St. Petersburg show features dolls from siege of Leningrad

Saturday, January 24, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Dolls and stuffed toys belonging to children who suffered through the Nazi siege of Leningrad sixty years ago are on view in the Russian city, now called St. Petersburg.

The exhibit opened Thursday, timed to coincide with Jan. 27 events marking 60 years since the end of the siege -- a powerful symbol of Soviet suffering and survival during World War II, which killed millions of Russians and remains the landmark event in the lives of many others.

"These dolls were probably the nicest part of our severe and hungry childhood," said 70-year-old Maya Rudnitskaya, who contributed a girl and a boy doll -- Ira and Yura -- that she said helped get her through the more than two-year blockade as a child.

"Children remain children in any situation. And they play with toys even during wars," said Rudnitskaya, whose dolls are among some 70 items in the exhibit at St. Petersburg's doll museum.

The exhibit includes dolls used in shows meant to raise the morale of front-line soldiers. One of the dolls, dubbed Nastya -- short for Anastasia -- was used by puppet studio teacher Klavdia Razdolskaya, who performed puppet shows for wounded soldiers in Leningrad hospitals.

Rudnitskaya, who was 10 when the siege ended, also brought 66 items of clothes and accessories she made for her dolls during long hours spent in air-raid shelters. They include doll-sized rucksacks -- tiny copies of the bags children took to air-raid shelters, filled with essentials in case their homes were destroyed.

"These dolls are dressed exactly like Leningrad children dressed during those hard times," Rudnitskaya said. "So one can see how we lived."

Rudnitskaya is proud to see the dolls that comforted her during the blockade on show, but that she never let anyone else play with them because they were too important to her.

"Oh, I loved these dolls so much that Ira even has a wig made of my own hair -- two plaits that my mama cut during the war," she said.

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