It’s a distant and somewhat haunting voice. For anyone who travels to Ukraine today in the areas affected by the fighting which has pitted the Ukrainian forces against the Russian invader since February 24, many places echo the writings of the author Vassili Grossman (1905-1964 ). Eighty years ago, in the middle of the Second World War, he traveled for the newspaper of the Red Army these same towns and villages, today under fire. It crossed these same bridges and rivers and it skirted the same coasts of the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.
In War diaries, from Moscow to Berlin 1941-1945 (texts chosen and presented by Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova, 2007, Calmann-Lévy), one can read excerpts from these files which he wrote in the evening, sheltered from the surveillance of the political police of the NKVD (the ” People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs). A material that will serve as the basis for his masterpiece, life and destiny (The Age of Man, 1980). The writer is then at the heart of a different story than the one that has been in the news since February. But the photograph that this Ukrainian, born in Berdichev, south-west of kyiv, takes of the war in his country recalls the timelessness of the suffering it inflicts.
Witness to the Battle of Stalingrad
During the winter of 1941, while the Germans were blocked at the gates of Moscow, Grossman left to cover the fighting on the eastern edge of Ukraine and near the Donbass, which he knew well. In 1930 he started working in this region, in Donetsk (then Stalino), as a chemical engineer. A stele placed in the city keeps the memory of its passages. He stayed for many months in Stalingrad, in 1942 and early 1943.
The victorious outcome of this battle constitutes a turning point in the war, but Stalin thinks, wrongly, that the Germans will collapse. The columns of Soviet armor are advancing too quickly. Exhausted and without fuel, the 25and armored corps had to abandon its vehicles near Zaporijia, says the witness who describes the men fleeing on foot in the snow under the fire of the Wehrmacht.
Today, to reach Zaporijia coming from Dnipro, we take a four-lane with a perfect surface punctuated with checkpoints. It runs along these same rectilinear fields where the Soviet soldiers tried to save their skins. One then wonders where these men could find refuge as the horizon seems so smooth. At the time, intensive agriculture had already wiped out the slopes.
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