If Vladimir Putin had a shred of humanity in his cold heart, he would stop his troops from doing the same thing that the Nazis did to his family in the Siege of Leningrad, one of the longest and deadliest battles of World War II. On Jan. 27, as the Russian army was massing along the borders of Ukraine, Putin visited the St. Petersburg’s Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery to honor the defenders of the city and the victims of the siege, Russian news agency TASS reported at the time. It was the 78th anniversary of the lifting of the siege by the Red Army.
The cemetery is the largest common burial site of World War II, where about half a million residents and defenders of Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, were buried during the siege, Among those buried there is the baby brother Putin never knew, who died of diphtheria in the winter of 1942. Putin’s mother, a factory worker, stayed in Leningrad throughout the siege. His father Vladimir was wounded while fighting to keep open a narrow corridor along frozen Lake Ladoga, through which some supplies reached the besieged city.
Putin has regularly participated in memorial events devoted to the Siege of Leningrad, which lasted 872 days, from Sept. 8, 1941, to Jan. 27, 1944. Historians estimate that more than 1 million people died in the siege. During a visit to Israel in January 2020 to unveil a Memorial Candle Monument, to honor the defenders and residents of Leningrad, Putin noted that Jan. 27 was the same day that Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp in southern Poland in 1945.
“History has numerous examples of unprecedented resistance, sacrificial valor and large-scale human tragedies. But nothing can be compared to the Siege of Leningrad and the Holocaust,” Putin said, according to TASS.
Today, Putin is perpetrating another human tragedy across Ukraine, the scale of which has yet to be determined.
Currently, Russian troops are committing war crimes on a daily basis. Ukrainian officials revealed Wednesday that a Russian attack had severely damaged a maternity hospital in the besieged port city of Mariupol.
Bombs, missiles, and artillery shells have battered residential areas in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and other Ukrainian cities. Attempts to establish safe evacuation corridors, so civilians could leave besieged cities, have largely failed because of Russian attacks, Ukrainian officials said. Water, electricity, food, and medical supplies have been cut off from the areas.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin propaganda machine keeps churning out lies, insisting that civilians are not being targeted in what Russian media can only describe as the “special military operation,” risking imprisonment if they call it a “war” or “invasion.”
Putin has also spread the big lie that his goal is “de-Nazifying“ Ukraine’s government. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is, of course, Jewish—and his grandfather, like Putin’s father, fought in the Red Army against the Nazis. Most of Zelenskyy’s grandfather’s family died in the Holocaust.
During a visit to Latvia on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken appealed directly to Putin to “end the war, end it now.”
At his confirmation hearings, Blinken recounted the story of his stepfather, Samuel Pisar, whose parents and sister died in the Holocaust; Pisar survived nearly four years in Nazi labor and death camps, escaping while on a death march in Germany a the end of the war, before being rescued by a U.S. tank manned by a Black GI.
At a news conference with Latvia’s foreign minister, Blinken summed up the human tragedy unfolding in Ukraine: More than 1.5 million people, mostly women and children, are fleeing the country, with many more people trapped in besieged cities where there is “no heat, no electricity, and relentless bombardment.”
Blinken then appealed to Putin’s family history in the Siege of Leningrad—an appeal that has apparently fallen on unwilling ears. According to the State Department’s transcript of his remarks, Blinken said:
“We’ve seen scenes like this before in Europe. Every Russian has lived or learned about the horrific Siege of Leningrad during World War II, in which that city’s civilian population was systematically starved and intentionally destroyed over nearly 900 days, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths. That siege affected millions of Russian families, including President Putin’s, whose … brother was one of the many victims. Now, Russia is starving out cities like Mariupol. It’s shameful. The world is saying to Russia: Stop these attacks immediately. Let the food and medicine in. Let the people out safely, and end this war of choice against Ukraine.”
The Siege of Leningrad left a deep imprint on a young Putin growing up in Leningrad, listening to the stories told by his parents.
In 2020, Putin wrote an essay titled “The Real Lessons of the 75th Anniversary of World War II.” It appeared in The National Interest , a publication of the Center for the National Interest, a foreign policy think tank. Caveat emptor: Henry Kissinger is its honorary chairman.
In the essay, Putin wrote:
“For my parents, the war meant the terrible ordeals of the Siege of Leningrad where my two-year-old brother Vitya died. It was the place where my mother miraculously managed to survive. My father, despite being exempt from active duty, volunteered to defend his hometown. He made the same decision as millions of Soviet citizens. He fought at the Nevsky Pyatachok bridgehead and was severely wounded.
People of my age and I believe it is important that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren understand the torment and hardships their ancestors had to endure. They need to understand how their ancestors managed to persevere and win. Where did their sheer, unbending willpower that amazed and fascinated the whole world come from? Sure, they were defending their home, their children, loved ones and families. However, what they shared was the love for their homeland, their Motherland. That deep-seated, intimate feeling is fully reflected in the very essence of our nation and became one of the decisive factors in its heroic, sacrificial fight against the Nazis.”
Today it is the Ukrainian people who are doing exactly what Putin’s parents did, and with the same motives. It is a lesson that Putin apparently did not take to heart along the way to underestimating the willingness of the Ukrainian people to fight and die for their homeland.
The History Channel describes the horrors that Putin’s parents and other residents of Leningrad had to endure during the siege.
German artillery and air bombardments came several times a day during the first months of the siege. The daily ration for civilians was reduced to 125 grams of bread, no more than a thick slice. Starvation set in by December, followed by the coldest winter in decades, with temperatures falling to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. People worked through the winter in makeshift armament factories without roofs, building the weapons that kept the Germans just short of victory.
Residents burned books and furniture to stay warm and searched for food to supplement their scarce rations. Animals from the city zoo were consumed early in the siege, followed before long by household pets. Wallpaper paste made from potatoes was scraped off the wall, and leather was boiled to produce an edible jelly. Grass and weeds were cooked, and scientists worked to extract vitamins from pine needles and tobacco dust. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, resorted to cannibalizing the dead, and in a few cases people were murdered for their flesh. The Leningrad police struggled to keep order and formed a special division to combat cannibalism.
The Red Army took nearly 260,000 casualties from September 1941 to May 1943, while trying to keep a narrow corridor open so some food, medications, and other supplies could reach Leningrad. Putin has said in a biography that his father served in an NKVD (secret police) battalion that carried out sabotage missions behind German lines, and later was transferred to the regular army. The elder Putin was severely wounded in 1942 in the Nevsky Pyatachok battle, about 30 miles south of Leningrad where the Red Army fought to prevent German forces from completing the encirclement of the city,
Today there is a national memorial at the site of that battle. The words on the memorial were written by famous Russian poet Robert Rozhdestvensky, and can be translated as:
“You, those who are alive
Should know that this land
We didn’t want to leave
And never left.
We were fighting to the bitter end
By the dark Neva.
We have perished
For you to live.”
Years ago, another Vladimir Putin did what the defenders of Kyiv, Kharkiv, and other Ukrainian cities are doing today. His son, also named Vladimir Putin, is determined to not follow in his father’s footsteps, but in those of Adolf Hitler.
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