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Agony of the blockade: Remembering the siege of Leningrad

The people of Leningrad - now St. Petersburg - spent nearly three years under German siege during World War Two.
By Anastasiya Karagodina, RBTH

The Nazi siege of Leningrad, the Soviet Union's second largest city after Moscow, began on September 8, 1941 and lasted until January 27, 1944 (though the blockade was partially breached on January 18, 1943).

Isolated from the outer world, the city lacked food and fuel. Lake Ladoga was the city's only link with the outside world, ensuring that precarious deliveries of urgent supplies could be made by water in summer and over ice in winter.

Hundreds of thousands of residents died of hunger and cold during the first winter of the blockade, even though makeshift hospitals and canteens had been set up everywhere. Residents planted kitchen gardens, which were guarded round the clock.

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The Germans tried to shell and bomb the city into submission. Most of Leningrad's buildings were damaged, thousands of people were killed and tens of thousands wounded.

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In November 1941 Leningrad started experiencing food shortages. Food stamps had long been introduced for more equal distribution of the shrinking stocks of foodstuffs. Around 780,000 residents died of cold and hunger during the first winter of the siege.

Boris Kudoyarov/RIA NovostiBoris Kudoyarov/RIA Novosti

The city's water supply was disrupted, so residents had to collect water from cracks in the asphalt on Nevsky Prospect caused by artillery fire.

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During the hardest days of winter, when there was neither heating nor electricity, people would tune into radios for news of the outside world.

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Residents rarely ventured out unless they had to because they were often too emaciated to cover even short distances. Faint with hunger, many collapsed and died from exposure to the cold. The corpses of the dead were collected from the streets and taken away.

Anatoliy Garanin/RIA NovostiAnatoliy Garanin/RIA Novosti

To keep up morale, the Musical Comedy Theater performed for the public in the city's Alexandrinsky Theater. Prominent Soviet pianist Dmitry Shostakovich wrote his world-famous Leningrad Symphony No. 7 during the siege.

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Trenches were dug and barricades erected on the outskirts of Leningrad to defend the city from all sides. Everyone did his or her bit. Residents also made a point of keeping their city tidy: They kept streets clear of snow, ice, and dirt.

Grigoriy Chertov/RIA NovostiGrigoriy Chertov/RIA Novosti

Children who had lost their parents and found themselves trapped inside Leningrad were sent to orphanages; whenever possible, school classes were organized for them. Often, however, children simply helped adults working in factories. At the Linotype factory children assembled machine-guns for the frontline.

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German troops load shells in a heavy artillery piece. Similar ordnance and artillery guns were used to protect the city and throughout the Eastern Front.

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The only lifeline connecting Leningrad to the outer world across Lake Ladoga was busy day and night. In the summer boats ferried food supplies across its waters; during the winter trucks drove over the ice of its frozen surface. The driver's doors on all the vehicles were removed to allow the driver to leap to safety if the truck broke through the ice and sank.

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Russian troops wore white camouflage to blend in with the snow on the frontlines around the city and throughout the Eastern Front during the winter months.

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It was not only people that required protection.  Workers at the city’s famous Hermitage Museum removed priceless masterpieces from their frames and hid them in the museum's basement during the war.

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People sheltered from air raids in cellars across the city.

Boris Kudoyarov/RIA NovostiBoris Kudoyarov/RIA Novosti

Loudspeakers warned residents of incoming artillery fire. A rapid metronome signal marked the beginning of raids; a slower signal the all clear.

Grigoriy Chertov/RIA NovostiGrigoriy Chertov/RIA Novosti

Artillery and bomb damage left gaping holes in buildings. Patriotic posters were put up on the facades of ruined buildings to warn residents of danger zones - and to partially cover up the unsightly scenes.

 

January 27, 2017
Tags: world war ii

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