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On Siege of Leningrad and Victory Day

Victory day in St Petersburg

There is a special page in the history book called St Petersburg-Petrograd-Leningrad-St Petersburg. There is a special place in my heart where this page is preserved. The indelible words of Siege of Leningrad (Blockade) and the Second World War are written there. And with no grandiloquence I can say that the Victory day is one of the most dear and meaningful days of the year, no matter what political views you have (or do not have). I just wish we remembered it more days of the year, not only on the 9th of May. I do hope we never forget the inhumane tragedy.

Victory day in St Petersburg

This was the first time I was in the center of the city during the Victory day celebrations. I’m usually somewhere at our dacha dreaming about the summer or watching the fireworks from the parents’ balcony. Apart from the crowds which literally appropriated the city’s streets, bridges and military spots, there was this very special atmosphere which reined over St Petersburg that day. Children climbing on top of the canons and tanks has never been a very straightforward sight for me but this day it seemed kind of right. If these terrible things do exist, they should all be just toys and then completely discarded as obsolete. That’s my dream.

Victory day in St Petersburg

I didn’t take part in the parades, nor did I watch it (only struggled to walk by, sometimes fearing to be strangled by the crowd), preferring to visit the Museum of the Siege of Leningrad instead. Regardless of the crowded streets, I did enjoy city that day, breathing in this air of ‘owning’ St Petersburg. Yep, it felt like it!

Victory day in St Petersburg

It’s true that the Victory Day used to be and is now showered with propaganda, with sometimes hyperbolized patriotism, which is often limited to waving flags and drinking to Victory. I’m aware of the fact that to many non-Russians all these red flags and masses of people greeting the military and the tanks might look very menacing and crazy but the point here is in the interior not the exterior. Stripping it off from all the politics and the propaganda halo, we’re left with a tremendous all-encompassing tragedy and such dear-brought peace.

Victory day in St Petersburg
Vintage Tram on Troitsky Bridge

Just so you can imagine the scope of the tragedy of my city: during the Siege of Leningrad which lasted for 872 days from 8th September 1941 till 27 January 1944, there were periods when 6-7 THOUSAND people died every DAY. It’s hard to imagine. In general, more people died from starvation than from the bombing, about 800 thousands against 17 thousands… The statistics though will never tell you the personal, human side of the story.

Museum of the Siege of Leningrad

On the Victory Day you can visit the War-related museums for free. There was one which I wanted to see that day – the Museum of the Siege of Leningrad. Although almost all museums in my city have a certain section dedicated to the Second World War and particularly to the Siege (like Museum of Bread and others), this one is entirely about it. Pictured above are the food items which sustained the life of the Leningrad citizens. Like stews from glue, quinoa and bran patties fried with machine oil, bread made with about 60% of non-edible ingredients, or 22 types of dishes made from the pig-skin parts of weaving machines and belts. The papers in the background are the ration cards: the ration fell as low as 125 g of bread per day during the most difficult winter of 1941…

Museum of the Siege of Leningrad
Poet Olga Bergholz, the voice and soul of the Sieged Leningrad

The most moving section of the museum was dedicated to the children of Leningrad, with the hand-made gifts they created for the soldiers and the toys recovered from the bottom of the Ladoga lake, upon the iced cover of which the Road of Life was operating, bringing food to the city and evacuating people to safer places under the constant threat of bombing. Not all the kids were evacuated from the city on time and no doubt they suffered the most during the Siege. I’ve recently read a book with memories of some of those Leningrad kids who did survive, a truly heart-bleeding and emotion-laden account of the war, seen through the children’s eyes.

Museum of the Siege of Leningrad

Three passport photos of a woman from Leningrad: May 1941, May 1942 (after the most severe Blockade winter) and October 1942. Women were more resistant than men and by the end of War they constituted the most of the city population. And the city was heavily bombarded, with lots of beautiful beautiful houses destroyed… The more I learn about St Petersburg, the more I love it and the more painful those tragic moments in its history become for me. I’m sure if you love the place where you live you will understand.

Victory day in St Petersburg

There’s this song from the 1957 movie Letyat Zhuravli (The Cranes are Flying) which always brings tears to my eyes. It says all those soldiers who never came back home did not die, they just turned into beautiful white birds and are flying up there in the sky… This history should never never never repeat itself!

Adding this to my On Russia / USSR collection.

G.

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