Fireworks exploded above the St Petersburg skyline today, reflecting in the swiftly flowing Neva River as the city celebrated the 74th anniversary of the battle that ended the Siege of Leningrad.
Named at the time after the communist revolutionary, the city was blockaded by German Nazi and Finnish troops for four desperate years during WW2.
By the time the siege ended on January 27, 1944, 872 days later, an estimated 630,000 people had died.
St Petersburg celebrated the 74th anniversary of the battle that ended the four-year-long Siege of Leningrad
Some historians say this is a conservative number, and suggest the real death toll to be closer to 800,000.
The siege began on September 8, 1941, when Nazi forces fully encircled the city, three months after launching Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union.
Like the Holocaust, the truth of what occurred took time to trickle outwards, across Europe to France and Britain.
Few people realised the real horror of the siege. For years afterwards Stalin kept it dark.
World War II guns fired a salute during the celebrations which took place today across the city
Fireworks exploded above the austere St Petersburg skyline, reflecting in the swiftly flowing Neva River
A new 3D panorama museum opened in Kirovsk, about 20 miles east of St Petersburg, to mark the occasion
After the Khrushchev thaw, a new legend was propagated. The citizens of Leningrad were heroic in their staunch resistance against hunger and German bombs.
They were willing – and quiet – martyrs for the Revolutionary cause.
But with the collapse of communism, archives opened, as did police records and siege diaries.
The city of almost 3 million, including about 400,000 children, had endured increasingly bleak hardship.
Known at the time as Leningrad, the city was blockaded by German Nazi and Finnish troops for nearly four years during WW2
German and Finnish forces encircled the city, blocking food, ammunition and medical supplies from reaching civilians
Historians suggest the real death toll of the assault to be as high as 800,000 – one in three of the city’s population
During the first months of 1942 about 100,000 people were dying every four weeks
It is estimated that more than half of the city’s population died during the siege’s first year – an extremely cold winter stretching from 1941 to 1942.
Rations fell to just 125 grams of bread per person of which 50 to 60 per cent consisted of sawdust and other inedible bulking agents.
All municipal heating was switched off and the city’s people were forced to endure temperatures of as low as -30 degrees celsius.
The death toll peaked in the first two months of 1942 at 100,000 every four weeks.
People died on the streets, and citizens soon became accustomed to the sight of bodies lying sprawled across the pavement.
Nazi shelling was continuous but civilians also had to contend with hunger and temperatures as low as -30 degrees Celsius
USSR officers from the Red Army defended the city using what limited ammunition had been stored there before the war
Rations fell to just 125 grams of bread per person per day, and heating in all municipal buildings was switched off
People became accustomed to the sight of dead bodies in the streets
People were forced to eat pets, dirt and glue.
Some, driven to utter desperation, even resorted to cannibalism. For those willing to break one of humanity’s greatest taboos, the streets held an abundance of food.
But as families starved and froze to death inside the city, the German troops outside fared little better.
They had stretched themselves thin and, unlike the Russians, were not used to the bitter cold.
On January 12 of 1944 determined Russian forces broke through the German ranks encircling the city, ending the siege.