Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery, Saint Petersburg and other monuments to the Siege of Leningrad

During the Siege of Leningrad September 1941 through January 1944, more that 600,000 people died, most from starvation. For comparison, the total casualties for the United States in World War II were approximately 419,000. Total Russian casualties in World War II were between 20,000,000 and 27,000,000, depending on whose estimate is used. There are several monuments to this sieges including the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery and the Monument to the Heroic Defenders.

Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery

The Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery has over 180 mass graves, and is dedicated to victims of the siege. The site of the cemetery was far enough outside of the town during the war that the dead were carried here and buried quickly, in order to prevent epidemics.

The site has a small museum in one of the two buildings at the front, and an archive on the second floor of a maintenance building in the back for the cemetery. Like many of the sites we visited in Russia, this place is huge.

There were only groundskeepers around when I arrived before 9am on a weekday in July. But the eternal flame was, of course, roaring.

For a perspective on how massive this place is, below is a map copied from the museum’s web site (all in Russian).

For translation:

  • Purple indicates the “entrance to Memorial”
  • Black indicates the “eternal flame”
  • Blue indicates the “central alley”
  • Red indicates the “Monument Mother Motherland”
  • Yellow indicates the “Memorial Stele Wall”
  • Brown indicates the “Archive”
  • Green indicates the “Alley of Memory”

The mass burial grounds are marked only by the year and a number carved on the side. A star on the tombstone indicates that soldiers are buried here.

Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery

A hammer and sickle on the tombstone indicates civilians.

Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery

Seamen from the cruiser Kirov are buried (with individual plaques) in graves with tombstones marked with a ship. These men were killed during a battle in April 1942.

Soviet cruiser Kirov

After opening hours music is piped in to Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery. This can be heard in the video below.

The centerpiece is a statue of Mother Motherland.

Mother Motherland

The wall behind the statue was covered up for cleaning, but features some bas-relief sculptures featuring the citizens of Leningrad.

Wall behind statue

Here’s another angle.

The “Alley of Memory” was along one of the walls of the cemetery. It had memorials to many of the military groups.

Alley of Memory

The museum that is housed in the right of the two buildings at the front of the cemetery is small but features a history of the siege, photos of Leningrad during the siege and some items found after the siege.

Interior of Museum at Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery

One item in particular are replicas of the notes from a young lady named Tanya Savicheva, a teenager who wrote a diary of sentences tracking the deaths of her family during  the siege.  The last note says “Only Tanya is left”. The originals are kept at the  Museum of Leningrad History.

I visited the archive assuming there would be books and artifacts. I headed to the second floor (after translating the signs with Google Translate). What I found there were two Russians who spoke as little English as I did Russian. They assumed (I determined later) that I was looking for a relative buried in the cemetery and asked for my last name. I showed them the Russian spelling of my last name from my Russian Visa, and they proceeded to search for my unknown (and most likely non-existent) relative on their computers.

The Archive at Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery

Entrance to the Archive (at least that’s what I think it says!)

We used a translate program called “Converse” I had on my phone to attempt to get points across. These two were very hospitable, and I was sorry to waste their time but had no way to extricate myself from their search. The gentleman finally used the translate program and asked me if my relative would have been a soldier or a civilian. When I said civilian, he told me there is no way to track them. He pointed to a large bookshelf with red hardbound books, which I assume was the non-digital version! I thanked them both and left.

Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad in Victory Square

Far away from the cemetery on the south side of Saint Petersburg is a massive memorial, the Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad in Victory Square. We only passed it coming back from Peterhof but it is hard to miss. The monument is a huge ring with a gap in it, signifying the breaking of the siege. The years 1941 and 1945 can be seen on the tower.

Monument to the Heroic Defenders of LeningradThere are three sets of sculptures on either side. The three on the left represent the “Sailors and Pilots”, the “Snipers” and “Building City Defenses”. The three on the right represent the Partisans, the Workers and the Soldiers.

There is an entrance in the front of the monument under the ring that leads down to a small museum.

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