Russia’s Victory in Human Stories:
A Grand Piano and the Marines

RIA Novosti Special on Victory Day

Photographer unknown

RIA Novosti Photo

April 15th, 1945 1.5-ton truck had quickly passed the battered road from Lnostroi and entered the dark streets of the town. Not a street-lamp or a ray of light was visible from the windows covered with blackout curtains. Vologda had introduced martial law in the first days of the war.

The truck carried artists. They had to reach home before curfew, or they would be detained by the patrol.

The artists were us, students from School No.20, located just opposite the river quay. We were excited by the enthusiastic reception of our audience, the marines. They were scheduled to leave for the front the next day. We were so envious of those cheerful guys with golden anchors and wanted to go to protect our Fatherland from Hitler’s cruel Nazi forces.

Suddenly, I noticed a boy making his way towards me in the truck. It was Serezhka. Stopping close to me, he looked at me petrified as if he was seeing me for the first time. Suddenly, he asked, “Where are you from?”

That was ridiculous. We had been in the same class for almost a month. That is, it would have been ridiculous had I not been so very offended by his inattention, because I had noticed him as soon as I entered the new school. It was on October 1 (in 1941 the academic year began a month later than usual, because children were working on farms).

1943. Gzhatsk. All alone. After ousting fascists.

Photo by N. Granovsky / RIA Novosti Photo

Serezhka was standing alone near the window, intensely looking out in the street. “He must be waiting for his girlfriend,” I thought and somehow my heart sank.

I was not the only new student in the ninth grade. Girls, evacuated before the war from Leningrad and Moscow, perhaps, received greater attention. They were so sassy, metropolitan, so “not local.” They quickly became close with the “elite,” led by the best pupils, Komsomol leaders – the handsome Albert and Serezhka.

And now, he was standing in front of me, looking into my eyes admiringly just as in my favorite poem: “He looked at me as one might at a miracle, at a seashell, or at the light… He said, “You are not from here”. I said that he was right.

But my beauty and evident interest in him were not enough. He appreciated originality.

I should thank the unexpectedly good grand piano that had miraculously found its way to a Lnostroi-club-turned-barracks, where we performed.

When my fingers felt the real instrument, I dared to play a very beautiful show piece that I performed at the final concert at the city theater. Everything I had learned after eight years of studying music was still fresh. A year before the war, I had studied as a pianist at a specialized music school and dreamed of entering the Leningrad conservatory.

As the war broke out, our music school was closed. My strict mom took my documents to a school close to our new home (after Dad had been arrested as “an enemy of the people,” we were driven out of our apartment, but my grandmother took us in). So, despite my inner resistance, I returned to an ordinary school. My friends from the music school, while waiting for it to reopen, went to work at a hospital, on a sanitary train and at a sewing factory. I could have done the same at home and sewed soldier’s underwear for mom’s disabled workers’ association. But she did not let me. And my brother Leonid was against the sanitary train, writing from the front, “you don’t know what war is like for girls.”

On November 7, we had a party at school. I sat at the piano in the corridor that we used as a hall and played waltzes, foxtrots, polkas and all my favorite songs from albums and films for the dancers. Suddenly a hand appeared above my right shoulder and put a notebook on the music stand. “I love you” was written there.

I turned back. It was Serezhka.

“In response to my declaration,
You said in tears, ‘No’.
Although you already knew
That it was a definite ‘yes.’”

This is how he remembered that moment later.

After the cold and hungry winter, the first winter of the war, came the hard summer. After endless snow clearing on the railways and wood chopping, came obligatory work on peat fields and then, till late autumn, on collective farms. It was hard, peasant labor, but it saved us from starvation. And there was also some entertainment, competition for being the quickest and the most tireless. And there were also walks in the moon with my classmates, on the banks of the river Toshnya – from one village to another, for five kilometers, from the boys to the girls and back. Our morals were strictly guarded by accompanying (annoying) teachers, especially, when a tank unit was waiting in our village of Savkino for reinforcements.

We danced to a gramophone in our house. This time with the servicemen, because our classmates were overshadowed by the soldiers, each of whom seemed a hero to us.

In October we returned to town, proud of ourselves. We were breadwinners. For our work we had received some food – grain and vegetables.

Serezhka, a Komsomol leader and an excellent pupil received a commendation from the city authorities.

He told me to join the Komsomol and asked, “How came you are still not a member?” I confessed, “My father has been arrested. They will not admit me.” (At that time, I did not know that my innocent father had been executed four years before upon Stalin’s order.)

“I will vouch for you,” Serezhka offered. “I’ll give you a recommendation.” I was surprised that he was not afraid.

Then a conflict came. I was bad at math, and someone passed me a piece of blotting paper with the solution when I was standing at the blackboard. Looking boldly at me, Serezhka took it and sank into his inkpot. “You should think with your own head,” he said.

This advice often helped me later in life.

On the eve of 1943, our boys, who had just turned 17, were suddenly drafted.

I wrote a poem:

“We said good-bye under a white birch-tree,
Without a hug or a kiss.
But grieves that fell to your lot
Became mine as well.”

It was about Serezhka.

We, girls, finished school, a strange school, alone. The dwindled tenth grades were united. After classes we still went to work. We were on duty at the Leningrad evacuation hospital at night and helped to take care of the severely wounded (at school we took a public health course, the same as military nurses did). We washed the floors and windows in the hospital and changed bedclothes. In the summer, we got our school certificates. After our graduation party, we walked until the morning and sang a song we had written to the tune of an official one, which went, “On June 22, at four in the morning, Kiev was bombed and war declared.” But ours was different, “On June 22, when the war is over, we’ll get together and remember the past.”

Then we parted.

I had already given up my dream of entering the conservatory. Professional studies of music were, unfortunately, over. So, I went to work at the radio committee as a reporter. My mother was a dress maker, and one of her clients helped me to find the job. Then I took courses for Komsomol journalists in Moscow at the office of the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. For this, I should thank Boris Levichev, a friend of my brother Leonid, who headed the Komsomol in Vologda and sent me there. But I am most grateful to my classmate Serezhka, who had made me join the Komsomol, or this would have never happened.

At first, I worked in the newspaper’s field offices near the front line, in the liberated regions. The editorial and printing staff travelled in their own carriages. Later I received distance education.

Our class did meet on June 22, 45 years later. I could hardly recognize the girls – Maya Nekrasova, Vera Ilyicheva, Valya Karpova, Inna Zlobina… Unfortunately, Nina Chelpanova and Alla Mets had already passed away.

We remembered our classmates who had died in the war – German Shemyakin, Slava Markov, Kolya Vetrov, Vova Rusov and Vladik Khokhlov.

By that time, I had already written a book, “Rozovaya Chaika” (The Pink Seagull), which I devoted to them and my brother Leonid, who was also killed in the war. Voyenizdat published 65,000 copies, but the financial crises came immediately afterwards and devaluated my royalties.

A great excitement at the meeting was caused by the arrival of Serezhka, who by that time had become Lieutenant General and headed the Soviet Interior Ministry’s political department. They had heard of him, but had not met. Except for me.

I have also written a book about Serezhka, whom I would have never met but for the war that changed my life. Recently I published another one, Staroye Zerkalo (The Old Mirror). It is devoted to my late husband and friend Sergei P. Ostashev, a WWII veteran and Chernobyl survivor, awarded with the Order of Courage for his work in the radioactive contaminated area in 1986-1987.

He was not afraid to cast in his lot with the daughter of “an enemy of the people” (at that time, he could not even suppose that together with thousands of other innocent victims he would be rehabilitated many years later), although his commanders and the party tried hard to separate us.

He was an honest servant of his Fatherland. He gave me two wonderful sons and helped to raise two grandsons and a granddaughter. Even our two little great-granddaughters remember him.

He was so right, my lieutenant, when remembering his first declaration he wrote:

“Although you already knew yourself
That it was love, a definite ‘yes’
And you would never forget…”

The author, Larisa S. Ostasheva, is a member of the Moscow Union of Journalists, veteran of the Great Patriotic War and veteran of Labor, a victim of political repressions.

Articles Related to Russia’s Victory Against the Nazis in the Memory of WWII Veterans and their Families:

** Russia’s Victory Against the Nazis in Historical Stories
** Vladimir Putin Address to Allied World War II Veterans
** USA Decorates Russian WWII Veterans
** Holland to Host Russian Photo Exhibition
** RIA Novosti Photo Exhibition Opens in Vienna
** Pacific Fleet’s Large Landing Ship Completing Memory Cruise
** WWII Veterans to Visit Berlin

Russia’s Victory Against the Nazis in Historical Stories

Excerpts from RIA Novosti’s Day by Day Special Leading to the 60th Anniversary of Victory in the 1941 – 1945 Great Patriotic War

Photographer unknown

RIA Novosti Photo

April 09th, 1945 — Following bitter fighting, the 3rd Belarussian Front forces have mopped up the enemy troops in Konigsberg, having assaulted today this fortress and main city of East Prussia, a strategic strongpoint of the enemy defenses on the Baltic.

By 20.00 hours today, the friendly forces had taken over 27,000 prisoners and seized a lot of weapons and other combat gear.

The remaining Konigsberg garrison and its headquarters, led by the fortress commandant, Army General Lasch, surrendered at 21.30 hours today.

Northeast and north of Bratislava, the 2nd Ukrainian Front forces carried on their advance and took over 40 Czechoslovak settlements, including the towns of Soblahov, Beckov, Stara Tura, Sobotiste, Lopasov and Radimov. West of Bratislava, the Red Army advanced along the northern bank of the Danube towards Vienna, taking Zwerndorf, Ober Weiden, Schonfeld, Lassee, Haringsee, Fuchenbigl, Straudorf, Ort, Mannsdorf and Schenau. On April 8, more than 2,000 prisoners were taken.

Fighting on the streets of Vienna, the 3rd Ukrainian Front troops assumed control of downtown Vienna, including the parliament building, the city hall, main police directorate, central telegraph office, Central European Bank and Opera house. South of Vienna, the enemy was dislodged from the town of Berndorf. On April 8, more than 1,700 prisoners were seized, as were 25 enemy aircraft, 191 tanks and self-propelled guns, 30 armored personnel carriers, 245 field guns, 50 mortars, 106 machineguns, 30 steam engines, 1,665 railroad cars and 42 depots.

No major changes were reported on the other parts of the front.

On April 8, 50 enemy tanks and self-propelled guns were damaged and destroyed and 42 enemy aircraft were downed in aerial combat and by anti-aircraft guns on all fronts.

(From "RIA Novosti" archives from the Soviet Information Bureau)

Vladimir Putin Address to Allied World War II Veterans

Dear friends!

At this time as we commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the allied landing in Normandy, on behalf of the entire Russian people I express my immense and sincere gratitude for your historical feat.

The opening of the second front in Europe made an invaluable contribution to our common victory. Together with the soldiers of the Red Army you fought to the end, defeated the aggressor and restored peace and freedom to the peoples of Europe. The meeting of our armies on the Elba in the victorious spring of 1945 symbolised the invincibility of fraternity forged in battle and the triumph of justice.

The traditions of partnership and unity born during those hard and difficult years help us today to take a stand against the common threats we face and strengthen our cooperation in the interests of stability and security in our world.

We in Russia will always honour the courage of our brothers in arms and remember those who sacrificed their lives in the struggle against the greatest evil of the twentieth century.

I give my heartfelt congratulations to the allied veterans and wish you health, prosperity and success. Blessed be the memory of the fallen heroes.


USA Decorates Russian WWII Veterans

NEW YORK CITY (RIA Novosti, by Alexei Berezin and Andrei Loschilin) — The Brighton Beach concert hall gathered Russian immigrants in a gala yesterday as numerous veterans of the Great Patriotic War, 1941-45, were receiving 60th Victory Anniversary medals. Their relations attended the event.

"All generations to come will cherish grateful memory of the war heroes whom they owe their life and the opportunity to raise their children," Sergei Garmonin, Russia’s Consul General in New York City, said to the audience.

"A total 236 medals were awarded, Tuesday. Not all war veterans could attend the gala to receive them," the diplomat said to Novosti afterwards.

All in all, approximately four thousand medals will be awarded. "Decoration ceremonies are already over in Philadelphia, Pa., and in New Jersey, where close on a thousand received the honorable medals. There are about a thousand Soviet WWII veterans resident in New York City now. Their average age is 82, and there are seven centenarians among them," added Mr. Garmonin.

"We have settled in America, far from our native land. Here, too, we are doing all we can to extol and eternalize the memory of the great victory," says Leonid Rosenberg, New York City war veteran organization chief.

Holland to Host Russian Photo Exhibition

THE HAGUE (RIA Novosti, by Andrei Poskakukhin) — A Russian photo exhibition called "Sixtieth VE-Day Anniversary" featuring 65 photos from RIA Novosti archives is to open here.

The Great Patriotic War’s veterans living in Holland, representatives of Dutch political, business and public circles, diplomats and journalists have been invited to attend the opening ceremony.

The exhibition is taking place on the initiative of the Russian Embassy. Representatives of Holland’s Russian-speaking diaspora and RIA Novosti helped organize this event.

The exhibition’s organizers plan to attract the Dutch public’s attention to the events of 1945 with the help of Soviet front-line photographers, who took their pictures 60 years ago, an exhibition prospectus reads in part. Those events drastically changed the history of mankind. Moreover, the exhibition’s organizers would like visitors to assess the war and Victory through the eyes of people, who died fighting to save Europe from Nazi oppression.

The threat of international terrorism is now being discussed ever more frequently. In this connection, it would be quite appropriate to remember that the feeling of solidarity and hatred toward our common enemy had helped achieve the great Victory, the document notes.

This exhibition is to last until April 27, subsequently leaving for other Dutch cities, Amsterdam and Rotterdam included.

RIA Novosti Photo Exhibition Opens in Vienna

VIENNA (RIA Novosti, by Borislav Pechnikov) — RIA Novosti’s photo exhibition "People Who Triumphed Over War" opened in Vienna on Wednesday, April 13, the 60th anniversary of the Austrian capital’s liberation from Nazi troops.

Russian ambassador to Austria Stanislav Osadchy said at the opening ceremony that the Russian Foreign Ministry congratulated Austrians on this anniversary.

"We congratulate all people of Austria on the 60th anniversary of the liberation and restoration of state sovereignty of the country which resulted in the signing of the state treaty on the restoration of independent and democratic Austria on May 15, 1955," reads the Foreign Ministry’s message forwarded to the Austrian leadership.

According to the Russian ambassador, on April 13, 1945 Soviet troops completed the Vienna liberation operation frustrating the resistance of the Wehrmacht and SS forces which planned total destruction of the Austrian capital and its ancient historical and cultural monuments.

Dozens of thousand of Soviet people, members of the Resistance movement were killed in battles for Vienna’s liberation. About 80,000 Soviet soldiers, prisoners of Nazi death camps and Nazi slaves were buried in Austria, Osadchy stressed.

The exhibition which opened in ancient Kaiserhaus palace in downtown Vienna features unique photographs from RIA Novosti’s archives. The agency was formed on the first days of the Great Patriotic War and named the Soviet Information Bureau (Sovinformburo).

There are photographs made by war correspondents during the Vienna offensive operation of the Soviet Army which resulted in the defeat of Nazi troops and liberation of Austria and its capital.

Main heroes of the exhibition are people – ordinary soldiers who marched along the hard roads of the war, commanders whose military skills and courage led to the defeat of Nazi Germany, mothers who sent their children to the war and mourned for their death.

Austrian visitors were highly interested in such photographs as "Soviet soldiers at Johann Strauss’s grave," "Self-propelled guns crossing the Austrian border," "Lieutenant-General Blagodatov, the first Soviet commandant of Vienna, talking to Austrian workers," "Waltz in liberated Vienna," "Captive Nazis" and others.

RIA Novosti’s photo exhibition "People Who Triumphed Over War" will be shown in Vienna and other Austrian cities.

Pacific Fleet’s Large Landing Ship
Completing Memory Cruise

VLADIVOSTOK (RIA Novosti, by Veronika Perminova) — The BDK-11 large landing ship of the Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet is completing its Cruise of Memory in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazism in the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War.

On April 14, Thursday, the ship carrying war veterans, cadets and clergymen with the Vladivostok diocese is to return to the port of Vladivostok to be met by a ceremony, the Pacific Fleet’s press center told RIA Novosti.

The military history cruise – Cruise of Memory – to the places of combat glory – was launched from Vladivostok on April 2. The ship covered over 1,600 miles with stopovers in Korsakov (Sakhalin), Sovetskaya Gavan (Khabarovsk Territory), Nakhodka and coastal towns of the Primorye Territory.

The participants in the cruise laid wreaths at the site of the sinking of the L-19 submarine in the La Perouse Strait and honored the memory of the Novik and Izumrud cruisers’ crews killed in action during the Russian-Japanese War of 1904-5.

Everywhere en route the war veterans would meet youth, the Pacific Fleet’s song and dance ensemble would perform and a Pacific Fleet exhibition dedicated to the victory’s anniversary would be displayed.

The presidential plenipotentiary to the Far Eastern Federal District, Konstantin Pulikovsky, sponsored the Cruise of Memory.

"The Cruise of Memory is dedicated to the heroes and events of the Great Patriotic War and WWII that ended here, in the Far East. As people who have seen a lot in their life and know about the price paid for the victory, veterans cannot but pay tribute to the heroes of other battles, those who died for Russia," Pulikovsky stressed.

WWII Veterans to Visit Berlin

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti, Denis Telmanov) — A memory train left Moscow for Berlin, carrying 70 war veterans.

The train is to arrive in the German capital April 15. The 70 veterans of the Great Patriotic War, who are accompanied by 140 members of a youth public movement, are to visit former battlegrounds in Berlin. They will also visit Soviet war memorials that were constructed after the war.

The Russian Embassy in Berlin will organize an official reception during the day. Soviet war veterans are to meet their former enemies, i.e. German veterans, during that reception.

Veterans and their young companions are to visit former SS, Gestapo and SD headquarters, as well as bunkers and air-raid shelters in Berlin’s Schoneberg, Gumboldthain and Mitte districts, during their "Wartime Berlin" guided tour. They will also visit the Reichstag, as well as the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe buildings.

It is also intended to visit the German Resistance museum, Moabit prison and the act-of-surrender museum in Karlshorst.

The memory train is to return to Moscow April 17.