Air-raid warnings roared in Russia's second-largest city Thursday as residents commemorated the 70th anniversary of the start of a deadly, 29-month Nazi siege that reduced its population by nearly a million people.
Public loudspeakers in St. Petersburg, along with radio and television stations, broadcast the warnings as well as the sounds of a metronome used during the World War II siege to tell residents of the raids and the all-clear announcements.
The 872-day-long siege of the city, then known as Leningrad, is one of the darkest moments of Russia's participation in the war. A million city residents are believed to have died _ of hunger, bombings and while defending the city's outskirts.
Nina Dmitriyeva, 80, was in the city during the whole siege. She says that like most Leningrad residents, she and her mother lived on rations of bread and glue that they used to cook soup.
"I remember that it tasted delicious back then," she told The Associated Press in an interview.
Dmitriyeva has fond memories of U.S. aid _ including canned ham and fish _ that began trickling into the city via a perilous route through Lake Ladoga in 1943.
"I liked that ham so much, and I've been trying to find ham like it ever since, but I never did," she said.
St. Petersburg residents gathered in Nevsky Prospekt, where one building still bears a painted World War II warning telling people to stay off this side of the street during air-raids. Hundreds of people laid flowers under the sign in the pouring rain.
Meanwhile, some of the survivors toured schools to tell young people of the terrifying experience.
Irina Skripacheva, who was in primary school during the siege, said people grew tired of constant bombings, but that everyone, including children, did their best to stay sane.
"Air-raid sirens were driving everyone mad," she said. "But even small children, unaware of what was happening, tried not to cry."