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The diary of Tanya Savicheva, a girl of 11, her notes about starvation and deaths of her sister, then grandmother, then brother, then uncle, then another uncle, then mother. The last three notes say “Savichevs died”, “Everyone died” and “Only Tanya is left.” She died of progressive dystrophy shortly after the siege. Her diary was shown at the Nuremberg trials.

The Siege of Leningrad

When Germans encircled Leningrad they planned to quickly freeze and starve the city. They had no idea the devastation and horror that the people of Leningrad would be willing to endure without ever giving in. The siege is one of the longest in history and one of the deadliest as well.

Leningrad, the old imperial capital, was the most beautiful city in Russia and had for centuries been her cultural heartland. Founded as Czar Peter the Great’s window on the West, it had known many agonies throughout its turbulent history, but in 1941 geography and pragmatic military strategy would see Leningrad engulfed in a tragedy unparalleled in modern history.

With most of Europe already under the heel of Nazi Germany, Hitler turned his attention eastward toward the vast expanse of the Soviet Union and on the morning of June 22, 1941, launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia. Spearheaded by three Army groups, German forces stormed across the Russian frontier and completely overwhelmed the Red Army units in their path. With clinical precision, the world’s largest army was being systematically annihilated and, after just 18 days of fighting, the Russians had lost over three million men, 6,000 tanks, and most of their aircraft.

Germany and her allies attempted to strangle the life out of the historic Soviet city of Leningrad – the heart of the Russian Revolution

It would be no exaggeration to say that the family of every native citizen of St. Petersburg was touched by the blockade, which lasted almost 900 days, from September, 1941 to January, 1944. During that time nearly a third of the population at the siege’s beginning, starved to death. Roughly one in three. Many of them in the streets.

Few people outside realised what the siege was like. For years afterwards Stalin kept people in the dark. Deaths were underestimated. Its party leaders were purged. For decades, details of the blockade have been little known in the West. Stalin suppressed the facts of the siege and twisted its history.

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Photo Of The Day

Photo: Getty Images. A woman cries in the ruins of the school gymnasium in Beslan, North Ossetia, 05 September 2004. The first funerals for the hundreds killed in the Russian hostage siege took place in Beslan, an AFP correspondent reported. Some 400 people were killed as a result of the three-day school siege in southern Russia, the RIA-Novosti agency quoted the spokesman for the regional president as saying 05 September 2004. DRACHEV

Photo: Getty Images. A woman cries in the ruins of the school gymnasium in Beslan, North Ossetia, 05 September 2004. The first funerals for the hundreds killed in the Russian hostage siege took place in Beslan. Some 400 people were killed as a result of the three-day school siege in southern Russia, the RIA-Novosti agency quoted the spokesman for the regional president as saying 05 September 2004. DRACHEV

When Hell Came Calling

 The Beslan Mother Who Could Only Save One of Her Children

It started with children laughing and ended in gunfire and slaughter – a 53- hour siege that horrified the world.

The bloodiest terrorist attack in Russia’s history claimed – in official figures – the lives of 186 children, 118 relatives or school guests, 17 teachers, 10 special forces officers, 2 Emergencies Ministry employees and one policeman. A further 810 people were injured.

The Day of Knowledge, the beginning of a school year. A long-awaited event for first-graders: dressed nicely, with their brand-new school kits they rushed to Beslan’s school #1 for their First Bell ceremony. Many pupils were accompanied by relatives and younger siblings. The noisy crowd of people – including  students and teachers – all gathered in front of the school building for the festivities.

Parents carried flowers and teachers wore their best clothes. A Tannoy played music while the children formed lines alphabetically around the swing bars on the playground lawn.

It was some of the older children who noticed them first – a masked group quickly crossing the railway tracks that run behind the school. Some, giggling, thought it was a joke at first, until they picked up the anxiety of the adults waving at them to run.

‘The kids first ran towards them and then they ran back towards the school.

Shortly after 09:00 am local time 32 heavily-armed gunmen on two vehicles broke into the school and opened fire. Several civilians were killed in the shootout between the attackers and local police who ran to the scene after first gunshots were heard.

The terrorists ordered the people to get inside the school building. Between 50 to 100 people – primarily high-graders and adults – managed to run away, but about 1,100 hostages were forced into the sports hall.

The gunmen barricaded doors and windows in the gym and started mining the building with explosive devices. Russian media reported that there were two women wearing suicide-bomb belts among the attackers.

At around 10am one hostage, an adult man Ruslan Betrozov, was reportedly shot dead in the gym, right in front of the children, after trying to talk to the terrorists and calm down the captives.

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