Remembering the Siege of Leningrad

80 years ago, on January 27, 1944, one of the most tragic episodes of the Great Patriotic War ended: as a result of the actions of Soviet troops, the siege of Leningrad, which had lasted almost 900 days, was completely lifted.

Many threads of memory connect Leningrad and Chelyabinsk-Tankograd, and, of course, our university. Veterans, whose lives and destinies are in one way or another connected with the city on the Neva River, worked and studied at Chelyabinsk Mechanical Engineering Institute (CMEI) − Chelyabinsk Polytechnic Institute (CPI) − Chelyabinsk State Technical University (CSTU) − South Ural State University (SUSU). Among them are such famous people as a participant in the Great Patriotic War, who fought, including on the Volkhov Front, the Rector of CPI Vitaly Melnikov, and an outstanding design engineer, creator of armoured vehicles Nikolai Dukhov, whose sculptural portraits are installed in the foyer in the Gallery of Outstanding Scientists near the SUSU Assembly Hall.

Unfortunately, less and less defenders of Leningrad and eyewitnesses of those tragic events are still alive: even those who were children during the war have long become grandparents. One of the witnesses of the siege was Nadezhda Kuzmina (nee Semykina).

Nadezhda Kuzmina has headed the SUSU History Museum for many years since 1998. She has been the chairperson of the Council of Veterans of South Ural State University since 2014, and she was elected president of the Council of Veterans of the university in 2023. Nadezhda was awarded the medal "For Labour Distinction", the badge "Resident of Blockaded Leningrad", jubilee medals in honour of the 50th, 60th, 65th, and 70th years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War, the medal "In Memory of the 300th Anniversary of St. Petersburg", commemorative medals in honour of the 60th, 65th, and 70th anniversary of the complete liberation of Leningrad from the Nazi siege.

Nadezhda Kuzmina made a special contribution to the important cause of preserving the memory of the Great Patriotic War and to the cause of civic and patriotic education of youth. She shared her memories many times, speaking to students of various educational institutions, including students of our university, at various patriotic events.

"I myself lived in the besieged Leningrad, so it’s very difficult to remember the war, but everything is vivid in my memory," says Nadezhda. "When the war began, I was still a little girl. There was an order: all children should be evacuated from Leningrad. On August 20, 1941, my little cousin and I were equipped for a journey and put on a train (reserved seats), which was specially prepared for the evacuation of Leningrad children. My dad and uncle, blood brothers, saw us off. I started crying loudly, asking to be left at home, and they took me and my sister off the train. This saved our lives: the train was bombed by German aircraft.

At first, when the Germans tried to capture Leningrad by storm, from a swoop, various saboteurs and spies spread misinformation in order to spread panic − supposedly the city would surrender within a few hours. Moreover, the situation was extremely tense, and during shelling and bombing, the city radio was often switched off due to damage, not a single loudspeaker was working. Newspapers were not published or delivered. It is difficult for those living in the information age to imagine what it is like not to have access to the media.

I still cannot forget the howl of bombs, the whistle of flying shells during artillery shelling. But the worst thing was not even this, but the terrible hunger and cold. I remember walking around the apartment with a poker, rummaging under all the furniture in the hope of finding at least a piece of food. The water supply did not work, people had to go to the Neva River for water. Mom was so weak from hunger that she could only bring one three-litre can of water − and this was for all our needs! Many people died from exhaustion right on the streets.

The huge city was besieged and held out for three years. It did not surrender, despite all the horrors of the siege. History has never known such courage!

In 1942, my mother, sister and I were evacuated along the Road of Life. We stayed in evacuation until July 1944, then returned to Leningrad. In 1949, I moved with my family to Chelyabinsk. After graduating from the tenth grade of secondary school No. 84, I left to enter the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute (LPI). In 1961, after graduating from the Mechanical Engineering Faculty of LPI, I came to work at the Department of Hydraulics (later  Hydraulics and Hydropneumatic Systems) of the Faculty of Engines, Instruments, and Automatics of CPI (later  the SUSU Faculty of Aerospace Engineering), where I worked until 2015. I worked as Deputy Dean for Educational Work at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering. I studied at LPI together with my future husband, Vladimir Kuzmin, in the same department. We were fellow students, but in different specialties. In Chelyabinsk, my husband worked at ChTZ (Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant) and was a very good specialist (unfortunately, he passed away). We have two children: a son Vladimir and a daughter Elena, and also four grandchildren.

Taking this opportunity, I want to remind today's and future students: after the war, many front-line soldiers became students of the CMEI, and although it was not easy for them after the front, they all studied well, graduated from the institute, became excellent specialists, many of them worked at our university. It is precisely these people that students should look up to and need to take their studies seriously, responsibly, attend classes, persistently acquire knowledge, and become highly qualified specialists, bear the title of SUSU graduate with honour, be useful to the Motherland, and build the future of Russia. And, of course, you need to be true patriots, ready to defend the Fatherland in case of danger. Remember the innumerable sacrifices that our country made to defeat fascism, the unparalleled exploits of all who, without sparing themselves, fought the enemy at the front, and who worked in the rear to provide the army with everything it needed! Take care of your Motherland, because there is nothing more precious than the Motherland!"

Иван Загребин. Фото из архива редакции
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