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The Arch of Victory

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The monument of the 21st century, which was destined to appear 70 years ago. A reminder of the great Victory, gratitude of the future generations, historic justice which an entire generation had been waiting for. Built using crowd funded money – the Arch of Victory.

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A mechanic, specializing in aviation gear, Alexander Vakser could have been a prototype of one of “Only old men go fighting” movie characters. He survived the war, marched into Berlin. Here he is – among his brothers-in-arms by the walls of the Reichstag. For 70 years, the veteran has been keeping a gold-plated flower from the building’s broken stairwell – to remember that day.

Alexander Vakser, Great Patriotic War veteran: “The majority of us started putting their signatures on the Reichstag building. And I stood and thought to myself – that I should take something. So that not me, but the future generations would remember”

Alexander Vakser’s family was among the first to donate money for the construction of the Arch of Victory, but Alexander Zavelyevich had not seen it before and was seemingly excited on our way to Krasnoye Selo. When he walked to the Arch, he kept silence for a long time. Hiding his emotions like a real man.

Alexander Vakser, Great Patriotic War veteran: “I didn’t expect that it would be this big. We haven’t had a monument like this dedicated to the War in Leningrad. It had to be built. Because it provides a closure to that war, of some sorts” 

Krasnoye Selo. In January 1944, some fierce battles against the Nazi army besieging Leningrad had taken place here. It was the defensive frontier which played a decisive role in the city’s salvation. That’s why this place was deemed proper for the new Arch.

It took a little more than a year to materialize. The idea of building it came from author and participant of Leningrad’s defense Daniil Granin. His video message to the city’s authorities can already be called historic.

Daniil Granin, veteran, honorary citizen of St. Petersburg: “If we want to really celebrate our Victory – the glorious, miraculous, wondrous Victory – then we needed a monument to it. There’s none in St. Petersburg”

The basis of the idea – one of the three arcs of triumph, which were erected in 1945 in several parts of Leningrad. Keeping in line with a military tradition, those were built to greet the heroes – in Avtovo, at Sredneya Rogatka and Nevsky district. Blueprinted in a day, built in a week – from carton, timber, alabaster and light concrete. All materials in disposal, basically.

In reality, the project of such monument had been born even earlier – during the most horrible days of the Blockade. Amid death and famine, believing in Victory, the Arch’s blueprint was sketched by the famous Leningrad architect Alexander Nikolskiy. In his diaries, he once wrote: “I’m sure that we will win, that’s why now we have to think of building that Arch of Victory. Because such arches have traditionally been built to greet the victorious troops”

Here’s probably the only remaining snapshot of that blueprint – a gothic structure with a warrior sculpture. And a signature - Alexander Nikolskiy, 1942.

In 3 years, when the dream of Soviet Victory became a reality, the arches of triumph were designed by different architects.

On July 8th 1945, Leningrad was greeting its heroes

That’s when troops of the Leningrad Guard Corps were scheduled to march into the city. They were supposed to enter from 3 directions – Volodarsky, Moskovsky and Kirovskiy areas. The city commission organizing the greetings ordered that architects of those districts create blueprints of arches of triumph and take charge of their construction.

This is how the arch at Moskovskoe Shosse looked, designed by Alexander Gegello.

This is the arch created by David Goldgor and Ivan Fomin – it was erected in the Nevskiy aream by the Bolshevik factory.

The tallest of the three arches stood in Kirovskiy area, designed by Valentin Kamenskiy.

In the summer of 1945, the triumphant troops marched into the city. Crowds of Leningrad residents stood along their path. Soldiers and officers were swamped with gifts and flowers. Having passed through the Gates of Triumph, they marched into Dvortsovaya Square, where the historic Victory Parade took place.

One of its participants recalled: “We were hugged and kissed. People shook our hands, gave us tobacco and cigarettes, invited us to their homes, gave us notes with their addresses. I will always remember that day!”

The temporary arches were meant to be rebuilt in stone, but the priority was to rebuild the city first – as soon as possible. What Leningrad had failed to complete, St. Petersburg did – 70 years later.

Georgiy Poltavchenko, governor of St. Petersburg: “I myself – as a resident of Leningrad and St. Petersburg – took part in crowd funding the Arch. And im calling on you, colleagues, and your families, to do the same. It’s a beautiful idea, which needs our support – even better by a concrete action or a donation”

Friends Svetlana and Irina donated money for the Arch as soon as they heard about the idea. Both are daughters of veterans and teachers of history.

Svetlana Slyusareva, history teacher: “I want to show you a picture we made at Krasnoye Selo. A grandiose construction. It’s impressive. Excellent idea – not a sad monument, but the one celebrating our joy of Victory.

Irina Golubeva, history teacher: “The Christ the Savior Cathedral, Kronshtadt Naval Cathedral - all those were built using crowd funding. Russians had this tradition, and it is still alive. It’s needed for those we are bringing up, they need to know.

The first installment of the book about the history of the new monument. It was printed in record-setting time – to make it to the Victory Day.

Evgeniya Altfeld, reporter: “Half of its pages are a name-by-name list of those who donated money for the construction. 14200 people. And a touchy detail – the smallest donation of 5 rubles was made by a third-grade pupil. His name is also on the list”

St. Petersburg media committee set an ambitious goal – everyone must learn about this grandiose project.

Sergey Serezleev, chairman of media committee: “So that residents learn things about the Arch – not just as a fact, but more in a historic context. And, I think, we have fulfilled that goal – because funds which were coming in, whether that was 5 rubles or 15 thousand – those had a historic reason for it.

In less than a year, residents of St. Petersburg – from businessmen to pupils – have managed to donate almost 100 million rubles for the construction of the monument. A genuinely public project.

Externally, the arch is not an exact copy of the ones built in 1945, but it is like a collective image of that epoch.

Gennadiy Fomenko, Hero of Russia, major-general: “The idea was simple – we didn’t invent anything. We had no right to invent. We had to reconstruct one of the arches of 1945. When im asked a question – could you have put columns there? No. Those arches didn’t have it”

These shots are now history. February. A capsule with a message to the future generations was laid into the foundation of the monument. It will be opened in 30 years to read the chronicles of the Arch’s creation and of the Great Patriotic War’s events.

Historic accuracy is an ever-present issue. The monument in Krasnoye Selo is, on one hand, a recreated monument, but a modern on altogether.

Vladimir Popov, renowned architect: “What we’re doing now is not a carbon copy of that arch. Rather a remembrance of that arch, but using granite and bronze”

Sculptor Boris Petrov had been working on the Arch’s artistic details for several months. 4-meter girls with wreaths – those were first made of plaster and then into bronze.

Boris Petrov, professor of sculpture at Repin Institute: “The peculiarity here is that the walls of the arch are inclined. I have imitated the angles and proportions. It will be architectural; I just made these planks to give a better idea”

Gennadiy Fomenko, Hero of Russia, major-general: “90% of the people didn’t believe the project will be completed. They said it was impossible today – to crowd fund the construction of a Victory Arch. And when I talked to Granin in March last year, he looked at me with concern and asked – will you be able to build the Arch? So there were doubts, many had them. But they were gradually dissipating”

May 9th 2015. The square in Krasnoye Selo, which yet has no official name, sees thousands of people. Among them are those who have built the Arch of Victory. Sergey Novikov, whose construction company took the biggest load in building it, brought his little son to show the result of his work.

Sergey Novikov, CEO “Proizvodstvennoye Obyedinenie Vozrozhdenie”: “Considering we only started building it last December, considering hard weather conditions, we put maximum effort into this work. We are proud to have taken part in this project. And we felt a great deal of responsibility”

Thousands of people, of different generations, united by one date, one holiday. The younger ones talk about the future. Veterans are recalling what happened here more than 70 years ago.

Elizaveta Safronenko, resident of Krasnoye Selo: “There were a lot of Germans here. And they were not let any further. There were many guns on the Voronya Hill – used to shoot at the city. Many people died here”

Svetlana Popushina, resident of Krasnoye Selo: “Our town has several monuments, but didn’t have one to mark this date. That’s why it needed such a monument badly. Of course, weddings will be held here, it’s just a matter of short time that this monument becomes our own to us and we will love it dearly”

Tamara Ushanova, resident of Krasnoye Selo: “Now it’s the best place in Krasnoye Selo. It’s simply grandiose. It’s decorated so well, so well. I think people will now gather here very often”

Georgiy Poltavchenko, governor of St. Petersburg: “This monument was erected on crowd funded money. Thousands of residents took part in its construction. And this signifies our unity, as well as all our future victories”

A new monument and a new memorable location. The Square of Warrior’s Glory – this is the street address which has appeared with the opening of the Arch of Victory. The name is also designed by the public – citizens were suggesting several others, like Triumphal, Liberation, Star. Veterans were left with this choice to make.

Those who took part in that War along with their children, grandchildren and greater-grandchildren are together by the monument to the Great Victory, listening to the songs of those times.

Fireworks above the Arch of Victory in Krasnoye Selo – this is how St. Petersburg will remember the celebrations of the 70th Victory Day.

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