Recently, a major memorial to Soviet Soldiers, who died in an excruciating battle of 1942/ 1943, was unveiled near the town of Rzhev, some 220 km to the west of Moscow. The Monument to the Soviet Soldier that was erected on the initiative of veterans of World War II is its central element.
The memorial was created with the immediate support of the Union State of Russia and Belarus, as well as the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. The Tver Region government and the Victory Museum took part in the project. It is noteworthy that the monument to the Soviet Soldier near Rzhev became the most majestic monument dedicated to the soldiers of World War II in today’s Russia.
In the speech at the opening ceremony, Vladimir Putin expressed special gratitude to the searchers, who revived the names of soldiers who died on the battlefields. According to the Russian President, this work should be continued, because only in battles near Rzhev more than 1.3 mln soldiers and officers were killed, missing and injured.
In the village of Khoroshevo in the Rzhev district, a five-storey building was erected in the close proximity to the memorial timed to its opening.
There is graffiti with an area of about 150 m² with the image of a soldier and cranes on the wall of the building. They symbolize the souls of soldiers that are taken away. There are also lines from a poem by Alexander Tvardovsky: “We fell for our Motherland, but it was saved.” Igor Rudenya, the governor of the Tver region, believes that the current event is an example of how to build “historical monuments for a full due” by joint efforts with people's donations.
Photo by https://panoramapro.ru
The choice of the memorial’s site wasn't accidental. It was there, near Rzhev, where the bloodiest fights took place in 1942 and 1943 when the Soviet forces depleted and stopped armies of the Nazi Germany which were a part of the Army Group Centre. It should be recalled that at session of the Russian Military Historical Society in 2017, the initiative to create and install a monument near Rzhev was launched by veterans of World War II.
It was decided that the monument should not be smaller than the memorials, had been previously put up in Vienna, Brest and Treptower Park in Berlin, or the famous Alyosha monument in Bulgaria.
It was reasonable, because several major offensive and defensive operations were actually conducted near Rzhev and Vyazma, a town in the Smolensk region. These included the Rzhev-Vyazma offensive operation that began on January 8 and ended on April 20, 1942, the defensive operation near the town of Bely in July 1942, two Rzhev-Sychyovka offensives from July to August and from November to December 1942 and the Rzhev-Vyazma offensive in March 1943. Additionally, there were major tank battles. Up to 1,500 tanks from both sides were engaged in the operation in summer 1942. During the autumn/winter operation from 1942 till 1943, the number of tanks increased up to 3,300 from our side alone. All forces were focused on the final defeat of the Army Group Centre, which seized Rzhev in October 1941. However, all these operations were held not only to liberate this city.
The more large-scale task was set. Battles were fought in the Smolensk, Moscow, Kalinin and Tula regions. Military units that were part of the Western, Kalinin, Bryansk and Central Fronts were combatting there. The command was tasked with destroying the German 9th Army and eliminating the Rzhev-Vyazma salient, which was formed as a result of the battles near Rzhev. Then after the Wehrmacht’s forces would be immobilized, a plan emerged to preclude the redeployment of German troops to Stalingrad. Frost, starvation, the Nazis’ advantage in equipment and nonstop enemy bombing raids exhausted the Soviet troops. Only at the cost of huge losses the task allotted to the Red Army was fulfilled. The Nazis could not move their troops to the area of Stalingrad.
A. Shumilin, a participant in the fighting near Rzhev, recalls those times: “The enemy had everything, and we had nothing. This was not a war, but a massacre. But we kept moving on. The Germans could not resist our persistence. They abandoned villages and fled to new frontiers...” That is why every step and every hillock on this land was won at the cost of many lives. The reinforcement arrived, but mostly there were civilians who had no combat training. They had to learn right on the battlefield. Therefore, it is not accidental that this battle was well-known at that time as “the mayhem near Rzhev.” Until now, the expression “to drive to Rzhev” can still be heard. It just happened that these operations did not become widely popular and remained as little-known pages in the history of World War II for many people.
And thus, in commemoration of everybody who died near Rzhev, which has the status of the City of Military Glory, it was decided to build a memorial 5 km away from it near the M-9 Baltia highway. A total of 32 designs were presented by sculptors and architects from different cities of Russia and Belarus. In May 2018, the names of winners were made public. The project created by sculptor Andrey Korobtsov and architect Konstantin Fomin was approved. More than two years passed after the moment when the sketch turned into the implemented project. Earlier, it was planned to open the memorial for the public by the Victory Day on May 9, but the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated alternations.
According to Korobtsov, they managed to win this competition because they did not copy the Soviet-style sculpture, but presented modern work. The author put a special emphasis on the fact that the sculpture had details that were difficult to notice. So, only experts might see them. At the same time, he emphasized the game of textures. Soldier's head is smooth, but his figure seems to be destroyed and lower becomes rawer. The bottom of the uniform jacket is generally depicted in the form of silhouettes of cranes as if they take the soul up to heaven.
Interestingly, the figure of the soldier was created based on military photos provided by the Defense Ministry. Korobtsov admits that after getting acquainted with the archive materials, he was literally “impressed by these handsome faces.” Separate fragments were taken from these portraits, which then turned into a collective image of the liberator warrior.
It is known that Korobtsov dedicated this work to his grandfather Ivan Bundin, who went missing during World War II, as well as hundreds of thousands of other soldiers and officers. The monument, which is set on a 10-meter embankment hill, is 25 meters high. It is also interesting that this place used to be a swamp. In order to reinforce the hill it was necessary to drive more than 1,000 pales into the ground, to drain the area and then to plant trees on it. This is exactly the place where fierce battles were fought. The search parties found there many remains of Red Army soldiers, a large number of shell fragments and other wartime artifacts. The combat engineers had to look for and demilitarize unexploded mines and shells.
The memorial was built near the M-9 highway. So, drivers passing by will see the bronze monument to the Soviet soldier both day and night. In order to make the monument, 80 tons of bronze were needed. The frame under it took 30 tonnes of steelwork structures.
According to Korobtsov's idea, visitors pass by symbolic soldiers' trenches on their way to the monument. There are specially processed steel sheets on the granite walls with an irregular shape. They were made with an aging effect. The names of 17,660 Red Army soldiers who died in the Rzhev battle are inscribed on these sheets forever. The memorial complex itself is located on an area of 4 ha. There is a museum, one of the halls of which has an interesting detail. The floor is made of special durable glass, under which there are findings from the Second World War, discovered in the ground of this particular field by searchers.
Additionally, touch-screens are installed there. They help find information and photos of relatives who fought in the Rzhev area. The data is provided by the Ministry of Defense. Visitors to the memorial compound will be able to get acquainted with the fates and pictures of real soldiers and officers who fought there. According to the concept of the creators of the Rzhev Memorial to the Soviet Soldier, it gives the descendants an opportunity to feel all the horrors of war and to realize the price of winning it. To realize, feel and remember those bloody, difficult and terrible pages of our history.