By Vasily Mikhalevsky
Many of those heroes remain alive in the archive of war photographer Alexander Ditlov: in photos, film and notes — the pages yellowed with time. However, everything is ready to be published at any time. Until his death, Mr. Ditlov kept the memory of those courageous people met at the front, of whom he wrote.
Our contemporaries might hardly understand the artistic value of a match-box sized picture of a soldier in front of a trench, his legs placed wide and arms outstretched, as if ready to embrace someone. What meaning does it have? It must surely have been destined to be sent home, showing that he was alive and uninjured but missing his relatives. Of course, many mothers and loved ones received similar ‘messages’ during those terrible our years. Photos from the front conjure up the pungent smoke of artillery, the speed of accelerating attack and human bodies suddenly limp, beyond pain once mown down by bullets. A sea of helmets surges forward. Bedraggled refugees carry their simple belongings. Children without parents are fed porridge by soldiers. Some of these true heroes survived and returned — whether awarded or injured.
In the summer of 1944, Mr. Ditlov’s regiment crossed the River Pronya, liberating Bobruisk and Mogilev and entering Minsk. The scale of damage to the capital shocked everyone. Almost every building had been ruined, with only a handful intact: part of Nemiga, the Opera Theatre and the House of Officers. People left their shelters to greet the Soviet soldiers staring at the smashed concrete walls of former homes. Black-and-white photos depict families with children, horses and bags — as if all had happened just yesterday...
The Academy of Sciences building was surrounded by barbed wire, as unexploded bombs often lay within such sites.
Luckily, Victory came — through joint efforts. Generals at railway stations saluted soldiers returning home. A regiment hairdresser attended to one soldier, who evidently wanted to look good for his relatives. One of the most striking images is that of a field near Tolochin, covered with hundreds of German helmets. These formed a hill similar to the Mount of Glory, devoted to those Soviet soldiers who won the most terrible war of the second millennium.
Mr. Ditlov died in 2009, at the age of 97. However, his legacy is valuable evidence of a generation which refused to yield to the enemy, of true heroes — with determination and a tremendous desire to win. 67 years after the war, we see young soldiers who smiled into an ‘FED’ camera in May 1945. Let’s remember them forever. Thumb through family albums and take flowers to their graves. No doubt, they’d appreciate our thoughts.