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Autumn of 1941. The Blockade. The Beginning

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The locals were preparing to gather crops. Everyone thought the Red Army would crush the Germans and no one expected that the war would come here

The war took this road to reach Ivanovskoe in the Leningrad region. Local historian Vladimir Chekunov shows the intersection where residents saw the soldiers in August. They phoned local authorities – “We have Germans here”. And no one believed them – despite that the war had been raging for two months already.

Vladimir Chekunov, local historian, expert on World War II: “The problem is that the Leningrad area experienced the same catastrophe in the summer of 1941 as many other regions – loss of control over the troops. Our command was totally disoriented”.

While Moscow was trying to figure out what was going down in Leningrad, fortifications were mounted by Otradnoe. You can imagine the haste – as depicted by a sign carved into wet cement by an unknown person in September 1941 – “the enemy was stopped here”.

The enemy may have been stopped there, but it had stayed in our land for quite a long time. We could’ve chosen many places to talk about the situation in the frontline, but the heaviest fighting took place here, at the mouth of Neva – with heavy casualties, crossings of the river and, unfortunately, total lack of our victories.

Maxim Oblender, reporter: “Search groups do not like these areas – there’s so much here that its hard to search. There used to be a brick house on the spot of this crater. The Pavlovo village. The fighting over this narrow part of Neva began in September 1941, when the circle around Leningrad began to squeeze. The river’s bank changed hands all the time – from us to Germans and back again. But just as many other military operations of the war’s early days, this one was totally failed by the Soviet military command. Germans left Pavlovo only in January 1944”.

Meanwhile, the city was bracing itself for an assault. Unique shots, taken by photographer Vsevolod Tarasevich – residents of Leningrad building fortifications. At the time, the city had 4600 bomb shelters – which saved thousands of lives.

Elena Agafonova, specialist at “Rosfoto”: “He took magnificent photos of the war’s first weeks. Depicting the real picture. Construction of firing positions”.

Anti-air forces were put into full readiness. To compare, half of buildings were destroyed after 57 day of bombings in London. What about us?

Maxim Oblender, reporter: “Three thousand buildings were lost during the Blockade, but considering how many bombs fell on Leningrad every day – this number could’ve been different. The anti-air defense did a great job. For instance, only 4 buildings at Nevskiy were destroyed beyond repair. But even here decisions were not immediate. Bombs almost always came from the south, but only in the summer of 1943 someone finally put warning signs on the northern side of Nevskiy”.

Caravans of refugees drag down the streets. Residents and businesses are being prepared for an evacuation. In the summer of 1941 220 thousand children were evacuated from the city – right under the Germans’ noses. Part of them had to return to Leningrad.

Maxim Oblender, reporter: “Cattle was evacuated along with industrial gear and factories. It was also regarded as wealth. Cows, pigs, goats walked in long lines along the streets of Leningrad. Some of these animals were killed by bombs, some didn’t survive the distances, some were captured by the enemy. This evacuation of animals became the most large-scale in world history and also, probably, the most ridiculous one. In just a few weeks from then the city got locked into a circle for the long 900 days – without food and resources – and this move deprived the residents of milk and meat”

The city lost Badayevskiye warehouses. But even without them Leningrad stored the following, according to documents: 146 tons of oats, flour and seeds, foods worth 195 million rubles – but that’s only for the army. For the residents it was 36000 tons of sugar, 30 tons of salt and so on. But where did these reserves go? Part of it was destroyed by the Soviets during retreat, part of it was simply lost. A third of all sugar reserves were taken out east – just to be on the safe side.

So what were the city’s authorities doing, headed by Zhdanov and Kuznetsov? Historians know the answer. They were acting in accordance with the situation. Factories were swiftly re-modelled for military needs. Saving and effective usage of resources in the food industry happened too late. We know now that the Blockade lasted for 872 days – but no one then expected it to go that long.

Kirill Boldovskiy, historian: “They did not know what would happen. They hoped that the breakthrough of the German forces towards the Ladoga lake will be crushed and that the city would be liberated. There were people who came up with initiatives, but the leadership did not endorse that. They were waiting for orders from above – what Moscow says”

That’s why food stamps were introduced in the summer, but, for instance, candy production was not suspended. For the same reason, beer factories had produced beverages up until September 23rd – and only then passed barley and malt to bread makers. Maybe its because of these actions the most terrifying memories of the Blockade’s survivors is hunger – even 77 years on.

Kirill Boldovskiy, historian: “There were no measures on providing living conditions for the population during that harsh winter. Measures were taken too late – in November and December, when mass deaths occurred”.

But in spite of multiple decisions – good and bad – the main thing was done. The attacks were fended off and the city continued living. In the fall of 1941, summer 1942 and even in the winter 1944 – when the Blockade was broken. Thanks to daily heroics by every resident – utility workers who cleared the streets from dead bodies, NKVD operatives who quelled anti-Soviet dissent. Leningrad – starving and thinned out by bombings – remained itself. And people even found strength to smile, when photo cameras were pointed at them.

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