Battle of Stalingrad yields more of its dead, 75 years later
Searchers say there are hundreds of thousands of bodies unrecovered from savage WW II battle
This week, Russians commemorate the end of the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years ago. Many historians consider it to have been the largest and most savage battle in history. More than 1.1 million Soviet soldiers were killed or wounded in the 200-day fight to liberate the city from Nazi troops during the Second World War. And each year the remains of soldiers continue to be found.
Surviving tank commander
Former tank commander Anatoly Kozlov, 97, is one of the few remaining survivors of the battle. "Bombs would explode and there was no way of telling who the dead were," he told CBC News. Many soldiers were buried where they fell.
Son of the motherland
Kozlov was a 22-year-old tank commander during the battle. Despite the horrors he witnessed, he is extremely proud of his role. "I'm happy that I was able to participate in this war," he said. "Not every generation gets a chance to protect their motherland."
Victory and the dead
Some of the most ferocious fighting occurred on Mamayev Kurgan, a hill overlooking the Volga River. In 1967, the 20-storey Motherland Calls statue was erected on top of the hill. The bodies of 35,000 soldiers are buried underneath.
Guard of honour
Cadets march at the site overlooking the city, which was renamed Volgograd in 1961.
The Stalingrad battlefield was vast, from the banks of the Volga River to the fields near the present-day airport. The remains of hundreds of soldiers are recovered from the area every summer. DNA testing for identification is available, but it's expensive and usually not practical. Instead, volunteer searchers look for items such as cutlery that men would often engrave their names or initials on.
Local tour guide Mikhail Shuvarikov, 36, is among the volunteers. A decade ago, a team discovered the remains of his great-grandfather, and the family was able to give him a proper burial. Now Shuvarikov spends several weeks a year with the search teams trying to help other families find the same closure. "There are still a lot of relatives who have hope to find their relative, to know anything [about] where they died or how they died," he said.
In the summer of 2017, Shuvarikov's group of volunteers located over 500 bodies, he said. In late August, the remains were laid out together and reburied in a solemn ceremony. "This work will never finish in the near future," Shuvarikov said.
Rossoshka Memorial Cemetery
Since the 1980s, searchers have found more than 35,000 bodies, but only 1,500 have been identified. The remains of some of those identified are buried in a cemetery about 30 minutes from the city. On top of each headstone, volunteers have placed a helmet recovered from the battlefield, many of them badly damaged from shrapnel or bullets.
Russia has been holding ceremonies and commemorations to mark the 75th anniversary and to honour the survivors. In the memorial complex beneath Mamayev Kurgan, the names of 7,000 military and civilian casualties of the battle are engraved in plaques on the wall that surrounds an eternal flame.
Women's war effort
Maria Tikhanova, 93, joined several other women for a ceremony at Volgograd's history museum. As teenagers, the women worked on construction crews or in factories that made tanks. "I still hear the bombers and the bombing sound," she said. Tikhanova is thankful for how things turned out for her city. "Now we live normally and the government looks after us."
Reminder of a city destroyed
German and other Axis losses in the battle of Stalingrad amounted to over 800,000 casualties. The Nazis' eastward expansion was halted and the Soviets went on the offensive until the end of the war. Over 90 per cent of the buildings in the city were destroyed. The bombed-out shell of the old flour mill is one of the few structures that have been left as a ruin.