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Children and the Blockade. How children were raised in the besieged Leningrad

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Vladimir Turbin, resident of the Blockade Leningrad: “There were six of us at the table. The bread’s end-piece was the tastiest, so you had to grab it quickly. And our teachers ate what was called “duranda” – pressed sunflower seeds. I learned about what it was when I ran into the cantina and saw buckets full of those black pieces of “duranda”.

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Vladimir Turbin was 2 years old when the war started. He spent almost the entire Blockade at this kindergarten – which has been open ever since. Even his bedroom is at the same spot. It recently emerged that his neighbor went to the same kindergarten.

He recalls drawing lessons – with light coming from an oil lamp. And that his mom came to visit very rarely. And that she also started smoking all of a sudden. 75 years on, he’s standing in the same hall where he performed in front of the soldiers back then. And after the concert, the soldiers presented the children with genuine soldier hats. Adults tried very hard to please the young ones – because every single one of them survived a tragedy of one’s own. Vladimir’s 5-year-old brother disappeared during the Blockade.

  • My aunt went with him to receive food rations, left him for a minute by the store. Came back and he was gone.

Evgeniya Altfeld, reporter: “This kindergarten at Sedova street had worked through the Blockade, but it was called “hearth” – indeed Leningrad’s kindergartens became second homes for the children, where they stayed at for months barely seeing their parents”.

Thousands of children were saved only thanks to those kindergartens. Those provided at least some food and, importantly enough, distraction. The Pedagogic Museum holds a unique archive – evidence of Leningrad teachers’ heroism, who did their job with a huge self-sacrifice. Taking every detail into account – to protect the children’s psyche.

Lyudmila Derbilova, head of Pedagogic Museum: “The teacher scribbled down a child’s commentary to a drawing. This was a special method used during the war. We read: Lyalya – airplanes flew above our houses and destroyed everything. Here are bombs, suitcases, clothes. And then we see those things”.

Classes continued all throughout the Blockade, on a strict schedule. Game activities helped them to feel alive. Especially during the bombings.

Lyudmila Derbilova, head of Pedagogic Museum: “After lunch, alarm bells began to ring, so we went down into bomb shelter. Down there we read a magazine which Galya brought from home. After that, literate kids read “The adventures of Munchausen” – liked it a lot and laughed”

Researchers talk of the “Blockade Pedagogics” phenomenon, which is yet to be fully appreciated. At the dawn of the war, the all-city teachers’ council ruled – education has to be preserved. And children rose to the challenge. It is impossible to imagine how a child can put an effort into writing the first letters – while bombs are going off outside the window.

Sofiya Kolosova, head of Museum-Library of Blockade Books: “Their top marks represented a massive help to the people. Because the fascist government defined the role for our people. Our children were not supposed to know all letters and count only to 10. And if they had to sign anything, a cross or a simple line would have sufficed. And what is an illiterate person? The one which can be easily controlled”.

Leonid Sapozhnikov went to the first grade of school 185 – in evacuation. School principal Andrey Sharko was in charge of a massive evacuation echelon. Leonid owes his life to him. At first, trains were directed to the south – fearing that northern direction would be unsafe. Echelons were exploded and fired at – small children died in thousands.

Leonid Sapozhnikov: “Roofs of train carts were riddled with bullet holes. We crawled under bunkbeds, cried and wet ourselves. We were very scared. The most horrific scene was at Bologoe – it was on fire when our train arrived. Huge crowd of women rushed to the train and started screaming out school numbers, hoping their children would be on that train”.

Head of evacuation echelon Andrey Sharko received a telegram with an order to return to Leningrad. He understood that this would be a mistake and disobeyed that order, risking his life. He took the train north. His daughter, Tatyana, was in the same train which left Bologoe shortly before bombs started falling on it.

Tatyana Sharko: “We only realized it once we grew up. He was only 35 years old. He gave a hard talk – even threatening with his pistol – and ordered the train engineer to go. We did and thus were saved. Everyone else died. Several trains full of children”.

Those who stayed in Leningrad and those who attempted to flee – both had very slim chances of survival. Probably the most horrifying items on display at this museum – these plastic rattle toys.

Sofiya Orlova, keeper of items at the Museum of Leningrad’s Defense and Blockade: “Those were the toys for the littlest of children. And those were found at the bottom of Lake Ladoga. A ferry was sunk there during the war, all children aboard died. And toys had been at the bottom of the lake for a long time. This rattle toy looks like a fish. You can see by these toys that the littlest of children played with them”.

Those who survived the evacuation, continued to fight for survival. This quote is from a teacher’s diary: “Children came here weak and ill. They could barely stand on their feet. The kindergarten’s halls were filled with constant quiet moans. They did not want anything, were interested in nothing. Did not complain, did not cry. Simply moaned”.

Meanwhile, Leningrad’s only maternity ward – at Petra Lavrova Street, or Furshtatskaya Street today – was fully operational, and pregnant women from all over the city were brought here. Almost a thousand babies were born here in 1942.

A mother was eligible for 500 grams of bread a day. And were even given some chocolate.

Children of the Blockade say that the only way to fight death is to think about life. They followed their parents and teachers in being wise and strong. People like Tatyana Sharko’s father – who saved thousands of children during the war. And after the war initiated construction of several schools, where children of the liberated city went to study. And learn to go on with their lives.

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