Under siege for 872 days

Between 8 September 1941 and 27 January 1944, 2 million lives were lost, including about a million civilians (40% of the city’s population), during the siege of Leningrad (St Petersburg, the ancient capital of Russia) which lasted 872 days or 2 years, 4 months and 5 days – one of the longest, most brutal and destructive sieges in human history, and possibly the costliest in casualties suffered.

During the first winter the temperature dropped to -40 F.

Soviet forces managed eventually to open a narrow land corridor to the city. Around 1.4 million people were rescued by military evacuation.  

Some historians classify the siege as genocide.

The siege became ‘an internal battle’, with starvation and isolation tearing into every aspect of everyday life and ‘every recess of the mind.’

Despair permeates the diary of Berta Zlotnikova, a teenager, who wrote: “I am becoming an animal. There is no worse feeling than when all your thoughts are on food.”

Alexis Peri writes: “Leningraders were indeed heroes for all that they endured. They suffered through the unimaginable. What interests me is that, in their diaries, they did not narrate themselves in heroic terms. They did not use the narrative of heroic resistance to describe their fight for survival, but found other ways to make sense of their suffering. They looked to literature, to history, etc.

Horses transport supplies to Leningrad over the frozen Ladoga Lake, dubbed the “Street of Life.”
Residents clearing snow and ice. The city declared a clean-up operation to prevent the spread of disease from scattered feces and unburied corpses.


I won’t throw up my hands
At the anguish of Leningrad,
I won’t wash it with tears,
I won’t bury it in the ground.
I’ll go a mile beyond
The anguish of Leningrad.
And not with a glance, not with an allusion,
Not with a reproach, not with a word,
But with a bow down to the ground
In a green field
Will I pray.
1944 Leningrad (Anna Akhmatova)

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