Medvedev to Remember Blockade

APRe-enactors taking part in a staged battle in Nikolskoye to mark the 65th anniversary of the Leningrad Blockade.
ST. PETERSBURG -- President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday evening is to take part in a commemoration ceremony of the 65th anniversary of the lifting of the Leningrad Blockade.

Medvedev's visit follows a series of events to celebrate the anniversary of the end of the Nazi siege.

On Sunday, gunfire crackled and tank shells boomed in a snowy field outside St. Petersburg as hundreds of people re-enacted the World War II battle that broke the siege.

About 4,000 spectators, including survivors of the 900-day Nazi blockade, gathered near the village of Nikolskoye to watch the re-enactment.

The 350 participants, dressed in German and Red Army uniforms, staged a mock battle that turned the snow black with gunpowder and smoke.

The primary aim was educational, said Mikhail Kurykin, 88, a World War II veteran.

"Such shows are particularly necessary for young people -- children, teenagers," he said. "Many of them already don't know that much about that historical period, but the memory of those hard and heroic times should not die."

The siege began Sept. 9, 1941. German troops surrounded the city, then known as Leningrad, choking off supply routes. An estimated 1.5 million people perished -- most through starvation.

The re-enactment replicated Marshal Georgy Zhukov's offensive of Jan. 27, 1944, part of the operation that created a supply channel to the besieged city, ending the siege.

Valentina Sysoyeva, 81, was 13 when the blockade began. She remembers dragging a sled with the corpse of her 15-year-old sister, who had died from malnutrition, to a mass grave where coffins lay four deep.

"After my sister died, I felt such a desire to live," Sysoyeva said, adding that she only stayed alive thanks to crumbs shared by underfed troops.

Alexander Kruzhkov, 73, who brought along his son and grandson, remembers rationing the negligible food supplies on which he fed his family.

"I still can't hold my tears when I remember cutting the tiny piece of bread into several parts for all my brothers," he said. "Our parents died from hunger by that time."

The re-enactment was organized by St. Petersburg's Epoch, an association that unites hundreds of people fond of restaging famous battles and other events. In Russia, particularly in St. Petersburg, the date of the end of the siege is widely celebrated.