Volgograd is commemorating the 75 th anniversary of the bloodiest combat of the second world war. Seen as a major victory for Stalins army, is it still being used to elevate the Russian government above criticism?
In some places in and around Volgograd, the battle with Nazi forces-out that started in July 1942 left so much shrapnel in the ground that nothing would grow for decades. Those who still search for unburied soldiers have recounted how their shovels would make metal or bone almost everywhere they dug.
Once called Stalingrad, this city on the Volga River was the site of the bloodiest combat of all time in which an estimated 1.9 million people, virtually twice the citys current population, were killed, wounded or captured. Since it was named after the Soviet leader, both Hitler and Stalin were determined to possess the city at all costs Stalin famously ordered his forces to take not one step back in defending it. At one point the Soviets were pushed back nearly to the rivers edge where they mounted a counter-offensive, surrounding the foe and forced into to surrender. The combat marked a turning point in the second world war.
The hero city
The tales of courage against impossible odds in Stalingrad subsequently declared a hero city by the Kremlin became central to the commemoration of the Great Patriotic War that undergirded Soviet power and now Vladimir Putins government. The misfortune is undeniable: the USSR lost at least 20 million people during the war, more than any other country. But the victory over fascism has also been cited to justify the excesses of Joseph Stalin and, some argue, to try to elevate the Russian government above criticism.
In recent years, Putin has stimulated the great victory a central theme of his regulation, invoking it during the annexation of Crimea and in backing separatists in eastern Ukraine. The approving rating of the chairman, who lost some of his own relatives in the war, remains above 80%, and Stalins popularity has also risen; in a Russian survey last month, the communist leader topped the list for the most outstanding person of all time.