Russian President Vladimir Putin (front) participates in a wreath laying ceremony at the Motherland memorial at St Petersburg’s Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery yesterday.
SAINT PETERSBURG: President Vladimir Putin said yesterday the memory of Russia’s heroism and sacrifice during the Second World War must endure as the country marked the 70th anniversary of the lifting of the Nazi siege of Leningrad.
The 61-year-old leader said the world should never forget “the courage and heroism of the Soviet people and residents of Leningrad” as he participated in commemorative ceremonies in his native Saint Petersburg, known as Leningrad under the Soviet Union.
The near two-and-a-half-year siege — 872 days in all — by Nazi forces between September 1941 and January 1943 is seared into the national consciousness as one of the darkest moments in Russian history.
Taking Leningrad was a strategic part of Adolf Hitler’s ultimately failed plan to eliminate the Soviet Union as a threat to German domination of Europe.
The assault is considered one of the most devastating sieges in history, with German commanders calculating that starvation would be their most effective weapon.
“360,000 civilians died in Leningrad over a period of just four months from the end of 1941 to the start of 1942,” Putin said at a meeting with war veterans and survivors of the siege.
“Britain lost nearly the same amount in the entire Seco nd World War. Can you imagine the difference between the victims that the Soviet Union and other countries of the world laid on the altar of common victory?”
Surrounded by several dozen survivors of the siege, Putin earlier visited the famed Piskaryovskoe Memorial Cemetery, the main memorial to the victims of the siege.
Putin also honoured the memory of his elder brother who died during the blockade and was buried at the cemetery in a mass grave, the Kremlin said.
The president also laid flowers at a memorial on the banks of the Neva River marking the site of one of the most important battles during the siege in which his father participated as a soldier.
The blockade of the former imperial capital claimed the lives of more than a million people, according to historians.