Volgograd is commemorating the 75th anniversary of the bloodiest battle of the second world war. Seen as a ‘great victory’ for Stalin’s army, is it still being used to elevate the Russian government above criticism?

In some places in and around Volgograd, the battle with Nazi forces that started in July 1942 left so much shrapnel in the ground that nothing would grow for decades. Those who still search for unburied soldiers have recounted how their shovels would hit metal or bone almost everywhere they dug.

Once called Stalingrad, this city on the Volga River was the site of the bloodiest battle of all time in which an estimated 1.9 million people, almost twice the city’s current population, were killed, wounded or captured. Since it was named after the Soviet leader, both Hitler and Stalin were determined to possess the city at all costs – Stalin famously ordered his forces to take “not one step back” in defending it. At one point the Soviets were pushed back almost to the river’s edge where they mounted a counter-offensive, surrounding the enemy and forcing them to surrender. The battle marked a turning point in the second world war.

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