Siege and Survival: The Odyssey of a Leningrader

When the 900-day siege of Leningrad was finally lifted and the gaunt, brave survivors had basked a bit in the fitful spring sunshine, the Soviet government made one of its rare graceful gestures to these heroic people. It awarded to the survivors (and to some who did not) the Medal for Defense of Leningrad. So far as I know it played no favorites in this. Those who had chanced to come through alive got the medal (many of them to their great surprise). In all more than 300,000 medals were passed out-- and it may sound like a very large total. But when you consider the fact that something like 3,300,000 persons were trapped within the siege lines when the long blockade began on September 8, 1941, the number is not so large. Of course, between 1,100,000 and 1,500,000 persons died during the siege--of hunger, of cold, of disease, of German bullets, bombs, and shells. All of this Elena Skrjabina has experienced. She has no Medal of Leningrad. But she possesses a distinction which is as rare as any human being possesses. She is a Leningrader. She endured the siege. She came out over Lake Ladoga-- not alone. She brought her mother, two children and an old nurse with her. She did not emerge without loss; her mother died. Her mother survived the bitter days of the siege. She even lived through December 1941, and January 1942, into February 1942. She survived the trip across the ice. But once on the other side, her strength was gone. She endured a few days in the hospital. Not more. Then she slipped away from life as hundreds of thousands of her fellow Leningraders had before her.