “I remember the plume of black smoke – the wheat, the sugar was burning. People came to the smoldering ruins, dug the ground, looked for some leftovers. It was August, 8 [1941] when the blockade ring locked.”

Hunger was the city’s curse back then, the veteran says. He recalls people eating broth jellies cooked from leather belts with some spices – a luxury meal for Leningrad locals who would receive just 125 grams of bread per day. “It was happiness when I had a privilege of eating this,” he says choking back tears.

Someone would put a notice on the bulletin board wishing to exchange a Steinway & Sons grand concert piano for a loaf of bread, Berezovsky remembers. Desperate – no one would do it. “The piano most likely was burned down as people also had to fight with chilling frost,” he says.

A son of a doctor and a mathematician, Berezovsky also shared some moving family memories. At times his father was so weak that his wife literally kicked him out of the house so that he could move a bit. Even as a small child he knew he had to make sure his father did not fall down. “If someone suffering from dystrophy takes a nap, he is doomed. One must move. I was supposed to help my father but what could I do? No one would help. Death became habitual, no one would wonder at a corpse lying on the street,” Berezovsky says as his voice falters.

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Berezovsky’s personal, almost intimate account of the tragedy really struck a deep chord in many Russian Internet users. “Very rarely can one find something on YouTube that really gets under your skin,” someone wrote while another user described the veteran’s memoirs as “touching and scary.” Many people applauded the narrator’s turn of phrase as well as sincerity and vividness of his memories. “Your stories are more powerful than any movie,” one heartfelt comment stated.

With Berezovsky’s childhood war memories being surely the most striking ones, the veteran’s further life was no less spectacular. After the war, he served as air navigator but later ended up in the legal profession and became one of the top lawyers in USSR. The choice was apparently not the easiest one. “If not for my passion for law, I would have joined the Air Force,” Berezovsky writes on his Instagram page where he shares archive family photos.

The 88-year-old Berezovsky is one of the 1.6 million living Russian WWII veterans, according to official statistics. 

A St. Petersburg native, the veteran still lives in the Russian Northern capital with Mila, his wife of 55 years. His daughter Olga Slutsker is a prominent fitness enthusiast and businesswoman. Despite having to undergo cancer treatment sessions, Berezovsky plans to blog further with his priority being the stories from his 65-year career as a criminal lawyer. 

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