President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, dear veterans, dear friends,
Let me first congratulate you from all my heart on this great celebration – the anniversary of Leningrad’s full liberation from the Nazi blockade. This is indeed a big celebration not just for you, for the veterans, but for all of Russia’s people.
We all know in Russia, in St Petersburg and around the entire world how great a tragedy the people of Leningrad lived through over 900 days under siege. We all know about the 125 grams of bread that civilians received as their daily ration, though not everyone got it.
We know all this, and we know how many people died. Among Leningrad’s civilian population, 360,000 people died over four months alone, at the end of 1941 and the start of 1942, from December through to March.
This is almost as many people as Britain lost in the whole of World War II. You see the difference between the number of victims that the Soviet people and other countries sacrificed upon the altar of common victory?
We know all of this, but at the same time, it is our duty to make new facts better known, and to make sure that nothing is ever forgotten. This is most important of all – to let nothing go forgotten, to ensure that people here and abroad remember this tragedy, remember the courage and heroism of the Soviet people and the people of Leningrad, and do everything they can to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again anywhere around the world.
I looked at the panorama that is a work produced by people who are still very young. You have seen it too, and for my part, I can say that it made a strong impression, a good impression, because a lot of talent has gone into it, and because this is what young people have created for themselves and for future generations.
More and more people are coming to see it now. Not just veterans but people of all ages and generations, young people too. This is the work, as I said, of young people, and I think this makes it particularly important and valuable.
I want to congratulate you once more on this occasion. I know from looking through the documents before this meeting that even the date’s name is cause for debate now and even misunderstanding. Some call it the day when the city was fully liberated from the blockade and some now call it the day the Soviet troops lifted the blockade. This is something we can discuss too today. If anyone has an opinion to share on this matter we could start with this.
Does anyone want to speak? Please, go ahead.
Lyudmila Smirnova: I lived through the blockade, I am a teacher, and have the title Hero of Socialist Labour.
On the question of the anniversary’s name, the second version was Full Liberation by Soviet Troops of Leningrad from the Nazi Blockade. But this does not give any place to the role the civilian population played. Maybe it would be better to leave the name we are used to: Complete Liberation of Leningrad from the Nazi Blockade during the Great Patriotic War.
I also have a question and proposal regarding young people. A lot of young people are taking the relay from us and engaging in volunteer activity now. Could we think up some measures to encourage them in this?
Vladimir Putin: First, regarding the date’s name, we always used the simplest wording: Lifting of the Siege of Leningrad. Later, some doubts started to arise, especially amongst the deputies of the Leningrad – now St Petersburg – Legislative Assembly.
The name-change has indeed created some new problems, in particular the fact that it refers only to the Soviet Army, because although the Soviet Army unquestionably played a decisive part in defending and then liberating Leningrad, without the civilian population I think we would have not been able to achieve such a victory for the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War, on the Leningrad front. This victory would not have been possible without those who helped to build the defence lines and worked at the factories. The people of Leningrad formed volunteer brigades too. I know this from my own family’s history. It is clear that victory would not have been possible without all of these people.
As for the young people getting involved in this work and joining volunteer efforts, I met last year, I think it was, with members of some of the search groups, and we agreed then that they would an establish an association.
There are still some unresolved problems however related to the need for a new approach in regulating their work. This is a complicated issue, not the purely bureaucratic side of the matter, but in terms of ensuring this work is carried out safely.
After all, if you have civilians starting to dig around at former battle sites, the problem is that there are still dangerous items there, unexploded bombs, shells and ammunition. This is why all of this work is still under Defence Ministry supervision.
I believe that there are issues that require particular attention, and if they get the attention they need, we will be able to find fitting solutions. We will come back to this and I will definitely pass it on to the Defence Ministry.