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On May 9, Russia commemorates the sacrifice of the millions who fought and died to bring down the Third Reich and end Hitler’s expansionist whims. It was on this day 68 years ago that Nazi German military forces surrendered to the Soviet army. By the end of the war, some 22 million Soviet citizens had died.
Below are previously unpublished accounts from both the battle and home fronts during World War II. These have been made exclusive to The BRICS Post.
Vladimir Feskov, Colonel in the Red Army (1908-2003), Autumn-Winter 1941
At the very beginning of the war, when Nazi Germany first invaded the USSR, we were living in Rayoki, a village on the Finnish border. I was deployed to the front, leaving behind my six-year-old daughter Albina and my wife Tatiana. The theatre of battle was expanding quickly and they were in close proximity to heavy fighting.
I sent an orderly to evacuate them to a safe place near Ryazan, 200 kilometres south of Moscow. He left and never returned. I had no update on what was going on with my family. I didn’t even know where to write, or if there was someone to write to, if they were still alive.
As a squadron leader, I couldn’t take time off to evacuate them myself. A week later I went to our home on the Finnish border and I saw a bomb crater right where our house used to be. Toys were all around the place. It seemed they must have died, and the orderly who disappeared died here, too.
At that moment, I saw their faces, smiles and tears, sweet memories of my dearest. I should have come here myself instead of sending the orderly, I should have been with them, I should have saved their lives. But I couldn’t, I was at the front line, defending my Motherland. I was blaming myself, I was blaming the war, I was blaming the Nazis.
I had to return to my duties without time to mourn my killed family. Three months later I received a letter.
It was from my wife writing from a village in the Ryazan region. They were alive! I found out later the orderly managed to evacuate Albina and Tatiana before the bombings started. He escorted them to a railway station in Leningrad with their bags and boxes, they managed to leave right on time. The orderly was later badly injured and died in a hospital.
Mitrofan Peregudov, Soviet scout
In 1963, war veteran Vasily Sinchenko wrote to a local newspaper asking them to help find the relatives of his comrade Mitrofan Peregudov, an artillerist and scout who fought with him in the years of the Great Patriotic War.
Vasily didn’t remember much – only his friend’s surname and that he was from Zadonsky, an administrative district in the Lipetsk Oblast region. A photo was attached to the letter and in a little while the newspaper published an article in an attempt to find Mitrofan’s relatives.
That approach worked – Mitrofan’s mother came to the publishing house with the same photo; she received it from her son in one of his last letters from the battlefront in Estonia. Her son went missing in 1944 and she didn’t know if he was alive or how he died. Vasily Sinchenko told her of the events that unfolded on August 11, 1944.
A large artillery regiment where Peregudov served was on a successful offensive when they came across a railway station. For the Germans, the station was a really important strategic position and they would do anything not to cede it. They had set up a stubborn defensive line, but the Soviets wanted to take the station; the sides clashed in bitter fight.
Peregudov was charged with gathering intelligence reports via the telephone line. When the Germans launched a counterattack, the line was severed and his regiment appeared to be trapped without any communication for help.
A communications specialist crawled across the battlefield, to the place where the line was severed. He had to be very careful, moving on his arms, so that German artillery wouldn’t see his movements and target him. The commander of the regiment and Mitrofan used their binoculars to track the specialist’s progress.
Suddenly the specialist stopped, no longer moving.
The commander lowered his binoculars and said: “He is dead.”
“Let me go, comrade commander!” Peregudov said so assertively that there was no way the commander rejected his request.
He ran with the communications equipment, and then fell, ran and fell under German fire, until he reached the area where the telephone lines had been severed.
German artillery fire fell on the area and the commander could no longer find Peregudov.
He was nervous and wondered if Mitrofan was still alive. Twenty minutes later he heard the telephone working.
“Rose, rose! Forget-me-not speaking!” Peregudov said in code in the transmitter.
The day was ending and the sun was setting. It was now clear that their regiment had won the fight, in large part thanks to the restored communications. The commander wondered where Peregudov was on the battlefield; he hadn’t returned to the command post.
After the fight was over the commander and Sinchenko headed to where Peregudov had restored the cable. They found his body under a pile of smoking ruins. He was dead, the restored telephone cable, fastened between his teeth.
Alexander Zharikov, teacher at the military college, Autumn 1941
When the war broke out, Alexander Zharikov was already a ranking lieutenant. He was teaching at the military school in Petergof, near Leningrad.
In August 1941, with their military training interrupted, over 579 freshmen under the lead of Alexander Zharikov and Alexander Zolotarev were deployed to defend Leningrad.
Hitler had ordered an offensive and there were numerous “gaps” on the front line that needed to be plugged.
The young and inexperienced, but brave battalion joined the front next to the village of Bolshie Bornicy, close to Gatchina, 45 kilometres south of Leningrad.
The 16 and 17-year-old boys under the combined command of Zharikov and Zolotarev fought to the bitter end from August 17 to early September in 1941. Only 208 survived; others died or were unaccounted for.
By September 6, the battalion had been wiped out.
But in the fog of war, it was difficult to keep record of fatalities and casualties and many families didn’t know what happened to their sons, fathers, husbands and brothers.
Zharikov’s wife Lidia and son Boris received a telegram weeks after the battle that he was listed as missing.
Thirty-four years later, in 1975, a group of archeologists found a mass grave in Bolshie Bornicy of the young battalion led by Zharikov and Zolotarev.
Today, the names of the young soldiers are engraved on a marble plate in the large memorial complex near Gatchina palace near Leningrad, now renamed St. Petersburg.
As recounted to Daria Chernyshova for The BRICS Post