The Blockade


             The 900 Day Blockade of St. Petersburg

                A WWII Survivor Tale

                 In Commemoration Of:

              Maya Peterson


               All the souls lost in WWII and Stalin’s Purges

            Told By:

                    Elena (Peterson) O’Donoghue

               Written By:

               Aleksandr Kolpakov


The following historical account was orally passed on to me by my mother. I wish to share with you the narrative as my mother recounted the heroic story of my Grandmother and her family during the terrible events of the Nine-Hundred days-long St. Petersburg blockade of the Great Patriotic War (WWII) as she, Maya Peterson, experienced it. I hope you the reader, can also learn something new and useful out of this most painful story of my heroic Grandmother.

Stalin and Mao killed their own people, ‘domicide’. “And we’re sort of fine with that. Hitler killed people next door. Oh, stupid man. After a couple of years we won’t stand for that, will we?” — Eddie Izzard

Maya Peterson was born in the city of Pushkin to a family of Russian kinsmen in 1929, which was a residence for noble families. Maya’s mother’s name was Ekaterina and her father’s was Mikhail. They were both of noble Polish and Swedish backgrounds, but were Russian citizens (or more technically for the time, Soviet citizens). Andrei, her elder brother, and Marina, her little sister lived with them. The father was an army engineer–the mother, a house wife. Maya’s Grandfather, (my Great-Great-Grandfather) Major-General Sergei Nikolaevich Wojciechowski (veet-sa-hov-ski), was third in command of the White Army who had to stop their fighting with the Germans in WWI alongside the rest of the world and turn to fight the communists at their backs that had overrun their homeland while they were away. During this revolution both of Major-General Wojciechowski’s commanding officers,  General Vladimir Oskarovich Kappel, as well as the head of the White Movement: Admiral Aleksandr Vasilyevich Kolchak were killed (as illustrated by the recent historical movie “Admiral“). Maya’s Grandfather therefore, was known to have for some time been the default commander of the entire anti-communist ‘White Movement’. Perhaps this is one of the reasons her family along with many others were targeted for extermination by their countrymen while the rest of the world stood unified against fascism.

Months before the Red Revolution of 1917 in which the German-paid communists under Vladimir Ilyich Lenin took control of Russian Parliament–the Duma–by force. Before the destruction of the 9 month-old Democratic Provisional Government that had been established when the czar voluntarily gave up all power. Before that same czar was nonetheless executed by firing squad along with his wife and children. Maya’s family had intended to flee to France where they could seek shelter with relatives. However, a child of the family caught a severe illness and could not be moved, thus the family stayed and watched as the borders were closed off by the new communist regime and as that regime made a pact with and was paid for by the Axis Powers.

Before the second war, “Uncle” Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin’s secret police had Mikhail Peterson (Maya’s father) secretly arrested and abducted during the night. During Stalin’s early purges, all intellectuals (those having college degrees or professional jobs) and those of professed noble birth, were killed for fear of opposition of Stalin’s tyrannical rule (later, he turned against even the most loyal Communists, making the record breaking genocide numbers of his reign of terror from the time of the Revolution to the time of his death in 1954 an unholy, unspeakable, 62 million Russian lives not counting war and famine casualties which were always in the high millions.*
* these numbers were released by modern-day Oxford Scholars

Maya Peterson lived with the remnants of her family in St. Petersburg (then known as Leningrad) when the Second World War began. Once again, the world stood together to fight the Germans and once again the communists made a pact with them. It was not long however, before the fascists betrayed that pact and invaded an unprepared Russia. The Peterson family owned their own manor on the bank of the river Neva (the manor is still there, though our family does not have the documents to claim it as our own). When the Nazi blockade began, all the schools closed and Maya’s mother went to work, something unheard of for a noblewoman of her family’s stature. Ekaterina was paid with food stamps instead of money.

Transposition of time on the same street in St. Petersburg. Then and now.

Maya’s brother was drafted and killed in the first few weeks of the Nazi invasion. Andrei was eighteen at the time of his death. The cause of which was most certainly the preferred “method” of fighting by Stalin’s drafted young forces: to overrun the enemy position with sheer numbers, something that was purely suicidal when faced against the automatic firepower of Nazi trench warfare. These draftees were furthermore either armed with outdated muskets leftover from the First World War or with nothing at all. The combat motto was: “Go out and get a weapon”. And the response to hesitation was “We will kill your family if you don’t.”

During The Blockade there was nothing to eat. No light. And no warmth. The people that stayed alive that long had to go every morning at 03:00 to a store and stay in line in the freezing cold (-45ºC/-49.0ºF) for hours in order to obtain an inch-sized piece of bread per person each day (the “bread” was made of clay and paper). Nobody had any money that was of any use; they just had ration tickets to get the so-called ‘bread’. Maya’s mother sold all the good furniture, cloths, books, priceless relics revered as ancient family treasures, for mere pittances. Anything that could bring in some scraps of food, all so she could feed her two remaining children: Maya and Marina.
Maya’s little sister was two years old when The Blockade began, and she cried all the time as she slowly starved. Maya remembered one night very well. Maya had to go every morning across the “ghost city” to get the bread for her family since her mother had to tend to the ever-sick Marina and was herself too sick to walk long distances. Maya was twelve years old when one early morning she went for the bread and was attacked by a desperate man in the dark. She got away, but the glove that held the ration tickets was torn off during the struggle. The already starved family had to go for one whole week without any kind of food at all, until they were issued new ration tickets.
“In such a horrible time, people would eat dogs, cats, rats, even little girls…”

One night, Maya’s mother Ekaterina, died in her bed from hunger. She had been giving all her scarce food to the children for too long. The then thirteen year old Maya and the four year old Marina put their mother’s corpse on a sled in the middle of harsh winter, and dragged her through the famine stricken town to be dropped into the “Body-Hole”, were all those who died in The Blockade were dumped without ceremony. They were–from that moment on–all on their own.

A Soviet version of the Red Cross would go around the city and pick up stray children and pack them into military trucks, Maya and Marina were scooped up by one such truck. The Soviets then took lines of these trucks across the frozen Neva river, through The Blockade, and into public foster homes. However, trucks would often fall through the ice and the children inside would quickly die from exposure. To make the trek more hazardous still, the Nazis were also firing their long-range cannons on the column of ‘Red Cross’ trucks as they attempted to cross. Due to the cadence of their shelling, every odd-count truck was blown away by the missile-fire from across the river as they fled the city. Maya and Marina were in an even count truck.

While going across the lake, Marina no longer begged for food, but for a big doll she remembered seeing in a store before The Blockade had begun. Maya kept promising that just as soon as they got to safety she would get her one just like it. Halfway across the lake Marina died of hunger in Maya’s arms.

After she escaped the Blockade, Maya stayed in a foster home until she was eighteen years old. There was much fighting and drinking, and Maya endured every single disease and pestilence of that time. Yet still she survived. Afterward, she finished school and went on into medical college. In order to join however, she had to become an official member of the Communist Party. Having no other options, she joined the community that had caused her family so much suffering in order to continue her education. Maya lacked the money to finish however, and instead worked as a hospital nurse to augment her training. Afterward, she took up after her father and became an engineer. She eventually married, though it was not to last. Her husband left Maya and her two daughters PICTURED LEFT, leaving my Grandmother with no options but to take up two extra jobs, including grueling hours iron-working at a factory in order to satisfy the fiery woman’s desire to give her children the very best in cloths, toys, and especially food. In this, she succeeded with extraordinary grace.

Maya is pictured at center, crying at the ceremony

Recently, the modern-day Russian Federation held a ceremony officially recognizing Maya Peterson along with elderly citizens who had survived the events of the Blockade to present day, as Heroes of The Motherland, and even though she no longer resides in Russia, they were given the highest awards possible for civilians of the State. Furthermore, Maya was recognized as true owner of the old family home in St. Petersburg, however she did not wish to return to a place filled with so many painful memories, and instead donated the estate to a historical society.
To this day, Maya lives in the city of Tallinn in the country of Estonia in Europe (former USSR), and thanks to her children, and her own endurance, is not the sole survivor of her noble bloodline. I am very grateful that my Grandmother–the heroine of this story–related the tale to my mother. It would sadden me beyond compare if the valiant story of my Grandmother should ever be lost to time. We are the few who are privileged to know the truth, and I am proud beyond words that my own living Grandmother has made it so.



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