Volgograd: symbol of Russian wartime heroism

Volgograd: symbol of Russian wartime heroism
Interior Ministry members stand guard in front of the train station where a bomber detonated explosives in Volgograd December 29, 2013. A female suicide bomber blew herself up in the entrance hall of a Russian train station on Sunday, killing at least 14 people in the second deadly attack within three days as the country prepares to host the Winter Olympics.

MOSCOW - The city of Volgograd, hit by two deadly suicide attacks in as many days, is known in Russia as a symbol of heroism during World War II when it was the scene of a critical battle with German forces.

The vast city of over one million which stretches for kilometres across the bank of the mighty Volga River was known as Stalingrad in Soviet times until the early 1960s when it was renamed Volgograd in a de-Stalinisation drive.

It was under the name of Stalingrad that the city endured its greatest suffering and ultimately its finest hour when it was besieged and occupied by invading Nazi forces who were then driven out by the Red Army.

The 1942-1943 Battle of Stalingrad, seen as a turning point of World War II, is commemorated by the iconic 87-metre (285-foot) high statue "The Motherland Calls" of a sword-wielding woman that overlooks the city.

An unforgettable assertion of Soviet power and might, it is one of the highest monuments in the world, unveiled in 1967 in a memorial park as a symbol of recovery from the ruins of war.

After six months of bloody combat - including hand-to-hand fighting in the ruined streets - the USSR's growing superiority in armaments production on the home front made itself felt and the Red Army encircled the Nazi troops.

The battle of Stalingrad is estimated to have cost up to 2 million lives on both sides including civilians.

German commander Friedrich von Paulus - promoted to Field Marshal by Hitler on the expectation he would defend the city to the death - capitulated on January 31, 1943. The full surrender was complete by February 2.

Some 91,000 Wehrmacht soldiers were taken prisoner, including Paulus himself who disobeyed Hitler's orders to die fighting. He later gave evidence against his Nazi superiors at the Nuremberg trials, was released in 1953 and lived in the communist German Democratic Republic until his death in 1957.

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