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Memoir of the Leningrad Blockade
Anna Khodikel

Anna Khodikel
Anna Khodikel - 2008

How the war started

The war began on June 22, 1941. It was a Sunday. I worked as a chemist in the laboratory of the factory Krasny Khimik (Red Chemist) in the city of Leningrad. On this day, I was on call working alone, and only at 12 o'clock during my lunch break, when I went to the dining room, I heard from a loud-speaker the terrible news that the Soviet Union was being attacked by the Germans and they were bombing our cities. Of course, I was very scared.

I had three small children from 2 to 5 years of age, and I was expecting another one. I did not have any place or anybody to go to outside of Leningrad, so I remained at home. On July 5th, my husband, Michael Pesin, left as a volunteer to the front. On July 27, I gave birth to a daughter, and I definitely had to stay in Leningrad with the children and my mother. Soon, the Germans began to bomb Leningrad, dropping incendiary bombs on residential buildings. The people living in these apartments were mostly women and children. Everywhere, there were people on duty on the roofs and in the attics. They extinguished the bombs by covering them with sand or they dumped them to the ground.

Michael Pesin 
Michael Pesin 

The first bombardment was on the 8th of September 1941, and it burned the Badaevsky food warehouses. These warehouses had held huge stockpiles of products intended for the city, and therefore, when the Germans surrounded Leningrad, the famine started. People who did not work received 125 grams of bread, and children received 150 grams. We received some food products using ration cards, but they never lasted long enough, and people began dying of hunger. I started going to the market to try to exchange everything that was possible for food products to try to save my children from starvation. We lived on the fifth floor of an apartment building, and at one point a corner of our building was hit by a bomb and the entire ceiling collapsed. We had to move to a single room on the first floor. The room was small, dark, and the glass in the window had been broken; it was necessary to board it up with plywood. The apartment already did not have electricity and there was no water either. For water, we had to go to the river Neva with a bucket, and instead of electricity for lighting, we had a wick lamp which consisted of a saucer with some kind of oil and a wick made from cotton. The lamp always smoked, and we walked around with black noses. During the bombing raids I took the children to hide in a bomb shelter. There, I had a bed for the children and two chairs for me and my mother. I always had with me a backpack with a bottle of water, a package of cookies, a bar of chocolate, and diapers for the baby. I thought that this could save us from death until help arrived if we got buried in the bomb shelter and we might not be able to get out.

One time, I went to the market and at this time the bombing started. We were not permitted to walk in the streets during the bombing raids, and I decided to hide in the vestibule of a big building. A lot of people were already there and they did not want me because they said that they were already so crowded that they could not breathe. I did not want to argue, and I went to the other side of the street and I stood under the gate of another building. Ten minutes later, I heard the whistling of a bomb and it fell on the building from where I got expelled. All the people who were in the vestibule died. I was in shock, and I could hardly go home to the children. I could not believe that I was still alive. The Germans bombed Leningrad daily, at the same time every morning and evening, and they also started shelling the city every day. Shells exploded in the streets and killed people. It was frightening to go out. Many people died of hunger. Walking in the yard with the children, I saw the janitors go into the apartments and then bring down the dead into the yard to pile them in stacks on the ground. Later, a truck would come to take them away to the Piskarevskoe cemetery.

When winter started, nobody cleaned the snow from the streets, trolleys did not run, there was no electricity, and as before, we went to get water from the river Neva. This was difficult. In winter it was slippery everywhere, the ice was not removed, people fell then stood up and carried their water home. Some people used hand-held containers and others used buckets on sleds. To avoid starving, we went to nearby villages, dug in abandoned fields for small potatoes, and collected frozen cabbage leaves. We brought all this home, boiled it, and ate it. And again, we tried to exchange everything we could with the farmers for food products. One time, my husband came from the front and brought us a loaf of bread and some cereal grains. This was a great pleasure and support because we were already very weak and could barely walk. My relatives also helped us as much as they could. Once they brought us a sunflower cake which is a by-product of sunflower oil extraction, we ground it into flour and made pancakes. In general, we kept going as best we could and survived even though we were scared, cold and hungry.

On the 27th of January, 1943 our troops broke through the blockade of Leningrad and it became easier to live. Availability of bread and food products increased. The bombing and shooting stopped. Kindergartens were opened where our young children were treated and fed. Gradually, we returned to normal life and improved our health somewhat. I was lucky. My children and I survived. My husband returned from the front wounded but alive, and after the war, I gave him a son.

Click here for Anna's recipe for Piroshki

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