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The Leningrad Siege relived through photographs


Ahead of the 70-th anniversary of the Leningrad Siege end, specialists of the Presidential Library and photographers have gathered a unique archive and reconstructed the tragedy through particular lives.


Yuriy Zinchuk, host, Pulse of the city”: “The first quarter of the 21st century is a totally different world to the times of the Leningrad Siege. Modern technologies are enabling us to capture every detail of this glorious past. But technologies only aren’t enough. It is also necessary to combine documented accuracy, scientific precision and art, which is a must when talking about such large-scale subject. Alexey Mikhalev reports on a new language used to tell the tale of the Leningrad siege 70 years on” 

Igor Kornilov was invited into the Presidential library to see a fragment of his war-time childhood. Couple of day ago, around 50 food coupons of the Siege years were made digital here. They were probably lost when they were literally priceless and lives depended on them. Having established the name of their owner – Valentina Korostoleva – library workers managed to find her former communal flat neighbor at Zhelyabova, 13. 

Igor Kornilov, Siege survivor: “A heavy curtain was hanging above her door. How did she live in there? I was only one in her room. She gathered children at New Year’s eve, a girl from neighborhood and my mother came. She made a New Year party for us”.. 

Coupons for bread, fish, sugar. 100 grams, 50, 10. As if they’re measuring some delicacies, not everyday foodstuffs. But those were in fact delicacies to a lonely 27-year old woman, whose name had been unknown for decades. Today, people see the Siege as a big tragedy within one big city. But this nightmare is personalized, it always has a concrete victim. 

Sergey Larenkov is a sailing master. He’s been steering huge ocean line boats through the Neva river. But for the a 5th year running he’s been dedicating his life to making a genuine time machine, which he has been contemplating since the young years. And now he has created it. His photo collage takes us back in time. 

Sergey Larenkov, designer “Connection of the times” project: “Sometimes the photos I make are not perfect from a composition point of view, but they are real. I haven’t moved cards, didn’t put people in certain places. It shows everyone in the spot where they were at in a particular moment of time”. 

Sergey roams the streets looking for a right angle. His camera films from exactly the same spots where pictures were taken during the Siege. In such moments he sees a totally different world, sometimes he even hears it. 

And he only wanted to tell the Siege story to his daughters. In simple and accessible language to today’s teenagers. Now anyone can see how fragile a border between the two worlds is. That the Siege isn’t as distant as we think. And that calls and text messages can come from the past too.

Sergey Larenkov, designer “Connection of the times” project: “This morning I received a message from a man, whose house was destroyed. He told me in detail how it happened. This is very moving“

There are not too many photos of the Siege. And Vladimir Nikitin is one of those who’s been digging deep for almost 40 years, at times unearthing priceless pictures. His work culminated in a photo album “The Unknown Blockade”.

Vladimir Nikitin, photojournalist, author-creator of “The Unknown Blockade” project: “I was lucky to live alongside war photographers and reporters. I worked with them. In the mid 1970s, as paradoxical as it may seem, they started moaning: we didn’t shoot the war well enough”.

Not well enough, because professionals don’t waste their shots. They were filming for frontline pages of newspapers. It’s a miracle that the famous shot of the Siege’s food rations survived. The person who filmed it could have received a prison term for exposing “defeatist moods”. Ordinary people, their lifestyle have largely remained at the other side of the photographs. Here’s a very rare one. 

Vladimir Nikitin, photojournalist, author-creator of “The Unknown Blockade” project: “It looks ordinary. Women and children at the table, a father frost figure, a Christmas tree. But the main thing is missing – a New Year feast. There was no food”. 

Even in war chronicles there are lots of blank spaces when it concerns ordinary citizens and mass casualties. 

Vladimir Nikitin, photojournalist, author-creator of “The Unknown Blockade” project:  “August the 8th, 1943, at the corner of Nevskiy and Sadovaya. Fine weather, lots of people walking. And then artillery hits, shredding at least 50 people. And no traces of that in the press, but we’ve found it in diaries”. 

Few were brave enough to make private amateur chronicles. It was quite understandable – prison sentence for spying. One of the few who did – Anatoliy Nikitin went out of his house, too a few innocent pictures and disappeared forever. 

Vladimir Nikitin, photojournalist, author-creator of “The Unknown Blockade” project: “And here we learn of a fantastic story that throughout its entire lifetime the family has been trying to find out where their uncle went, who disappeared in 1942. Only 62 years later it became clear”

70 years has a double effect. On the one hand, its enough for many details to fade, and for the war to turn from personal plight into a historic event. On the other hand, we’re clearly perceiving the Siege through rare pictures, diaries, lives. Scenes of the past are emerging through decades and portieres of Leningrad’s communal flats.