I will never forget that day," says Lia. "It was early Sunday morning when they attacked, and one of their planes was shot down between Levashovo and Leningrad. Of course, everybody went to see it, just like we were going to a show.
"We had an exam scheduled for the next day, and when everyone found out I had seen a shot-down German plane, they wanted to hear all about it. It was exciting for us; we didn't really know what war was. But I remember the sad eyes of my professor. He gave everyone a top mark on the exam that day, because he knew grades didn't mean anything anymore. He knew what was coming. He ended up starving during the blockade.
"No," she says, shaking her head sadly, "I didn't know what war was back then. But I know now."
The whole of Leningrad was soon to learn, in one of the most tragic episodes of modern warfare. By the fall of 1941, the city had been almost entirely cut off from the rest of Russia by encircling Nazi troops. When Nazi planes then blew up the city's food warehouses, there was virtually nothing for Leningraders to eat. As winter set in, cold and starvation would claim hundreds of thousands of lives before the 900-day blockade would be broken.
Like the most of the students at the university, Lia became a
volunteer for the army. She went to the outskirts of Leningrad to erect
barriers against Nazi tanks. "We wore white uniforms and hats, and Nazi
planes would fly over and shoot at us," she says. "Many young women died
that way. And they would drop leaflets on us, telling us to give up
fighting them. I still have some of those leaflets."