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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Blockade Lives, Claiming Another Life

Fifty years ago Thursday the city of Leningrad was breathing in its first gulps of freedom after two and a half years of the most devastating siege known to the world at that time.


The 900 days of a city cut off from food, fuel and other necessities went down in history as a period of unsurpassed tragedy and equally unsurpassed heroism.


Decades of Soviet propaganda evoking the war's memory might have clouded some of the facts, but it did not make the event any less striking or vivid in its bare cruelty. All the symbolism and memorabilia relating to the blockade are virtually the only respected survivors of the countless Soviet-era ideological institutions.


The Piskarev cemetery, with its eternal flame and fraternal graves of 600 mostly nameless victims who starved and froze to death in the especially harsh winter of 1941-42, will keep its powerful impact for as long as this city is alive.


It was the sufferings of the blockade years that made many accept the city's new Soviet name and which eventually immortalized it. "Leningrad" has found a temporary place this week on banners and posters, newspaper headlines and leaflets in the city, which took two days off this week to commemorate the anniversary.


If the memory of the victims is still unshattered, some of the truths earlier taken for granted aren't.


There is a growing controversy over the role Stalin played in choosing the city's and its people's fate. It is more and more frequently asked whether there was, or even could be, any justification for the human toll paid. But the answer to this question is now of only historic significance.


There are still people living in the city for whom the blockade and everything related to it is not only personal history, but a part of their life to this day. Most, if not all, of them are retired by now -- not even able to take advantage of the two days off. The survivors, mostly old women, have been allocated some monetary compensation which, small as it is, is still significant to many of them.


But the mercilessly inhuman bureaucracy which distributes the allowances and which has been left virtually untouched since Soviet times has put them right back into endless lines again.


Like 50 years ago when they lined up to buy bread, so now they stand, waiting in the snow, to collect their money. An elderly woman interviewed on television said she had to come back four times and wait an hour or two every time, only to be told that the money was not available and that she had to come back again. One woman died in the line. The blockade keeps on taking its toll.