After Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, Leningrad was besieged. The city's loss would have devastated Soviet morale, and the 872-day siege came to symbolize the Soviet people's determination.
Despite the city's importance, little was done to prepare for a siege until the last minute because no one believed that the Germans would progress so far. When action was taken, the city's defenses were prioritized. Hundreds of thousands of citizens, including schoolchildren, were mobilized to dig 547 km of antitank ditches and 2 575 km of trenches. The Germans were unable to to push their tanks into the city despite having cut off the city's land communications. Instead, they decided to starve the city into surrender. The Soviets were caught off-guard. Nobody had the mind to order stockpiling food - there were only grain reserves for five days left in the city - and the women, children and the elderly had not been evacuated.
As winter set in, the population begin to die of starvation. When Lake Ladoga froze over, it proved possible to build the so-called "road of life": a road across the lake which was used to transport supplies. The city survived, much to the besiegers' surprise. In 1942, huge battles were fought as the Red Army attempted to break the blockade. However, the siege was only blockade the following January. The siege itself was only broken after a year of continuous bombardment. Leningrad never again suffered the terrible famine of the first winter; it had endured the bloodiest siege in history.
Life in the city during the siege was dreadful. The citizens were badly starved and malnourished, the lack of heating meant that many would die of the winter cold. One common practice to gain extra rations was to hide the dead and use their ration cards. Cannibalism on corpses was also practiced. Anybody who looked well-fed was viewed with deep suspicion.
One witness account was of a doctor's, who visited a family. He described what he saw: