This recollection of the War was written by the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and published in Russian Pioneer on the 30th of April 2015. Soviet Union lost 27 million people in that War, and almost every single family has a recollection of losses and hardships connected with it. And the family of the President of RF is no exception. Read on my unofficial translation from Russian below…
Frankly, father did not like even to touch the subject. Rather, it was like this: when adults were talking to each other and remembering something, I was just around. All the information about the war, about what happened with my family, came to me from those conversations between the adults. But sometimes they addressed me directly.
Father served in Sevastopol, in the detachment of submarines – he was a sailor. He was drafted in 1939. And then, after returning from service, he just worked at a factory, and they lived with my mother in Peterhof. I think they even built some house there.
He was working at a military enterprise when the war started, giving the so-called “reservation” that exempts one from conscription. But he wrote an application to join the party, and then another application – that he wants to go to the front. He was dispatched to the subversive detachment of the NKVD. It was a small detachment. He said that there were 28 people in it, and they were deployed into the near rear for carrying out acts of sabotage. The undermining of bridges, railway tracks… But they were almost immediately ambushed. Someone betrayed them. They came to a village, and then went out, and when after a while they returned, the Nazis were already waiting for them there. They were chased through the woods, and he survived, because he climbed into a swamp, and spent a few hours in that swamp, breathing through a reed. This I remember already from his own story. And he said that, while sitting in the swamp and breathing through the reed, he heard how the German soldiers were passing nearby, just a few steps away from him, how the dogs were yapping…
In addition, it was probably the beginning of autumn, in other words – already cold… I also remember well how he told me that the head of their group was a German. A Soviet citizen. But a German.
And here’s what’s curious: a couple of years ago, the archives of the Defence Ministry handed me the case of this group. There is a copy of the case in my home, in Novo-Ogaryovo. A list of the group, names, patronymics and brief descriptions. Yes, 28 people. And at the head – a German. Everything as it was told by my father.
Of the 28 people, only 4 crossed the front line back to ours. 24 were killed.
And then they were re-assigned into the active army, and sent on to the Nevsky Pyatachok. It was probably the hottest place during the whole of the Leningrad Blockade. Our troops held a small bridgehead. Four kilometres in width and some two kilometres in depth. It was supposed to be a springboard for the future breaking of the blockade. But it never got used for this purpose. They broke through the blockade elsewhere. Still the spot (Nevsky Pyatachok) was held, held for a long time, there was heavy fighting there. Very heavy. There are commanding heights above and all around it, it’s shot at throughout. The Germans were, of course, also aware that it’s there that a breakthrough may be attempted, and tried to simply erase the Nevsky Pyatachokto from the face of the earth. There is data about how much metal there is in each square meter of the land. There’s still metal all over the place there.
And the father told how he was wounded there. The wound was heavy. All his life he lived with shrapnel in his leg: not all fragments could be taken out. The leg ached. Foot didn’t bend since then. The medics preferred not to touch the small fragments so as not to shatter the bone. And, thank God, the leg was saved. They could, after all, amputate it. He got a good doctor. He had the second group disablement. As a disabled veteran, he was eventually given an apartment. It was our first separate apartment. A small two-room apartment. (Translators remark: Before that the Putins lived in a communal apartment, where several families share the facilities, corridor and kitchen, and sleep in separate rooms.) However, before that we lived in the centre and now we had to move. True, not quite to the outskirts, but to a new-built area. And it happened, of course, not immediately after the war, but when I already worked in the KGB. I was not given an apartment then, but my father finally got his. It was a great happiness. And here’s how he was wounded. He, together with a comrade, did a little sortie into the rear of the Germans, crawling, crawling… And then it becomes both funny and sad at the same time: they got to a German bunker, and, father said, out of it comes a man, a huge guy, and looks at them… and they could not get up because they were under the machine gun sight. “The man – he says – looked at us very carefully, then he took out a grenade, then another, and threw those grenades at us. Well… ” Life is such a simple, yet cruel thing.
What was the biggest problem when he woke up? The fact that it was already winter, Neva was icebound, and he had to somehow get to the other shore, to the skilled medical care. But he, of course, could not walk.
True, he still managed to get to ours on this side of the river. But there were few wanting to drag him to the other side, because Neva was in full view there and exposed to fire both from artillery and machine guns. Chances to reach the opposite bank were almost non-existent. But, by chance, his neighbour from Peterhof was nearby. And that neighbour pulled him over without hesitation. And managed to drag him to the hospital. Both crawled there alive. The neighbour waited for him at the hospital, made sure that he was operated, and said, “All right, now you’re going to live, and I am off to die.”
And he went back. I later asked my father: “Well, did he die?” And he returned several times to this story. It tormented him too very much. They lost contact, and father believed that his neighbour was killed. And somewhere in the 60s, I don’t remember the exact year, I was still very young then, but somewhere in the early 60’s, he suddenly came home, sat down and wept. He met his saviour. In a shop. In Leningrad. Accidentally. He went to the store for food and saw him. It is some coincidence that the two went at the same moment to the same store. One chance in a million… They later came to our home, met each other… And my mother told me how she visited father at the hospital where he lay after he was wounded. They had a small child, he was three years old. At this time there was blockade, hunger… My father gave her his hospital ration. Secretly from doctors and nurses. And she hid it, took it home and fed the child. And then he began to faint from hunger in the hospital, so doctors and nurses understood what was happening, and didn’t allow her to visit any more.
And then the child was taken away from her. It was done, as she later repeated, in a compulsory fashion in order to save small children from starvation. They were collected to the orphanages for further evacuation. Parents were not even asked.
He fell ill there – my mother said that it was with diphtheria – and didn’t survive. And they were not even told where he was buried. They have never learnt where. And then, last year, completely unfamiliar to me people worked on their own initiative through the archives and found documents about my brother. And that’s really my brother. Because I knew that they lived then, after fleeing from Peterhof from the advancing German troops, at their friends’ place – and I even knew the address. They lived, as we call it, on the Water Channel (Vodnyj Kanal). It would be better to call it a “Bypass channel” (Obvodnyj Kanal), but in Leningrad it’s called “Water Channel”. I know for sure that they had lived there. And not only the address, where he was taken from, coincided. Name, surname, patronymic, date of birth coincided as well. It was, of course, my brother. And there was stated the place of burial: Piskaryovskoye Cemetery. And even the specific area was given.
Parents were told nothing of this. Well, apparently, other things had higher priority back then.
So, everything that my parents told about the war, was true. Not a single word was invented. Not a single day was moved. And about my brother. And about the neighbour. And about the German, the commander of the group. Everything matches. And all this got later confirmed in an incredible way. And after the child was taken away, and mother was left alone, and my father was allowed to walk, he stood up on crutches and went home. And when he came to the house, he saw that the medics were carrying corpses out of the entrance. And he saw my mother. He came up, and it seemed to him that she was breathing. He told the medics: “She’s still alive!” – “She’ll pass away along the way – said the nurses. – She’ll not survive now.” He told that he pounced on them with crutches and forced them to lift her back into the apartment. They told him: “Well, we’ll do as you say, but know that we will not come here for another two or three or four weeks. You’ll have to sort it out yourself then.” And he nursed her back to life. She survived. And lived until 1999. While he died in late 1998.
After the lifting of the blockade, they moved to the homeland of their parents, in the Tver province, and lived there until the end of the war. Father’s family was quite large. He had, after all, six brothers, and five of them were killed in the war. This is a disaster for the family. And my mother’s relatives also died. And I was a late child. She gave birth to me when she was 41 years old.
And there was, after all, not a family where someone didn’t die. And, of course, grief, misfortune, a tragedy. But they had no hatred for the enemy, that’s what’s amazing. To be honest, I still can not fully understand this. My mother was a very gentle, kind person… And she said, “Well, what kind of hatred can one have toward these soldiers? They are simple people and also died in the war.” It’s amazing. We were brought up on Soviet books, movies… and hated. But she somehow did not have it in her. And I remember very well her words: “Well, what can you have against them? They are also hard workers, just like us. They were simply force-driven to the front.”
These are the words that I remember from the childhood.
What I personally find sad in this story, is that Putin’s parents didn’t live long enough to know that their son became the President of the Russian Federation, and a worthy president at that. Just like his father nursed his mother back to life, so did Putin nurse Russia back to life after the Wild 90s, at a time, when most world leaders treated it like a still breathing corpse, ready to be carried out of the world arena. More about it can be gleaned from the newly-released documentary, “The President”. Lada Ray wrote a good summary and is posting links to the ongoing English translation of the documentary in her blog.