Piskaryovskoe Memorial Cemetery

The most significant monument to those who died during the Siege of Leningrad, this enormous memorial cemetery on the north-eastern outskirts of the city holds the graves of around 420 000 civilian victims of the siege, the majority of whom died of cold and starvation, and 70 000 soldiers who died in the defense of the city. On Victory Day (9 May), the cemetery is a centre of activity for the relatives of those who are buried there and anyone who wishes to commemorate the thousands of victims of what is undoubtedly the greatest tragedy in St. Petersburg's history.

Central alley of Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery in Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Central alley of Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery

Piskarevskoe Cemetery was established in 1939, shortly before the war the outbreak of the Second World War. War was declared between Nazi Germany and the USSR on 22 June 1941, and by September German forces had surrounded and laid siege to the city of Leningrad. As the harsh winter of 1941-1942 set in, Leningrad's citizens began to suffer the full effects of the lack of food and fuel supplies. They died in their thousands daily, and the empty municipal cemetery was used to dispose of their bodies. On 15 February 1942, for example 8 452 bodies were delivered here; on 19 February - 5 569 bodies; and on 20 February - 10 043. By the following winter, the Red Army had managed to open a small land corridor to the city, and the mortality rate never reached the same heights again, but the siege was not lifted until 27 January 1944, and the total civilian and military death count reached over 1.5 million. In 1944, the Piskarevskoe Cemetery was also used to bury military personnel who died in the lifting of the siege and subsequent hostilities in the area. The total buried in the mass graves of the Piskarevskoe Cemetery number around half a million people, most of whose names remain unknown.

Detail of Motherland (Mother-Russia) sculpture at Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery in St Petersburg, Russia
Detail of Motherland (Mother-Russia) sculpture at Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery

From 1945 to 1960, architects Alexander Vasiliev and Evgeniy Levinson landscaped the cemetery as a grand memorial for the fallen. Its centerpiece is a broad alley lined with flowerbeds that leads from the gates of the cemetery to a massive bronze sculpture on a granite pedestal of the Motherland, depicted as a grieving woman holding a wreath in her outstretched arms. Behind the monument, a wall of granite slabs is adorned with bas-reliefs and lines of verse by Leningrad poet Olga Bergholz, whose radio broadcasts during the siege had made her a symbol of the city's resilience. The last lines read "Nobody is forgotten, nothing is forgotten."

Soldiers' tombs at Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery in St Petersburg, Russia
Soldiers' tombs at Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery

At the entrance to the cemetery an eternal flame was lit with fire brought from the torch of the Eternal Flame at the Field of Mars in the center of St. Petersburg. Here also, housed in two pavilions, there is a small museum dedicated to the Siege of Leningrad. Of particular note in the exhibition are pages from the famous diary of Tanya Savichevaya, a Leningrad schoolgirl who witnessed and recorded in single phrases in her notebook the deaths of her sister, her grandmother, her brother, her two uncles and her mother during the siege, with the final three entries reading: "The Savichevs have died/ They all died/ Tanya is left alone."

Birch trees planted in memory of victims of the Siege of Leningrad in St Petersburg, Russia
Birch trees planted in memory of victims of the Siege of Leningrad
Address:72, Prospekt Nepokorrenikh
Metro stations:Ploshchad Muzhestva, Akademicheskaya
Directions:From Ploshchad Muzhestva Metro Station, take buses Nos. 123, 138 or 80 east along Prospekt Nepokorrenikh. From Akademicheskaya, take buses Nos. 78 or 61.
Phone:+7 (812) 297-5716
Opening hours:Cemetery and museum daily from 9am to 6pm (cemetery to 9pm in summer)
What's nearby? Bogoslovskoe Cemetery