Izvestia.ru | May 09, 2022
77 years after the end of the Great Patriotic War, the fate of 2 million soldiers of the Red Army remains unexplained. In the archives, they are listed as missing, but finding the place of their death or burial is increasingly difficult. Last year, the volunteers of the Search Movement of Russia discovered the remains of more than 21 thousand soldiers, but they were able to identify only 1347 of them: the soldiers’ medallions and books of the Red Army soldier were mostly lost or damaged by time. Each established name and destiny is a contribution to the preservation of the historical memory of both the whole people and specific families.
A decaying memory
During the years of the Great Patriotic War, more than 4.5 million Red Army soldiers went missing or were taken prisoner. To date, thanks to the work of search teams, historians, archive workers, it has been possible to establish the names and places of death of more than 2.5 million soldiers and officers. The fate of about 2 million is still unknown , Elena Tsunaeva, executive secretary of the Search Movement of Russia, first deputy chairman of the State Duma Committee on Labor, Social Policy and Veterans Affairs, told Izvestia.
“These heroes are listed as missing, but, unfortunately, what exactly happened to them is unknown to us. In this sense, a lot of work remains to be done not only by the search teams, but also by the staff of the archives. For example, we do not have complete information about the people who were taken prisoner. In 2020, the German side handed over to Russia more than 20 thousand documents about prisoners of war who died in custody in Germany. So it was possible to establish the fate of many people. But this is far from complete information, we must continue to study archival documents , she noted.
It should also be understood that most of the missing are buried in mass graves. Only a small fraction of the dead are still on the battlefield.
Some were not carried out of the battlefield in the conditions of retreat or encirclement. Others were buried right at the place of death. Our task is to establish the fate of these people. And, of course, if possible, find them, rebury them with honors, find relatives,” the parliamentarian specified.
Over the past year, search teams have found the remains of more than 21 thousand soldiers and officers. All of them were reburied with honors in military graves , Elena Tsunaeva added. Unfortunately, not everyone has documents that can be used to identify them.
Only 1347 fighters had things by which they could be identified. For example, 440 managed to find medallions. Others had awards or books of a Red Army soldier with them. The difficulty lies in the fact that over time, any paper decays. Sometimes, even when we find documents, we cannot read them. The decryption process can take months, she said.
The most massive search expeditions take place in the Novgorod, Leningrad, Kaluga and Volgograd regions. In the Kaluga region, for example, last year they found the remains of more than 200 fallen. However, it was possible to establish only seven names – by medallions. It is a faceted ebonite tube, which contained a small note with the personal data of the fighter, said military historian, expert of the Russian Military Historical Society (RVIO) Nikita Buranov.
In 1942, medallions were abolished, because it was not possible to make them for the entire Red Army. Ebonite was required for something else, primarily for aviation. Therefore, those who went to the front at the beginning of the war, the medallions were preserved. The rest had only paper Red Army books. And you yourself understand that if paper decays even in a sealed medallion, what can we say about unprotected books. They could have been preserved if only the soldier died in the swamp and the document was “mothballed” there, the historian noted.
RVIO also conducts expeditions to search for the fallen during the Great Patriotic War. Every summer, volunteers go to Rzhev, where the troops of the Kalinin Front fought and more than half a million people died. Many of them still rest on the battlefields, the historian added. Volunteers find 200-400 fighters every year.
Only 10-20 people have a medallion with them. And the battles went on there in 1941-1942. That is, a very small part of the documents is preserved,” he stressed.
Win against time
Although time plays against the search engines, sometimes it is possible not only to establish the identity of a soldier who died in battle, but also to find his relatives. So, for example, last year in the Tver region near the town of Bely, volunteers found the crash site of a Pe-2 bomber. The aircraft’s license plate details helped identify the names of the crew members and the events leading up to its crash.
“From the archives, we learned that the plane belonged to the 780th bomber regiment of the 293rd division. It crashed in December 1942 during Operation Mars. The Soviet troops were cut off by the German counterattack and were heavily encircled. And the 780th air regiment was sent to help our fighters. Enemy anti-aircraft artillery knocked out this aircraft, and although other crews observed the fall, the remains of the pilots were not found. Now we know their names: pilot Alexander Loskutov and navigator Arkady Golubev. We managed to find the relatives of the crew, but, unfortunately, not all of them. Because many are no longer alive , – said Elena Tsunaeva.Another story happened in the Novgorod region. There, the search engines found the burial of 15 fighters. Medallions were found on six of them, but only two of them were deciphered. The rest of the documents are now under examination, and perhaps they will be able to read.
One of the fighters – Nikolai Vasiliev, born in 1922 from the Moscow region – was the eldest son in the family. The relatives of the hero could be found, and they told us that almost from the first days of the war, he himself went to the front. He went missing in February 1942. All this time the family was waiting for him. Especially mom. But she died in 1945, never knowing anything about the fate of her son, – said Elena Tsunaeva.
The second medallion belonged to Vasily Konovalov. The soldier had children, they did not live to this day. But the search engines were able to find the fighter’s granddaughter and tell her about the fate of the hero-grandfather.
Sometimes the identity of the deceased is established in a completely unexpected way. For example, within the framework of the RVIO search expedition “Rzhev. Kalinin Front” the name of the fallen soldier could be recognized thanks to the surviving signed spoon, which was found on the body. And the work in the archives helped to find out what the military path of the Red Army was, according to the website of the society.
Junior Lieutenant Grigory Vanev went to the front from his native village of Korotkovo, Krasnochikaysky district, Chita region. He was killed near Rzhev in a battle near the village of Gorbovo on August 24, 1942. He was 34 years old.
“The extract from the order says: from August 5 to August 10, 1942, fierce battles were going on near the village of Gorbovo. The 379th Rifle Division, in which Grigory Vanev served, also took part in them. In this battle, with his crews, he destroyed up to four dozen enemy infantry, a heavy machine gun with crews, and a group of machine gunners up to two dozen. The courage and stamina of the officer allowed our infantry to gain a foothold. For the courage and courage shown, the junior lieutenant was awarded a government award – the medal “For Courage,” according to the RVIO website.
This year, the Search Movement of Russia plans to conduct 2,700 field expeditions.