Citizens! During Shelling This Side of The Street is The Most Dangerous

Feb 15, 2021 0 comments

The city of Saint Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in Russia and in eastern Europe, with a great ensemble of historic buildings, gilded palaces, and baroque bridges and churches. Founded by Peter the Great as a “window to Europe” Saint Petersburg’s has a very cosmopolitan character, unique among Russian cities, but behind all the gilt and glory lurks a darker past, going back by less than eighty years, when Hitler had the city bombed, besieged and starved during the Second World War. The siege of Leningrad (the city’s previous name), which dragged on for nearly nine hundred days, became one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history, and possibly one of the costliest in terms of casualties suffered. At least a million lives were lost as a direct result of the blockade. Inevitably, traces of the city’s past are still visible around the city in the form of memorials, museums and scars of the war.

A restored stencil from the Siege of Leningrad warning citizens of dangerous areas due to German shelling

A restored stencil from the Siege of Leningrad warning citizens of dangerous areas due to German shelling. Photo: Florstein/Wikimedia Commons

The capture of Leningrad was one of three strategic goals of Operation Barbarossa. As a former capital of Russia and the symbolic capital of the Russian Revolution, capturing Leningrad was politically motivated. Besides, Leningrad held strategic military importance as the main base of the Soviet Baltic Fleet. It also housed numerous arms factories. Leningrad’s industrial position was significant; the city was responsible for more than one-tenth of all Soviet industrial output.

The siege of Leningrad began on 8 September 1941, when the Wehrmacht severed the last road to the city. At that time, the German High Command had not yet decided how to destroy the city. Occupying the city was ruled out because it would make the Nazis responsible for food supply. Instead, it was decided to lay the city under siege and bombardment, and starve its population.


Related: The Scientists Who Starved to Death Surrounded By Food


From 4 September 1941 until 22 January 1933, Leningrad was subjected to intense artillery bombardment, sometimes for as long as 18 hours a day. An estimated 150,000 shells were fired into the city, destroying houses, churches, landmarks and causing the death of 6,000 civilians. Tens of thousands more were wounded. Damage caused by shell fragments can still be seen on the columns of Isaac Cathedral, on the base of the horse statue on Anichkov Bridge, and on the northern fa├žade of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. These have been deliberately left unrepaired throughout the years in order to preserve the memory of the war.

Citizens! During Shelling This Side of The Street is The Most DangerousCitizens! During Shelling This Side of The Street is The Most Dangerous

Photo: Dmitriy Midorenko/Flickr

Aside from the scars of shelling, many stenciled signs warning the citizens of dangerous areas during bombardments can still be found around Saint Petersburg. The inscriptions reading “Citizens! In case of shelling this side of the street is the most dangerous” in Russian were placed in the northern and northeastern sides of the streets in Leningrad, as the city was bombarded by long range German artillery from the south and south-east. The warning also appeared in Kronstadt, this time on the south-western sides of the streets, where the danger came from German shells fired from Petergof.

These inscriptions, which no doubt, saved many lives, were the handiwork of three young girls of the local anti-aircraft defense organization: Tatyana Kotova, Anastasia Pashkina and Lyubov Gerasimova. In an interview in 2003 Gerasimova recalled:

The commander gave me an half-full paint bucket, a brush and a stencil. But you can't do this task alone - the stencil is big, hard, it should be pressed tightly against the wall so that the paint does not smear, and I woke up Tanya and we went. The paint was red-brown, well, that's how the floors are painted.

Citizens! During Shelling This Side of The Street is The Most Dangerous

Exultant Leningraders remove the signs after the siege ended.

After the war, the original signs faded away, but in the 1960s and the 1970s, some of these inscriptions were recreated in their original places as a tribute to the heroism of the citizens of Leningrad. At present there are six such inscriptions in the city. Each is accompanied by a memorial plaque explaining its significance.

Over the years, these inscriptions have attracted a fair amount of vandalism. Sometimes that have been used to make political statements. For instance, in 2010, the slogan “Citizens! Under V.I. Matvienko either side of the street is dangerous to life!” appeared, criticizing Governor of Saint Petersburg Valentina Matviyenko for failing to clear the city streets of snow and hanging icicles.

A restored stencil from the Siege of Leningrad warning citizens of dangerous areas due to German shelling

A restored signs at the House of Specialists at Number 61, Lesnoy Prospect. Photo: Florstein/Wikimedia Commons

A restored stencil from the Siege of Leningrad warning citizens of dangerous areas due to German shelling

Another restored sign at 22nd Line, Number 7. Photo: One_half_3544/Wikimedia Commons

References:
# Wikipedia
# Francesca Visser, St. Petersburg's Scars of War, The Moscow Times

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