When the 872-day siege of Leningrad began in the summer of 1941, the young mother Maria Ivanovna brought her son Viktor from the suburbs to the center of the second largest city in the Soviet Union to protect him from the advancing Germans.
Young Viktor, along with 1.5 million others, did not survive. He contracted diphtheria and died. While over 25 million Russians died in this terrible war on the Eastern Front, the defense of Leningrad stands above all others as the most heroic achievement of the Patriotic War.
It’s a narrative deeply embedded in the nation’s psyche, defining post-Soviet Russia as much as the communist regime.
In 1952, Maria Ivanovna gave birth to another son. While young Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin had no memory of years of famine and terror, he grew up with dark stories that needed no embellishment.
Putin paid tribute to Viktor in 2012 during an annual memorial service for the victims at Piskarevskoe Cemetery: “My brother, whom I never saw and didn’t know, was buried here. I don’t even know where exactly.”
This struggle is at the core of understanding a worldview to which Putin and older Russians are married. A struggle that historian Anna Reid describes in her brilliant book Leningrad: Tragedy of a Besieged City as “the deadliest blockade of a city in human history”.
Half a million German troops surrounded the magnificent old imperial city, ruthlessly attempting to starve a populace that stoically refused to back down.
People ate glue and resorted to cannibalism. In the brutal winter of 1941/42 all hope seemed lost. Nevertheless, they crouched down.
Putin said his mother barely survived. “She was on the brink of starvation,” he recalled. “People thought she died and put her with the bodies. Mom woke up on time and started moaning.”
His father Vladimir Spiridonovich was fighting on the banks of the Neva and was seriously injured by a shell, but he survived.
It would be 1992 before Europe saw anything remotely comparable. Sarejevo was blocked for nearly four years during the Balkan War, a conflict the continent has been trying to forget ever since.
But if Vladimir Putin was an interested spectator then, the nightmare besetting Mariupol now is due to his very conscious, calculated, and murderous decisions.
How can a man whose life has been shaped by the horrors of a besieged Leningrad so willingly create a similar living nightmare for other defenseless people?
He knows there are frightened children like Viktor struggling to survive in the rubble, mothers like Maria looking for food when there is nothing. He knows that frightened fathers like Vladimir take up arms to defend their loved ones against overwhelming odds.
What kind of man can unleash the kind of hell that nearly wiped out his own family, history, and city? Only God knows. But it’s best not to ask for fear of the answer.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/putin-knows-there-are-children-like-his-brother-viktor-lost-deep-in-the-rubble-41497198.html Putin knows there are children like his brother Viktor who are lost deep in the rubble