During World War II, on the 8th of September, 1941 German forces surrounded the City of Leningrad, formerly known as St. Petersburg. During the siege, which wouldn’t be lifted until January 27th of 1944, the soldiers and civilians of Leningrad would suffer hardship and deprivation on a scale that would make the siege perhaps the most horrific battle of World War II. Isolated from the rest of the Soviet Union, the defenders of Leningrad faced longs odds as they were surrounded and cutoff from supplies and reinforcements. The city was under constant artillery shelling, bombardment, and assualt. Hundreds of thousands died of starvation, with the most desparate to survive resorting to cannibalism. Overall, the 900 day siege cost the lives of over 1 million soldiers, as well as another 1 million civilians. However, no matter how bad things got, Leningrad refused to surrender.
The Siege of Leningrad became a source of pride for its people, and the defenders of the city, both soldiers and civilians alike became national celebrities. After the war Leningrad experienced a period of renewal and rennaissance, becoming a radiant center of Soviet culture as well as a political rival to Moscow. This reblossoming of the city was mostly due to a new culture of self reliance, resiliance, and achievement spawned by the sufferings and accomplishments of the siege’s survivors. Many of the heroes of Leningrad became influential political, social, and civil leaders. To the ever paranoid Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin, Leningrad was a threat to his own power and authority, and Stalin was notorious for coming down hard against those he saw as a threat. In January of 1949 Stalin ordered a purge of Leningrad, entrusting the work to his two deputies; Georgy Malenkov and Lavrentiy Beria. Over the next several months numerous Leningrad political officials, industrialists, scientists, and academics were arrested and charged with crimes against the state. 5 men were executed; Nikolai Voznesensky, Mikhail Rodionov, Aleksei Kuznetsov, Pyotr Popkov, Ya. F. Kapustin and P.G. Lazutin. Kuznetsov was the former general who organized the defenses of Leningrad during the siege. Another 200 were sentenced to the gulags (hard labor camps) for terms of 11-25 years, which was practically a death sentence for many. Another 2,000 had their property and possessions seized, and were exiled from the city.
Perhaps the greatest insult of all was the closing of the Museum of the Siege of Leningrad, which was ordered by Malenkov with Stalin’s approval. Malenkov declared the Siege of Leningrad, “a myth of anti-Soviet traitors trying to diminish Comrade Stalin’s greatness”. The Siege of Leningrad was purged from Soviet history, with mentions of the siege being erased from books and public records. After Stalin’s death in 1953, all of the accused were declared innocent of their crimes, and historical records restored with Nikita Kruschev’s de-Stalinization campaign.
“Citizens! During the shelling this side of the street is the most dangerous. In memory of the heroism and bravery of the people of Leningrad during the 900 days of the siege of the city, this inscription has been preserved.”
The Siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. The city, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was besieged by the Army of Republika Srpska from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996 (1,425 days) during the Bosnian War. The siege lasted three times longer than the Battle of Stalingrad and more than a year longer than the Siege of Leningrad.
After Bosnia and Herzegovina had declared independence from Yugoslavia, the Bosnian Serbs—whose goal was to create a new Bosnian Serb state of Republika Srpska that would include parts of Bosnian territory—encircled Sarajevo with a siege force of 13,000 stationed in the surrounding hills. From there they assaulted the city with artillery, tanks and small arms. From 2 May 1992, the Serbs blockaded the city.
The second half of 1992 and the first half of 1993 were the height of the siege of Sarajevo. Serb forces outside the city continuously shelled the government defenders. Inside the city, the Serbs controlled most of the major military positions and the supply of arms. With snipers taking up positions in the city, certain particularly dangerous streets were known as “sniper alleys”.
Compared with the siege force, the Bosnian government forces (ARBiH) were very poorly armed. Bosnian black market criminals who joined the army at the outset of the war illegally smuggled arms into the city through Serb lines. The Sarajevo Tunnel, completed in mid-1993 to link Sarajevo with Bosnian-held territory on the other side of the Sarajevo Airport which was controlled by the United Nations, was a major asset in bypassing the international arms embargo. It helped supplies and weaponry reach the city’s defenders, and enabled some inhabitants to leave. The tunnel was said to have saved Sarajevo.
The Serbs were slowly driven back in Sarajevo and a ceasefire was reached in October 1995. On 14 December, the Dayton Agreement brought peace to the country and led to stabilization. The Bosnian government officially declared an end to the siege of Sarajevo on 29 February 1996, when Bosnian Serb forces left positions in and around the city. More than 70,000 Sarajevan Serbs subsequently left the Muslim-controlled districts of the city and moved to the Republika Srpska.
A total of 13,952 people were killed during the siege, including 5,434 civilians. The ARBiH suffered 6,137 fatalities, while Bosnian Serb military casualties numbered 2,241 soldiers killed. After the war, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted two Serb officials for numerous counts of crimes against humanity committed during the siege.
“This photo, taken in the winter months of 1942, shows citizens of Leningrad as they dip for water from a broken main, during the nearly 900-day siege of the Russian city by German invaders. Unable to capture the Leningrad (today known as Saint Petersburg), the Germans cut it off from the world, disrupting utilities and shelling the city heavily for more than two years.”