Putin marks 75th Stalingrad anniversary

Putin marks 75th Stalingrad anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, to mark the 75th anniversary of the bloodiest battle of the Second World War.

Stalingrad “opened the path to the complete destruction of the enemy”, Putin said on February 2.

The brutal siege proved to be a major psychological and military tipping point in the war as the Soviet wartime manufacturing might began to overpower an overstretched Germany.

Putin thanked war veterans and urged Russians to build the future of their country on “the foundation” they laid.

“We have no right to let them down, to demonstrate cowardice or indecisiveness,” Putin told the crowd. “In our actions, we must rise to the level of the achievements of our fathers and grandfathers.”

During the five-month Battle of Stalingrad in 1942-43, about 1.1 million Soviet troops and 800,000 Nazi German and Romanian soldiers died.

Hitler’s Sixth Army had pushed through the southern Soviet Union at breathtaking speed, heading for the Caucasus oil and for the city on the strategic River Volga named after the Soviet leader.

Stalin was determined to defend the city while Hitler refused to allow his generals to consider a retreat.

A parade of 75 armoured vehicles, one for each year, headed by a vintage T34 tank, which was a crucial factor in crushing the Nazi war machine. The parade near the spot where German Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus surrendered the remains of the Sixth Army.

The city is dominated by the vast statue of the Mother of the Nation, bearing a sword and apparently urging the Red Army on to victory, on top of a burial ground.

Only the Russian military and flags were seen at the event, despite the contributions from other Soviet states. No German representative was invited.

During the siege, residents said there was no food, only the mud, which happened to be slightly sweet.

“We ate clay and nothing but clay,” said Valentina Savelyeva, who was five in 1942. “And we drank water from the Volga. My mother would throw away the bits of clay that were soaked in blood, and then take the rest and filter it through a piece of cloth.

“When I close my eyes, I can see the Volga on fire because of spilt oil,” she told the BBC.

The city on the Volga, 940km southeast of Moscow, was called Tsaritsyn before the communist takeover and was changed to Stalingrad in 1925.

In 1942 Konstanin Duvanov was a 19-year-old soldier who retreated from Ukraine back to his home city of Stalingrad. One of his most vivid memories was also of the burning Volga.

“Everything was on fire,” he told the BBC in 2013.

“The bank of the river was covered in dead fish mixed with human heads, arms and legs, all lying on the beach. They were the remains of people who were being evacuated across the Volga, when they were bombed.”

 

Stalingrad on August 23, 1942. Picture credit: Kremlin

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