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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Stalingrad Battle Commemorated

APVeterans waiting Friday at Paveletsky Station for a train to the Volgograd ceremonies.
VOLGOGRAD, Southern Russia -- Soviet Army veterans watched Sunday while young soldiers marched to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad, a turning point in the war that is still a powerful source of pride and pain in a country that lost millions of soldiers and civilians.

Some 250 veterans from across Russia, joined by political leaders and foreign ambassadors, including Germany's, placed flowers and wreaths at a memorial in downtown Volgograd -- formerly Stalingrad -- before watching a parade of soldiers in uniforms tailored as those worn by their Soviet predecessors during World War II.

Minutes of silence were held across Volgograd, and the ceremony shifted to a massive monument -- a woman representing the Motherland, holding a sword high in the air and towering over a mass grave where 35,000 veterans and civilians who died defending the city against Nazi invaders are buried.

Officials, foreign dignitaries and veterans again laid wreaths, this time at an eternal flame. President Vladimir Putin arrived later in the afternoon, placed a bouquet at the grave of Marshal Vasily Tchuikov, who died in the 1942-43 battle, and met with some of the dwindling number of its survivors.

"I cried this morning because only three World War II veterans are left alive in our village, and only I was able to come here. The others are ill," said Valentin Antyukheyev, 80, a resident of Krasnooktyabrskaya, outside Volgograd. "I remember how we fought for every meter of this soil and how badly the city was ruined."

Ambassadors from the United States, Britain, Germany, Italy and other nations that fought in World War II took part in the ceremonies commemorating 60 years since the end of the battle, which came Feb. 2, 1943, when German Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus surrendered in the basement of the city's main department store.

The German defeat marked a turning point in the war, crushing Hitler's drive to isolate the Soviet heartland from the southern oil fields, and the battle remains a powerful symbol of Soviet courage and perseverance during World War II.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II sent a message to veterans Saturday praising those who "displayed unconquerable spirit to the entire world and protected their fatherland," and memorial services were held in churches throughout the country Sunday.