Russia marks 75th anniversary of end of Leningrad siege
Saint Petersburg (AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin will on Sunday preside over ceremonies marking the 75th anniversary of the end of the World War II siege of Leningrad that claimed over 800,000 lives.
Saint Petersburg -- formerly known as Leningrad -- will plunge into the atmosphere of a wartime city under siege, with authorities broadcasting air-raid warnings, radio announcements and the ticking of a metronome.
The centrepiece of the commemorations will be a military parade in the city's Palace Square featuring more than 2,500 servicemen in modern and period uniforms, tanks and multiple-launch rocket systems.
Many in Saint Petersburg, including some siege survivors, have denounced the planned parade as misplaced sabre-rattling and militaristic propaganda.
Putin, a native of Saint Petersburg, is not expected to attend the controversial parade itself. His itinerary includes a visit to the famed Piskaryovskoe cemetery and a memorial concert, said the Kremlin.
"This is a very important date for our entire country, for all... Russians and personally for President Putin," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Putin himself, at 66, was born after the war. But his older brother died in childhood during the devastating siege and is buried in a mass grave at Piskaryovskoe.
The Russian leader's mother nearly succumbed to hunger, while his father fought in the war and was wounded near Leningrad.
Encircled by the Nazi troops for 872 days between 1941 and 1944, the city of then around 3 million people went through unspeakable horrors.
With supplies to the city cut, bread rations plunged to 250 grammes for manual workers and 125 grammes for other civilians.
More than 800,000 people died of hunger, disease and shelling. Many historians say the true figures are higher.
- Candles and a gun salute -
Ahead of the commemoration, nearly 5,000 people signed a petition calling on officials to cancel plans to hold the military parade.
Putin's spokesman Peskov declined to comment on the controversy, saying Saint Petersburg was known for its "rich polemic traditions".
The defence ministry dismissed the petition.
"A military parade is a soldierly ritual," a defence ministry official told AFP.
"We have an order to conduct a parade and we will conduct it."
Since Friday, the city has been holding a series of commemorative events that include music concerts and film screenings.
On Sunday evening, authorities will conduct a gun salute in memory of the gun fire that marked the end of the ordeal in 1944.
Saint Petersburg's rostral columns -- some of the city's most recognisable landmarks -- will be lit, and residents have been invited to light candles in their windows.
The war trauma is deeply ingrained in the collective psyche of the city.
Some buildings still carry signs warning residents about air raids.
Russia's former imperial capital is home to some 108,000 war veterans and siege survivors.
© 2019 AFP