Voices from Russia

Monday, 26 January 2009

They Endured and Survived: The Children of the Siege of Leningrad


A Survivor of the Siege of Leningrad (Filipp Moskvitin, 2004). Look at the eyes, they tell a story. God willing, such horror shall not happen again in our time…

The Second World War with its horrendous hardships was the most tragic chapter in the history of the 20th century. These were years of terror, when people suffered unspeakable hardships. A special place in the long string of wartime events goes to the 900-day siege of Leningrad. The atrocities of the Nazis, who tried to subdue the people of Leningrad with starvation and showered bombs on innocent civilians, are hard to grasp in the context of today. The daily bread ration was 125 grammes (4.4 ounces) per person in December 1941. Hundreds of thousands of Leningraders were killed or died of cold or starvation. But, the city miraculously survived the siege. 27 January is the 65th anniversary of the final lifting of the blockade. Witnesses to the siege grow fewer every year, and many of the survivors are reluctant to talk of those days, but, their memories give them no rest. One cannot listen to their painful stories without tears. Most say that they prefer to forget the horrors they experienced then.

Valentina Maksimova was a kid when her city was besieged by the Nazis. Her father was fighting the enemy at the front and her mother refused to have her five-year-old daughter evacuated for fear of losing her. In the first weeks of the bombings, the family was left with no shelter as their house was hit by bombs and they had to find a temporary home. Valentina said, “I survived by a miracle. My mother worked from early morning until late at night, so, I had to stay on my own. During the air raids, I hid under the bed or behind the oven, whilst mum prayed to God that our home would be spared. There were only adults in the building, and all of them were out at work, so, taking a run out to the bomb shelter alone was dangerous. A neighbour who worked nearly dropped in from time to time to see how I was doing”.

Valentina went on to say, “The most vivid memories of my childhood were that I was always hungry. I always cried for food, I told my mum I wanted butter and bread. My mother received a worker’s ration and a ration card for a kid which provided a minimal bread portion. She re-baked the bread in an oven to make it dry, brought water from the Fontanka River, and boiled it on the stove. Everything went into the oven in those days, even our furniture and books. I survived because mother made soup from pieces of dried bread boiled in water. Very rarely, she added a bit of cereal or a spoonful of oatmeal, which she had managed to get somewhere for me”.

The residents of Leningrad who survived the siege remember with reluctance what they had to eat in order to live another day. They ate anything edible… wood glue, boiled leather belts, and, in the summer time, grass. With the coming of spring, the lower branches of trees stood bare, as all the buds had been eaten. Valentina recalled, “Pig weed is known to everyone who survived the famine. Mum mixed it with a bit of bread and water and made cutlets. It tasted like grass, but, was edible. My mother found a job peeling potatoes in a kitchen. Everybody knew she had a child, so, she was allowed to take a small quantity of potato skins home and she made cutlets. They tasted so awful, and I can still feel that horrible potato aftertaste in my mouth”.

When asked how they managed to survive in such inhuman conditions, Valentina Maksimova and all the other survivors of the siege said they survived because they helped one another. She said, “One of our neighbours, Tyotya (“Auntie” in Russian) Dusia, sewed overcoats for soldiers. She had a son, two years younger than me. As she sewed for the front, she sometimes received a bit of oats or a tin of canned beef from the soldiers. Before feeding her son, she sent him for me, so that both of us could eat. She was my second mum. I owe my survival to other people’s kind hearts. We went through so much together”.

Valentina barely remembers the day the blockade was lifted, on 27 January 1944, for she was in hospital with her mother due to starvation-related illness. Luckily, both pulled through. Today, Valentina Maksimova is now one of the few survivors of the 900-day siege. Her only wish is that this will never happen again.

26 January 2009

Svetlana Andreyeva

Voice of Russia World Service



Delegates to the Local Church Council Say They Want a Patriarch Who will Build on the Achievements of Aleksei II


Ahead of the Local Council of the Moscow patriarchate to be held at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour on Tuesday, delegates tell us they want to elect a Patriarch who’ll fight schism and continue the reconstruction work of Patriarch Aleksei. On Sunday, the Archpastoral Council of the MP shortlisted three candidates, acting Church head Metropolitan Kirill Gundyaev of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, Metropolitan Kliment Kapalin of Kaluga and Borovsk, and Metropolitan Philaret Vakhromeyev of Minsk and Slutsk and all Byelorussia. The delegates to the Local Council will choose a new patriarch from this trio, plus whatever candidates they nominate from the floor.

26 January 2009

Voice of Russia World Service


Editor’s Note:

Tomorrow is the big day! The Local Council shall convene, and it bids fair to be interesting. Firstly, the Kirillovtsy did not do as well in the Archpastoral Council as they thought they would. Kirill won 97 out of 198 votes, he was the top vote-getter, but he won no majority. If this carries over to the Local Council, Kirill’s in the deep kimchi at worst, or, he faces a tough fight, at least. I’ve no idea whatsoever as to whom is going to be picked by the Council. Kirill’s been acting like a cat on a hot tin roof, and his wunderkind assistant, Hilarion Alfeyev, has been rushing about proclaiming to the world that Kirill has no real enemies and that only “outsiders” oppose him. Hmm… Someone should tell Hilarion that there are 101 “outsiders” in the MP hierarchy and they slightly outnumber the 97 “insiders” who voted for Kirill at the Archpastoral Council. Look for the most decisive role to be played by Metropolitan Vladimir Sabodan of Kiev and all the Ukraine, for his UOC/MP bloc controls 192 of the 711 votes at the Council. If Kirill wins, it’ll be with Vladimir’s blessing and with the proper assurances given beforehand. If not…. I did say it was going to be “interesting”, did I not?


Pervy Kanal TV Reports that Presidents Medvedev and Obama are to Meet Soon


US President Barack Obama (1961- ) and President Dmitri Medvedev (1965- )

On Monday, the Russian and US presidents, Dmitri Medvedev and Barack Obama, agreed during a telephone conversation to hold a bilateral meeting in the near future, Pervy Kanal (Channel One) television reported. “The [Russian] president congratulated Barack Obama on his inauguration and wished him every success”, the report said. “The sides confirmed their readiness to make every effort to restore the potential of Russian-US relations”. Mr Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday in Washington, becoming the country’s first African-American head of state.

Earlier, the Russian business newspaper Kommersant said, citing a source close to the US State Department, that Mr Obama could pay a visit to Moscow in April. According to the source, Mr Obama will set off for his first European tour in April and is to visit London on 2 April to participate in the G20 summit, where he will meet with Mr Medvedev for the first time. Mr Obama will then attend a NATO summit on April 3-4 in Strasbourg, France and Kehl, Germany to mark the 60th anniversary of the military alliance. The source told Kommersant that Mr Obama could fly to Moscow after the summit. The previous US president, George W. Bush, flew to the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi after last year’s NATO summit in Bucharest.

26 January 2009



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