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Monday, 3 February, 2003, 11:35 GMT
Bitter memories of Stalingrad
Antonina Vladimirovna and fellow veterans
Antonina (centre) risked her life as a teenage spy

Alla Starovoitova wipes away the tears as she watches hundreds of soldiers march through her home city to the sound of the Russian national anthem.

Mikhail Morkovkin
Morkovkin: Everything was burning
It brought back painful memories of 1943, when the Soviet Army defeated the Nazis at the Battle of Stalingrad. Almost three-quarters of a million people were killed including both of Alla's parents.

"It's an emotional day for me, I feel that my heart is breaking, I have been crying all day."

Russia is marking the 60th anniversary of the battle which was one of the turning points of World War II.

I was not even 19 when I left school to lead my troops to the frontline

Antonina Vladimirovna
Soviet troops forced an elite German army to surrender at Stalingrad.

Two million soldiers endured hand-to-hand fighting, carpet bombs, frostbite and starvation for more than six months.

It was one of the longest battles in military history.

'Wall of bullets'

Mikhail Morkovkin is now 79 and still lives in Volgograd. He was a private in the Red Army and still cannot forget what it was like.

Stalingrad's Motherland statue
The Motherland statue towers over the city
"We were scared to death, the earth was shaking and everything was burning," he said.

"I raised my head from the ground and saw a wall of bullets flying towards me."

At the time Winston Churchill said that the Soviet soldiers tore the guts out of the Nazi war machine.

Sixty years on and the veterans remember their finest hour with their former allies and adversaries.

Giant statue

Antonina Vladimirovna proudly shows off her medals - she says she risked her life working as a teenage spy for the Soviet Union.

Ruins of Coventry cathedral
Coventry feels a special bond with Stalingrad
During the Battle of Stalingad, Antonina worked undercover crossing enemy lines to meet with German spies.

"I wasn't even 19 when I left school to lead my troops to the frontline," she said. "Then I soon became a spy. I was awarded two medals - the Order of the Red Star as well as a medal for courage."

After the military parade through Volgograd's main square - complete with dozens of tanks - thousands of people trooped past rows of Red Army flags to the Motherland statue high above the city.

The monument of a woman holding a sword is one of the world's largest war memorials and is twice as big as the Statue of Liberty.

One of the people at the wreath laying ceremony was Dave Chater, a city councillor from Coventry, one of the most heavily bombed cities in the UK.

"The relationship that Coventry people had always had with the people of Stalingrad means that, on this day, it's quite right and proper that we come and pay our respects to those who lost their lives in this terrible battle," he said.

'They died for us'

War veterans want the city's name to be changed back to Stalingrad to commemorate the battle.

But this idea has been rejected by the Russian Government.

Whatever the name, people from the city are determined that the victims of the war should never be forgotten.

Nastya, a student from Volgograd, says it does not matter that the battle was so long ago.

"It's very important day for the spirit of our city," she said. "Our grandfathers and their fathers fought to protect our city from the fascists. They died for us."

See also:

02 Feb 03 | Europe
14 Aug 01 | Europe
03 Jan 02 | Europe
11 Feb 00 | Europe
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