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When a Lake Saved a City

November 27, 1990|From a Times Staff Writer

Lake Ladoga may conceal a radioactive threat to Leningrad today, but there was a time when its frozen surface was the Road of Life for the city.

That was during the World War II siege of Leningrad, when German forces cut off all land routes and left the city's 3 million residents with virtually no food or fuel. About 750,000 lives were lost, mostly from starvation.

The bleakest time came in January, 1942, four months into the siege, when Leningraders were dropping dead in the frozen streets. But Red Army engineers were even then nearing completion of an ice road from Ladoga's eastern shore to the starving city. The 50-mile throughway, dubbed the Road of Life, was finally completed on Feb. 10, 1942, and what had been a trickle of supplies reaching Leningrad became a steady stream of flour, sugar, American canned meats, medical supplies, gasoline and ammunition.

By the end of winter, a reputed 360,000 tons of supplies had crossed the frozen lake, and the famine began to ease. Thousands of Leningraders evacuated the city by the same route.

But while the worst was over, the siege itself continued until January, 1944, lasting a horrendous 900 days.

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