Now and Then - Zvenigorodskaya

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Zvenigorodskaya street siege of Leningrad
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Zvenigorodskaya street, Leningrad. January 1942 / Zvenigorodskaya street, St. Petersburg. 21.02.2020

Leningrad residents getting water from burst frozen pipes on Zvenigorodskaya street. A frozen tram, which stopped in its tracks where it was caught by the blackout in mid-December 1941, can be seen in the background.

In early December 1941 another disaster befell the starving Leningraders: one by one, all communal services stopped functioning. Electricity, running water, central heating and public transport (predominantly trams) were no longer available as fuel stocks ran out. Many trams were caught by the blackout driving along their regular routes in early December and remained stuck in the ice until spring 1942. The trucks on the Road of Life could not even deliver the minimum daily supply of food of 125 grams for non-working individuals 250 grams for workers, not speaking of coal or oil for power stations. Underground water pipelines somehow remained operational, but there was no power to pump water even to the first floors of apartment buildings. The government cut manual pumps into the pipes or sometimes people found damaged leaking pipes and got water from them. Those who lived close to rivers and canals lined up in front of holes in the ice to haul water for their households.

From the diary of Golubev Sergey Gordeevich, 43. Deputy headmaster of the Leningrad Firefighters Technical College. Deputy head of the Leningrad Firefighting Directorate during the siege.

Extract from the entry from January 2, 1942:

"Soldiers and commanders are terribly exhausted. They move slowly like shadows at fires, being unable to carry out the work which requires physical exertion and stamina. They faint after a single gasp of smoke. Several people have already died of exhaustion. Yesterday two men died at our headquarters: signals officer Sakharov and stoker Platonov. Today I saw 2 dead bodies in the 20th Fire Department, then they showed me 4 more "grave candidates". It's not likely they'll be saved.
Today I heard a rumour in our "Tavern in the Palace" where we regularly have lunch (it's in the Winter Palace, on the first floor from the side of the Admiralty) that up to 8 000 people dies daily from starvation in the city. This sounds truthlike. Sometime the humanity will learn of the terrible numbers of people who died of the deadly hand of hunger - this inevitable companion of a military siege of a gigantic city!

I started regularly encountering up to several coffins on the streets in my field of vision. On one of the streets near the Zagorodny prospect, Zvenigorodskaya street, I saw a corpse collection point. Next to one building (former flour warehouse) there was a "woodpile" of dead bodies, up to several tens of them in it. They were stacked together like firewood. To have a grave dug one must pay 200 roubles and one-two kilograms of bread. The relatives who get their meager rations can't satisfy the demands of grave diggers and the corpses lie in their apartments, stairwells, yards, barns - everywhere for weeks. We, who drive around the city to put out fires, see dead bodies so frequently we get surprised when we don't encounter them. Common grave-pits are being dug on the city's outskirts. The furnaces of a brick factory on the Moskovsky highway were refitted to burn dead bodies. Common graves are covered with a very thin layer of soil, about 20-30 centimeters. Epidemics outbreaks are possible in the spring, or probably even plague as specialists say. In one house we found 16 unburied corpses in 10 days. In another, a 15 year old girls lost her mind with hunger, she got aggressively delirious and chewed her bread rationing cards.

I always feel hunger these days. There hasn't been a day in the last 4 months when I got fed well enough. Today they found me a piece of horse meat. I'll make stewed meat and cook rissoles. This is my salvation from starvation. This is how we are getting by. The daily ration consists of 250 grams of bread, 50 grams of grey cabbage, one-two rissoles. Water doesn't count. And all of this is under enormous physical and spiritual strain. If you don't come to the canteen (Tavern in the Palace) in time, your cards become invalid. But I've got the kind of job that I can't always get there in time. This is why I can't always get even the meager food I'm entitled to. I've become terribly thin. My bones are sticking out everywhere. I've lost my strength. I come back from fires staggering. Because at fires I sometimes have to go up to the top floors and attics of burning buildings. This saps my last remaining strength. When I get home I drop on the bed being completely numb and immediately fall through into a troubled sleep."

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