Piskariovskoye

The one thing I really wanted to do was spend some time here at the Piskariovskoye Memorial Cemetery on the outskirts of SPB. Last time I was here I had only a cursory glance……it is a place of memory and immense sadness and as such deserves better, so I spent a chilly afternoon wandering the 25 hectare site.

The Russian’s didn’t have World War II, they know it as the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945)

Over 24 million dead…

(Great Britain lost 300,000, the USA some 225,000)

The entire industrialised west of the country destroyed.

The farmland of the steppe and the Urals wasted.

Entire cities; Stalingrad, Pskov, Murmansk, Kursk… levelled.

Their populations decimated.

And then there was Leningrad (as St Petersburg was then)

Named for the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution and the ‘Capital of the North…Hitler ordered the city razed to the ground.

The Red Army and the citizens (who Stalin refused to evacuate) began a spirited defence of the city against the German Army encircling the city.

The siege of Leningrad lasted 900 days.

That’s 1941…1942….and 1943.

900 days of endless shelling

900 days with almost no resupply of food, reserves, or fuel.

In the end some 100.000 Red Army troops were dead from the fighting.

…..and over 850,000 civilians had perished either; to the shelling; to starvation; or frozen to death in the ferocious winters.

Piskariovskoye is their memorial

The soldiers brought the dead to this place outside the city to prevent disease spreading through the population. Wood was in demand for fuel, there was none spare for coffins so the corpses were interred in mass graves.

The memorial was built in the mid-1950’s

Though built on huge scale it manages to be both intimate and reflective at the same time.

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The central plaza has a statue of Mat Rodina (Mother Russia) with a peace wreath in her arms and a series of bas-relief sculptures telling the story of the siege.

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There are military memorial markers for specific battles and actions…this one is the sinking of the warship ‘Kiev’. Red Army personnel were easier to identify due to ‘dog-tags’ and alike.

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But most civilians are buried anonymously in huge communal graves. People could not be identified as often all their family and neighbours who might identify them had perished as well. Entire apartment buildings of people were found frozen to death on some mornings.

The markers for 1941 indicate up to 5000 bodies in each large mound

The 1942 mounds are much larger with upwards of 10,000 bodies in each mound.

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10,000….think about that

…and there is mound after mound after mound…seemingly endless.

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Plaques on the wall denote particular groups who either helped defend the city or tried to maintain a semblance of normality…

This one is to the bus and trolley drivers who kept the transport routes working…

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This one to the teachers who died keeping the schools operating…

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Here in the central plaza is a series of crypts….over the years remains have been found in construction sites, riverbanks, and sometimes just pushed up out of the frozen ground in parks and yards….

They are in turn re-buried in these crypts….it has happened most years since the memorial was completed.

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People come here everyday, not just on their National Memorial Day. People leave flowers to lost relatives and tend the photos, the markers and the graves.

A personal remembrance…

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The photos tell nothing of ones so young

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….this army private was 19 years olddscn18341

While I was here a marriage party turned up with the newlyweds being photographed at the eternal flame….it is a tradition of thanks to those who gave their lives so these generations could live as Russians. The debt to the past is not forgotten.

I think Piskariovskoye is the second largest cemetery in the world after Arlington national cemetery in the US. But it has buried US service personnel since the American Civil War with its field of uniform white crosses.

Piskariovskoye marks 3 years in the life of one city.

If you ever want to try and grasp what the banality of war looks like and how the immensity of such anonymous grief can be portrayed

Come to Piskariovskoye once in your life.

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it just seemed to go on forever…..

Here is link to a site which has summer pictures and explains it so much better than I can. …

http://www.enlight.ru/camera/174/index_e.html

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