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The Soviet-Finnish war (also called the Winter War) waged in winter 1939 and 1940 took place close to Leningrad. Finland became a part of the Russian empire in 1809 when it was acquired by Tsar Alexander I, a vigilant ally of Napoleon Bonaparte, following the defeat of Swedes in a war. After the Bolshevist revolution Finns won independence. Peter´s town was situated less than 40 kilometers from the original border line between the former Finnish province and Russian governorates of the tsarist imperium. After 1918 the same border line separated the newly established sovereign Finnish state and the red Russia. Stalin never admitted – in his mind – that Russia stopped being entitled to control the territory formerly governed by Russian monarchs.  Similarly as he never acknowledged the independence of the Baltic countries, he planned to subjugate Finland again too. However, Finnish people did not rush to the arms of the bloody tyrant. During the tsarist era they experienced enough oppression and violent Russification. They correctly assumed that the Stalinist rule would be even worse. However, Soviet rulers confronted themselves with their Finnish neighbours also because of their fear that Leningrad could be easily attacked from the Baltic Sea coast as well as via the Karelian Isthmus.

Since unyielding Fins refused to fulfil all Soviet ultimata, a conflict that almost fulfilled the scenario of a fight between David and Goliath broke out. The Red Army – much stronger in terms of equipment and manpower – planned to terminate the resistance of the Finish dwarf quickly. However, poorly trained and very badly controlled Red Army troops proved to be completely unprepared for fights in the Arctic zone. Moreover, they were surprised by the toughness of Finnish soldiers whose moral was strengthened by the feeling that it was more than fair to protect their country against an impudent aggressor and who were masterfully commanded by national hero, Marshal Mannerheim. Small groups of Finish soldiers quickly moving on skis managed to slow down all Soviet divisions. Worth mentioning is Finish platoon sergeant Simo Häyhä, the best sniper of modern military history; he was nicknamed “the white death” and he hit more than 500 enemies. No wonder that Russians were very afraid of Finish snipers. Russian soldiers called them cuckoos since they frequently hid in tall trees with dense tops. The Red Army staggered along the Finish defence lines like a giant blinded by snowstorms, bleeding from many small, but painful wounds. Their numerous heavy steel weapons got stuck in frozen Karelian taiga.

One of the victims of this useless and stupidly waged war was Viktor’s step-uncle, brother of Róza Abramovna (another brother of Viktor’s step-mother died right at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War). Russian soldiers who survived the war would recall charming winter sceneries in which the war took place: “Forests and a meter of show everywhere. Fins dressed in white camouflage cloaks used skis to move from one place to another; they suddenly appeared all around like angels…Fins managed to slit the throat of patrols and a whole company. There were dead soldiers everywhere lying in puddles of blood; so much of it poured from sleeping people. There was so much blood that it soaked through the one-meter-deep snowdrifts.”

Zdeněk Vybíral

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