MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin grew up with tales of how his father battled the Nazis as a Red Army soldier and his mother lived through the punishing siege of Leningrad.
The stories of suffering and survival were similar to those of millions of others of Soviet citizens who experienced the horrors of the war, and they had a major impact on the young boy with a big future.
Now, 70 years after the victory over Germany, the Kremlin strongman is gearing up to host a huge Red Square parade on Saturday for the anniversary of a war that shaped his views on Russia's place in the world as well as sensitive issues like Stalin's leadership and the deal he struck with the Nazis.
Born in 1952 -- more than seven years after the war's end -- Putin himself never experienced the hardships of what Russians still call the Great Patriotic War.
Instead his memories -- recounted in his official biography and numerous interviews -- come from stories that relatives and family friends told over dinner at the family home.
Frontline fighting, starving civilians
Putin's father, also called Vladimir, was mobilised as part of a sabotage unit from the Soviet NKVD intelligence service, the predecessor to the KGB that Putin junior would later join.
One day the elder Putin and 27 comrades were sent to the Russian town of Kingisepp, on the border with Estonia, where they fell into a German ambush after being "betrayed by local residents", the younger Putin recounted.
"Of the 28 soldiers only four came back from the frontline," the Russian president said in one interview.
Later Putin senior was deployed close to Leningrad -- now Saint Petersburg -- under heavy Nazi bombardment and was hospitalised in the former imperial capital after being wounded by a grenade blast.
At the same time, Putin's mother Maria was struggling to survive the harrowing famine that wracked the city during its 900-day siege by Nazi forces.
One day she collapsed from exhaustion while out in the street and a team sent out to collect the mounting number of corpses was on the verge of writing her off as dead when her husband, by that time out of hospital, intervened.
"She was still alive and he had to drag her out from a pile of corpses," Putin said.
The siege, however, did claim the life of Putin's older brother Viktor, who died of diphtheria in the ravaged city.