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the city that woul ldn't die; WORLD CUP LINK TO HEROES OF F STALINGRAD.

Byline: paul routledge

Fans arriving for England's first World Cup match with Tunisia today will be greeted by the tallest statue in Europe.

This is The Motherland Calls, a woman high on a hill above the Volgograd Arena, summoning the Russian people to a war of liberation from the Nazis. Sword in hand, she urges the Red Army and citizens of Stalingrad, as the city was, to crush the Fascist invader.

This is where Soviet Russia stopped Adolf Hitler's Second World War armies, and hurled them back to die in the snow.

So Volgograd has a special place in the hearts of Russians. It was a turning point in what they call The Great Patriotic War. Hitler admitted his failed battle for Stalingrad was fatal to his vision of a 1,000-year Reich.

Even by the apocalyptic standards in Russia, this ordeal was the harshest for soldiers and civilians alike in the history of war. The battle for the city that bore the name of the Soviet leader lasted five months, one week and three days until February 2, 1943. It was the bloodiest ever, with almost two million casualties.

ed nt o df In his book Stalingrad: The City That Defeated The Third Reich, Jochen Hellbeck explained how even in Britain the terrible battle dominateconversation: "In pubs throughout England the radio would be turned on for the start of the evening news only to be turned off after the report on Stalingrad.

de y DRAMA How Mirror 'Nobody wants to hear anything else,' a British reporter noted. 'All they talk about is Stalingrad'."

Hitler was obsessed with the city, calling its people "thoroughly communistic and especially dangerous".

He ordered all males to be murdered, and women and children to be deported after its capture by his 6th Army under Field Marshall Friedrich Paulus. But the Red Army led by Georgy Zhukov, despite appalling losses and civilian privation that reportedly led to cannibalism, broke the siege, counter-attacked and turned the tide of the war.

Women played a vital role. Not just as nurses and drivers but as frontline soldiers. There were even three all-women air regiments.

nbswar if Tag Trapped civilians joined the fight. The famous Traktor Factory, after which Volograd's football team was named, kept on making T34 tanks until Nazi stormtroopers burst into the plant.

reported Russian victory The battle was fought street by street, house by house and room by room. The Germans called it Rattenkrieg - Rat War.

Stalin's cry was: "Not a step back.

There is no land behind the Volga."

Deserters and malingerers were shot in their thousands. This is the proud, patriotic city that FIFA, or maybe Vladimir Putin, chose for England's first game in the midst of a propaganda war. In 1942, we were military allies, but today we are locked in a diplomatic conflict.

Passions will inevitably run high in the new arena, built at the foot of a hill where the Mamayev Kurgan war memorial complex, which includes The Motherland Calls, commemorates the sacrifice of Stalingraders.

England fans must expect a fullthroated roar of loyalty to Putin from flag-waving Russians.

As forsongs on the terraces, what better anthem could Volgograders have than The Volga Boatmen.

This classic folk shanty about the hard life of burlaks has the memorable chorus "Ey Ukhnem". We know this as "Yo-o, heave ho" and English fans singing that should get a warm welcome.

In recent months, relations between London and Moscow have frozen into a new cold war after Putin's annexation of Crimea and the poisoning of Sergei bury. onal be a have , but here ingly Skripal and daughter Yulia in SalisbBut this is football, not internatiodiplomacy. It does not have to bgrudge-match. Cossacks are said to hbeen sent to the city "to keep order", in my experience - and I've been ththree times - the Russians are amazifriendly and hospitable.

and and n the reely.

They invite you into their homes, what's theirs is yours by way of food drink. They're curious about "life in West", even though they can travel frs rethey Ttheir ite.

hey love their vodka (beer igarded as a soft drink), but tusually eat something with tbooze. Dried fish is a favouriFounded as the trading settlement saritsyn in the 16th century, Volgoghas grown to become a city of more ta million people, with broad, tree-listreets adorned with "Welco" banners. It boasts a supertram systand a thriving industrial base of sbuilding, oil, steel and aluminproduction.

nt of grad than ined me" tem, shipium with es to Volgograd, which is twinned wCoventry, has risen from the ashebecome a paradigm of contemporary Russian prosperity. But, having been designated one of the USSR's Hero Cities by Stalin, it is still steeped in its wartime history.

A petition has been signed by 50,000 people calling for it to be given back its name of Stalingrad, which it lost in 1961 after the denunciation of the dictator.

A referendum must be held for that, but the city reverts to Stalingrad several times a year for ceremonial occasions.

Nostalgia for the old name shows how deep the wartime identity runs. In his book Russia's War, Richard Overy, professor of history at Exeter University says: "Stalingrad... has remained in the modern memory unique among the battles of the Second World War.

"It was a victory necessary for the self-belief of ordinary Russians, it was a victory necessary for the Allies at a critical juncture in the war. Stalingrad symbolised the change in Soviet fortunes." You cannot get away from the echoes of the Great Patriotic War.

This is a different kind of war, a Great Patriotic Propaganda Contest in which "Putin's World Cup" has been compared with Hitler's 1936 Berlin Olympics which showcased Nazi achievements.

it's over Germans surrender And Volgograd is uniquely situated to host England's entry into this contest. Its heroism was recognised by Winston Churchill, who presented a steel longsword to Stalin at the Tehran Conference in 1943. Etched on it is this: "To the steel-hearted citizens of Stalingrad the gift of King George VI in token of the homage of the British people."

I wonder where it is now? I hope it's on show for English fans to see, and ponder the ties which bind the generations of their parents and grandparents with the people of the Hero City. THE BATTLE IN NUMBERS 5mths, 10dys ... the length of time the fierce battle lasted 2.3m troops ... took part - 1.1 million Axis troops (from Germany, Italy and Japan) and 1.2 million Russians 1.9m killed ... the highest number of casualties for any battle in the Second World War 80k captured PoWs ... civillians were estimated to have died 86,000 ... Axis prisoners died in Soviet prison camps afterwards 2,769 aircraft ... were lost by the Soviets along with 4,341 tanks. The Axis lost 900 aircraft and 1,500 tanks


captured German PoWs

Soviet troops defend the city THE FIGHT

Mother Russia and the stadium THE STATUE

Stalingrad is surrounded THE END

it's over Germans surrender

drama How Mirror reported Russian victory
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Jun 18, 2018
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