The Ice Angel of Leningrad
This story is dedicated to and inspired by my grandmother, who
lived through the Siege of Leningrad.
Beginning in 1941, the city of Leningrad suffered through a brutal 900-day siege at the hands of the German army. Nearly half its three million citizens were killed by bombs, freezing temperatures, or most often, starvation. Those who managed to survive did so in a number of ways, some unsavory, others unspeakable. But none as remarkable as Sveta Gorskaya’s way.
Outwardly, Sveta seemed an ordinary, whispy little thing in a coat too big for her. She liked dancing to music on the radio and running her fingers over her mother’s sable stole. She liked the smell of her father’s papirosen cigarettes and admired the care he took in arranging his ivory-handled shaving kit from England each morning. All of these things would eventually be traded away for food. And in the summer of 1941, her father went to fight the Nazis, and never needed his shaving kit again.
The Siege of Leningrad began that autumn. Sveta was eleven. Her brother Alyosha had just turned fourteen and would have been taken by the military had he not been so small. But even a small teenage boy needs lots of food, and in those cold, dark days, there was never enough. Sveta began giving him her food. He ate it too quickly, which they’d been warned not to do.
No matter how skinny she got, she fed her brother. Still he wasted away. Every night, she felt his body growing frailer as they lay in the bed they shared. When the pangs in his belly made him whimper, Sveta held him like a baby. Sometimes he’d get so quiet she could hear his bones clattering together.
Once he came to the quiet from which there is no return Sveta no longer cared for food. Her mother Olya screamed and begged for her to eat what little she scrounged together but deep in her bones, Sveta resolved she’d rather starve.
So when the food ran out, and Leningrad went through the Winter of Horrors, Sveta’s body was already used to dying. She simply plugged her ears when Death called her name.
Death moved on, far too busy in those years of war to deal with one stubborn little girl.
Olya decided to flee Leningrad. On a map she showed Sveta a railway to the east that ran through a tiny gap in the German blockade. If they could book passage, a train would take them 50 kilometers to the town of Osinovets on the shore of Lake Ladoga. Another 50 kilometers over the open ice of the frozen lake would take them to safety in Soviet territory.
“It’s called The Ice Road,” Olya told her daughter. “The Road of Life.”
They stuffed their belongings into their finest leather suitcase. Sveta paid little heed to what clothing they took but when she saw no room remained for her illustrated Adventures of Buratino, she demanded they make space. Olya, momentarily forgetting whose mother she was, refused. She may as well have put a match to dynamite.
“Look at this!” yelled Sveta, flinging neatly packed clothes out of the suitcase. “So much fur! And jewelry! And, boggey moy!” She held up a black and red lace garment she’d only seen in ladies’ shop windows. “’Ooh la la!’ I didn’t realize we were going to Paris.”
Her mother snatched away the scandalous garment. “That’s expensive. And the jewelry too. It’s not for me; it’s to trade. Not everyone takes money.”
Sveta snorted and continued rifling through the disheveled guts of the suitcase. “Foo,” she said, holding up an ugly brown sweater. “I’m itchy just looking at this.”
Olya shook her head. “It’s cold. You’ll need it.”
“I’ll wear it now. Then there’s room for my book.” Sveta stared at her mother with the same tight face she’d adopted when refusing her supper. The face said, “I can stand here all day. Can you?” For added effect, she assumed the well-practiced posture of defiance she’d seen in a film where a handsome man faced a firing squad: chest out, chin up, fists balled and pressed firmly against her hips.
Olya relented. Victorious, Sveta ran to the bookshelf to save Buratino, as the other books looked on helplessly. She grabbed three more precious items and stored them in her coat pockets — a postcard of the ballerinas of the Leningrad Choreographic Institute, Alyosha’s Pioneer troop pin — a red enameled star featuring the face of Grandpa Lenin and the words “Always Ready!”, and a promissory note for a carton of strawberries given to her by her friend Anna. She had nothing else by which to remember the friend who one day walked down the wrong street and was never heard from again. Sveta folded Anna’s note into a neat square and pinched the crease.
Sveta had visited the Leningrad train station before, and been awed by its orderly splendor. It seemed the massive structure could easily accommodate all of Leningrad. But this morning the station was pandemonium. Tens of thousands of desperate, starving people were gathered to vie for seats aboard the train. They had waited for days in a jostling tide that extended for blocks beyond the station’s red brick walls. Some had died there, trampled, frozen, starved.
Sveta and her mother arrived at this grim, chaotic scene as if heading to a private dacha for the weekend. Olya wore a massive black fur and heavy make up that would have been too much even for the opera. Sveta, too, had been made to look, in her mother’s words, respectable. She had hated brushing her hair ever since her hairbrush began exacting a heavy price for each use. But, that morning, she brushed and brushed again, just as her mother had asked. After the Buratino incident, she knew she should not use her powers of obstinacy again too quickly.
By the station’s entrance, they met a man named Nikolai, who was fatter than a man had any right to be in those years of hunger. He had a sly ease about him, as if he were sucking on a golden key beneath his tongue. There are always rats like this, Sveta thought. They snivel during times of peace. But, as soon as catastrophe strikes, they’re big muckety-mucks, happily navigating the same treacherous waters that tear honest men to pieces.
Nikolai exchanged a few words with Olya and playfully mussed Sveta’s thinning brown hair as she sneered at him. Then, mother and daughter huddled behind the ox of a man and he shoved his way through the station. The crowd grew thicker closer to the platforms, and Nikolai adopted increasingly brutish tactics. When an old woman with bulging eyes pawed at Olya’s coat, Nikolai raised his fist with such ferocity Sveta gasped. The woman shrank away.
The station had many checkpoints, and at each they were introduced to the overwhelmed soldier manning it. Olya presented her hand to be shaken or kissed, and each time she pulled away, a ring would be gone. Then, with a shrewd nod to their guide, the soldier waved them through. One muttered as they passed. “Krysy.” Rats.
By the time they reached the main platform, Sveta was sweating beneath her hated brown sweater. The train was as massive as she’d remembered, like a thousand iron Nikolais waiting to muscle them to safety. The big man stopped expectantly. Olya glanced left and right, then fished an entire ration book out of her pocket. Nikolai scurried away the moment it touched his hand.
“Where did you get that?” Sveta demanded.
Olya’s mouth tightened. “I saved what I could.”
One last conductor stood between them and the train door. Olya hugged the man like an old friend and slid something into his vest. The man, visibly anxious, gave her a curt nod.
As Sveta placed her foot on the step, someone behind them cried out, full of wounded fury. “They don’t have a pass!”
“Quickly, quickly,” breathed Olya, but ripples of discord were already spreading. The crowd’s mood shifted from desperation to rage. Sveta realized why Nikolai had been so eager to get away. Rats are always the first to leave a sinking ship.
The conductor grabbed Sveta’s tiny wrist and yanked her onto the train. He turned to help Olya, but she’d disappeared. The angry sea had swallowed her, fur, suitcase, and all. As the mob surged forward, the conductor kicked and punched to stop them from pouring onto the train. On the verge of being overwhelmed, he jammed two fingers into his mouth and whistled time to go.
“No!” cried Sveta, “My mother!” But her pleas were lost beneath the rumble and clank of the closing door. When it smashed shut, Sveta screamed, all her strength leaving her with the scream, and she collapsed.
With a sigh of steam, the train pulled away.
Sveta spent the ride in a state of not-quite-sleep. At one point, someone put a cup of soup that looked like dishwater to her mouth. She just turned away.
When the train reached Osinovets, the conductor roused her and tried to shuffle her off with the other folk. She begged to go back for her mother, but he ignored her. Desperate, Sveta planted herself in a seat and refused to budge. The conductor, his patience exhausted, picked her up like an old doll and threw her off the train.
The icy ground was hard, and Sveta’s body had long ago lost its natural cushioning. But she picked herself up and walked to Osinovets in a sunken daze, alone and empty-handed, wearing an ugly sweater that made her skin crawl.
Though her mother had spoken of it as a beacon of salvation, Sveta decided Osinovets was a village. Leningrad, with its palaces, churches, and museums, that was a city. This was a dismal collection of low, gray buildings scattered like tombstones at the mouth of a frozen lake. Its houses had been converted into make-shift storage facilities and barracks.
Suffering men and women huddled on benches or in the muddy snow, too cold or hungry or haunted to even wipe their noses. Sveta had seen many of their kind in Leningrad. It’s not even a village, she thought, it’s a graveyard.
Then there were soldiers in heavy coats assembling guns or loading trucks. Couriers zoomed by with Important Messages. The windy, gray harbor teemed with workers building anti-aircraft cannons or mending boats.
Sveta followed the procession of refugees to the administration building. It reeked of sweat, vodka, and cigarettes – soldiers that is, their whistles and laughter competing with a phonograph playing Chopin. After waiting in line for hours, Sveta stood before a soldier with salt and pepper stubble and a sour smell.
On a card he wrote: Sveta Gorskaya. Female. Age 11. Weight 29 kg. Father – Dmitry, Location Unknown. Mother – Olya, Location Unknown. Siblings – one male, deceased. Orphan until otherwise noted.
“I lost my mother at the station in Leningrad,” she said. “I need to go back.”
“Only food and soldiers go back. Little girls get trucked across the lake, where it’s safe and there’s lots to eat. Wouldn’t you like that, lapushka?” He attempted a reassuring smile.
“I’m not hungry,” she said. “And I’m not leaving without my mother. If I can’t take the train back, I’ll wait for her here.” She assumed her firing squad pose.
The administrator sighed. He rubbed his stubbly chin as he studied the audacious girl, whose fragile body barely made a decent rack for her coat. “You can wait if you like,” he said. “The Germans have been bombing the lake, and it needs some days to freeze solid again. But then, I suggest you take the Ice Road. I’ve seen people wait for families that never come.” He leaned over his desk. “They die waiting.”
Sveta turned on her heel and walked away. The man called after her about her allotment of food tickets. But she had no use for those.
Sveta wandered the ragged streets of Osinovets with the soldier’s words echoing in her head. They die waiting. She thought about the people frozen along the streets and in the train station, like flowers wilting in the frost, waiting for a light that would never shine. She remembered the screams of her mother as the mob engulfed her. She thought of Alyosha fighting uselessly against his hunger. Sveta shook the horrible memories away. To the devil with that old man and his advice! Better to wilt and be preserved, than to struggle and get torn apart.
Sveta walked down to the rickety gray harbor and looked out over the ice-covered lake. The wind blew hard there and workers kept their heads down as they prepared for the reopening of the Ice Road. Watching them, hands in pockets, Sveta held Alyosha’s Pioneer pin and ran her finger along the crease on Anna’s promissory note. She took out the postcard. It had been three years in her possession, and she’d kept the corners crisp. It soothed her to count the 17 identical ballerinas on that majestic stage. She silently counted them again and again, her fingers growing numb.
A gust of wind snatched the postcard and sent it whipping out over the ice. Sveta gasped and took off after it, down the steps of the dock to the shore and onto the edge of the frozen lake. Through the fog, she could make out the dark little rectangle fluttering away over the great expanse of ice.
Like every Russian child, Sveta had skated on frozen ponds since she could walk. Each time began with a tentative step, listening for the gentle crush of snow and testing for sureness of footing. Once assured, she’d look back with a smile for her parents or Alyosha. This time she burst onto the ice of Lake Ladoga with no concern for what lay ahead, and no family behind to receive her smile.
She ran far, but could no longer see her postcard in the foggy air. She knew she would never recover her treasure, but she kept running until her lungs could no longer take in the frozen air, and she doubled over in agony. The cold spread inside of her, coating her bare bones and filling her emptiness.
Behind her, Osinovets had vanished in the fog but for a pale aura of electric light. Ground and sky blended together here, stretching forever in every direction, clean and inviting, the wind roaring and whistling. No starving crowds, no frozen faces. She’d passed through an invisible barrier and left the world’s miseries behind.
At peace in the Ice World, a melody began to take shape in the roar of the wind. Not crashing over her like at the symphony, but just beyond reach. Like Tchaikovsky on a record player two apartments over.
As she listened, she saw wind-whipped little whirlpools of ice and snow dancing in time to the ghostly music. They careened toward her with the rise of a cello, then flittered away with the tickling of a flute. The snowy spirals twirled until they weren’t snow at all, but dancers — lovely women on pointed toes, slender as winter reeds, with glittering white dresses and frosted hair pulled back into diamond-tight buns.
Sveta watched the icy ballet in wonder. The ballerinas smiled, their blue lips pulling back to reveal perfect white pearls. They kept dancing and smiling until their pale skin peeled away to the bone, showing their hollow skulls. Before Sveta’s eyes, the dancers’ waists sucked into themselves like deflated bladders, and their supple limbs wrung out like wet cloths. But still the ragged horrors danced, drawing closer to her until an avalanche of bones fell upon her and she curled up and screamed.
But she felt nothing, and when she opened her eyes, the ghastly ballerinas had disappeared. Now snowmen beyond counting surrounded her. But not cheerful snowmen. They slumped. They sagged. Some bent until they keeled over. Some huddled together, but most stood alone in private agony, like the frozen dead on the streets and train station.
A flicker of movement caught her eye. She headed toward it. The phantom wound off among the snowmen as if playing. She kept after it, catching up, reaching out, tapping it on the shoulder. The figure turned. And Alyosha smiled at her.
It did not matter that she’d watched him waste away to nothing. It did not matter that he now was taller and his eyes and cheeks did not have the sunken pallor of his final days. She knew her brother. She hugged him tightly, gasping with joy, and he was strong enough to hug her back.
He wore his Pioneer outfit of blue pants, white shirt, and a red tie that lay still on his breast despite the roaring wind. All he was missing was his pin. Sveta reached into her pocket and pulled it out. She put it in his hand.
Alyosha ran his fingers over the red star’s enameled surface. “You should keep it,” he said. He undid the clasp and pinned it onto Sveta’s lapel. It hung over her heart like a bullet wound. “It’ll help you be brave.”
Sveta’s natural obstinacy kicked in. “Pins don’t make you brave,” she half-teased.
“No, but they help you remember what to be brave for.”
“There’s nothing left. Everything and everyone is gone.”
“That’s why you need it.”
“I don’t care about being brave. I just want to stay with you. Is Poppa here?” She bit her lip. “Is Momma?”
“I don’t know,” said Alyosha. “In death, we are all alone.” He grew serious. “Listen, you have to take the Ice Road. This is your last chance. Death ignored you because you were so good at pretending to be dead. But you can’t pretend here. This is his world, and he sees you.”
“I don’t care.,” she said, feeling the weight of the words. Meaning them.
“Sveta, I didn’t have a choice,” he said. “You still do. You don’t have to feel guilty for living.”
Guilty? She hadn’t caused the war or the siege. She’d given Alyosha her food. He gobbled it up even though he was told to eat slowly. Momma hoarded the ration tickets to pay rat-man to help her escape with her fur and lace. Poppa obeyed the letter and ran off to war. Sveta hated them for leaving her behind. They had all escaped into Death’s embrace, into the Ice World.
A fit of coughing wracked her body. When the burning in her chest subsided, Alyosha had disappeared. She spun around trying to find him,.
After desperate moments, she thought she saw him in the distance. She ran, her tired feet scraping along the rough ice, and plowed right into him. A snowman crumbled beneath her.
“No!” she cried, then thought she saw him further off. She ran and reached out with the gentleness of a whisper, but it too crumbled. As did the next one, and the next, and on and on, until she stopped being careful and started swinging. With tears freezing on her cheeks, she screamed and flailed, the cold like fire in her lungs. She smashed snowmen until none were left to hear her cry don’t leave me again.
When the ice lay empty once more, the grayness of Lake Ladoga enveloped Sveta. She couldn’t even find Osinovets anymore. She saw only a single, blurry figure in the distance.
She no longer had the strength to run. Wearily she trod along a tightrope of ice above a void as deep as the one inside her. She kept her eyes firmly fixed on the phantom in the gloom.
It was a man. He didn’t notice her right away, because he was too busy shaving.
Sveta blinked. Yes, shaving over a steaming basin in the middle of the ice. On a pedestal beside him sat a carton of ripe, red strawberries. In between the deft, dramatic strokes of his straight razor, he popped a strawberry into his mouth, eating it with relish.
As Sveta drew near, the man finished up and wiped his face with a towel. He was handsome, with wavy chestnut hair and eyes like an alpine lake. Looking at him, Sveta no longer felt the cold, or even the wind. Around them was as peaceful as the center of a hurricane. He looked just like the actor from the film. The one who faced the firing squad.
He looked at her. Not just looked, but noticed. “There you are,” he said, grinning like a sweetheart who’d showed up fetchingly late. “You can call me Kozyol.”
Kozyol!? That wasn’t a name but a naughty insult meaning goat. He winked to confirm it, his eyes full of sly humor. Sveta giggled. Something about him made her feel pleasantly light-headed.
“You’re a skinny one,” he said. “Aren’t you hungry?”
Sveta became herself again — a thin child whose bones rattled when she breathed. She’d rather the man had slapped her. Her face hardened. “I don’t get hungry,” she replied sharply.
Kozyol whistled. “That’s some talent. You think you could teach me? Come on, zychick, tell me your secret. Because I’m always hungry, no matter how much I eat. The emptiness is like a stone. Even with this war, I eat and eat, and still I can’t get enough.”
He grabbed a handful of strawberries and shoved them in his mouth. Drops of juice and blood from where the razor had nicked him fell onto his pristine army uniform, but didn’t leave a single spot.
“I’m just looking for my brother,” said Sveta, wanting to back away.
Kozyol smiled. “I remember that one.” He ate another strawberry. “Always hungry. Always ate too fast. So desperate for life. That’s what made him so sweet. But you’re not like that, are you? I bet I could put these strawberries right under your nose and you wouldn’t even lick your lips.”
He held the carton out to her. Even through her cracked and frozen nostrils, Sveta could smell the sweet vapor rising from the fruit. It made her ill.
“Don’t worry, belachka, I can take you to your brother. And your mother and father, too. Just stay here with me.”
At that moment the air began to vibrate. At first it was only a tickle at the tip of Sveta’s nose. But it grew into a buzzing so loud she cringed and clamped her hands over the earflaps of her hat. The ice shook as two airplanes tore through the sky above. They came back around at lightening speed, so close overhead that Sveta threw herself to the ground. The planes chased each other into the fog, leaving trails of smoke.
Kozyol lay beside her and pulled her into his arms. Off in the distance, she could hear the planes chopping through the air and the rat-tat-tat of their machine guns. But she nestled against his chest, which smelled of strawberries.
“I can hold you until the end,” he whispered, “just like you held Alyosha.”
His arms tightened and Sveta felt her breath leaving her. She thought back to all those nights she’d held Alyosha and wondered if he’d felt the same peace she felt now. No. Alyosha fought for those last scraps of life. He’d been brave.
“It’s ironic,” said Kozyol “those who yearn for life die, those who wish for death live. The boy who eats starves; the girl who starves lingers. Those who give up are already as good as dead. I can take my time with them.”
Sveta felt his chest rumble with a chuckle.
Then the airplanes returned, rolling over them like thunder and wind. Only Sveta wasn’t afraid anymore. She closed her eyes and felt herself drifting off. Then a sharp stinging on her breastbone woke her. Alyosha’s Pioneer pin. Sveta tried to ignore it, but it stubbornly persisted, digging toward her heart, making her shudder with pain and memories of her brother, who had fought so hard, and been so brave. He had forgiven her for living. Would he forgive her for this? For giving herself to Death?
What have I done? She tried to push away, but her arms were pinned against Kozyol’s chest. She opened her mouth to scream, but her breath was trapped.
Summoning all her stubborn strength, she writhed and kicked until Kozyol released her. She wavered to her feet and stumbled back.
Kozyol rose, but now his uniform hung in tatters, full of bullet holes and blood. His handsome face was burned and twisted. His eyes though still shone with slyness, and now Sveta feared him.
“So, ptitchka, now you want to live?”
Slowly, she nodded.
“Tell me then, are you afraid of dying?”
Again she nodded.
“Are you cold? Speak up!”
“Yes,” she said, her bloodless lips trembling.
Kozyol’s eyes flashed. “And are you hungry?”
The question pierced her. She had to force the answer out of her throat. It was harder than breaking free of his grasp. “Yes,” she gasped.
The instant she said it, her body ignited with pain, as if she’d plunged through the ice. Hunger came alive inside her as months of starvation caught up all at once, creating an emptiness too big to fit inside such a small girl.
Kozyol stood over Sveta, blue eyes gleaming in his ruined face. “You may be even hungrier than your brother. Too bad I ate all Anna’s strawberries.”
From somewhere beyond her agony, Sveta recalled the bright, lively girl whose hair was the color of the strawberries she loved. “You saw Anna?”
“At the end of the wrong street.” Kozyol shrugged.
Sveta trembled. She knew what that meant in those cruel days when people were driven mad by hunger. She’d been warned, do not go down that street, devotchka, down that street they eat people. But no one had warned Anna.
Sveta pushed the horror from her mind. “Those strawberries were mine,” she barked through gritted teeth. “Anna bet me a carton the siege would be over in a week.” She took the promissory note from her pocket and presented it like an Official Document.
He scanned it first with amusement, and then with annoyance. “Nonsense!” It was the tone adults used when they didn’t want to admit a child had them in a bind. Sveta knew it well, and she persisted. Through her pain she assumed her posture of defiance — the brave girl facing the firing squad.
“You ate my strawberries,” she said boldly. “What will you give me in return?” Sveta’s lips were cracked, but they did not quiver. Her body burned and her stomach felt wrung by a frozen fist. Yet she stood arrow-straight on the ice of Lake Ladoga, staring Death in the eye with a face that said, “I can stand here all day. Can you?”
“Another time, kotik,” said Kozyol. And he faded into the fog.
The everyday world returned with an explosion that boxed Sveta’s ears. The Russian plane was ablaze and plummeting from the sky. It crashed and the ice jumped, knocking her off her feet. It skidded, screeching against the ice, spitting smoke and twisted metal.
The wreckage was dim through the fog, but Sveta could make out the red star on its tail, like the one Alyosha had pinned to her coat. She approached cautiously, aware of the crackling beneath her feet. Inside the clear dome a pilot slumped, his leather-capped head lolling to one side.
“Comrade!” yelled Sveta, and banged on the glass.
The man stirred.
“Wake up!” She yelled louder and kept pounding.
Slowly, the pilot came to. It took him a few moments to get his bearings, then he stared in wonderment at Sveta. With difficulty, he pulled the dome back and climbed out of the cockpit. Hands on Sveta’s shoulders, he gazed at her face. He had trouble focusing, but his expression was one of pure joy.
“My angel,” he said.
Sveta helped the pilot, a lieutenant Vadim, hobble back to Osinovets over the crackling ice. It took only a glance at his compass to find the way.
When they arrived, the flurry of activity overwhelmed them. Asked if she wanted something to eat, Sveta, unused to being hungry, replied, “Strawberries, please,” prompting much laughter. She received a steaming bowl of buckwheat kasha with an entire pad of butter. She ate it slowly, grain by grain.
The story spread quickly of the remarkable little girl who ran onto the ice to rescue a downed pilot. It was noted that a search party would not have been dispatched for fear of thin ice. Lieutenant Vadim added to the legend by recounting that, when he first saw Sveta, she seemed to float over the ice. Of the ballerinas, snowmen, Alyosha, and Kozyol, Sveta told no one.
A few days later, when the lake had solidly frozen again, Sveta took the Road of Life out of Osinovets to safety in the East. A caravan of trucks carried her and hundreds of other refugees over Lake Ladoga, guarded from above by Lieutenant Vadim and his fellow pilots.
As she sat on the truck, Sveta stared out the frosted window, hoping to catch one last glimpse of Alyosha. But she did not see him.
Nor did she see Kozyol.
And she wouldn’t for another 80 remarkable years.
“The Ice Angel of Leningrad” © Eugene Morgolis. First published here at Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, Jan 27, 2019, the anniversary of the lifting of the siege on Leningrad.
Eugene Morgolis was born in Kiev, raised in Milwaukee, schooled in Boston, and now lives in Los Angeles. He writes speculative fiction and practices law in the regulatory, data privacy and cybersecurity fields. You can read more of his writing at http://www.eugenemorgulis.com/writing.
“The Ice Angel of Leningrad” is dedicated to and inspired by his grandmother, who lived through the Siege of Leningrad. Like the story’s heroine Sveta, Frida Zuyeva-Beyer lost her family to the horrors of the war. Though, unlike Sveta, Frida did not escape the city. She froze and starved, but she ultimately survived. She now lives in Milwaukee. This story is being published on the 75th anniversary of the day the Siege ended.
During World War ll, German forces laid siege to the city of Leningrad from the south, aided by a blockade by Finnish forces from the north. Over the nearly 900 days that followed more than a million young, old, and ill residents were evacuated over the Ice Road of Lake Ladoga,. Two million trapped citizens attempted to ration the little food stored or grown, but perhaps as many as one million died from starvation, disease, bitter cold, and injuries from relentless artillery fire.
illustrations by Fran Eisemann. Public media stock from Wikimedia and Pixabay.