People take photos of a bust of Soviet leader Josef Stalin after it was unveiled in Volgograd in February 1.
A new bust of Soviet leader Josef Stalin has been unveiled in Volgograd ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the city on February 2, the 80th anniversary of Russia's victory over German forces in a key World War II battle in the city then known as Stalingrad.
The bust was unveiled on February 1 along with two others dedicated to Soviet commanders Georgy Zhukov and Aleksandr Vasilyevsky outside the Battle of Stalingrad Museum.
Putin is due to visit Volgograd on February 2 for anniversary celebrations at the Mamayev Kurgan memorial complex on the banks of the Volga River.
The Battle of Stalingrad, which ended on February 2, 1943, is estimated to have claimed 2 million casualties and is widely seen by historians as the point when invading Nazi German forces were forced onto the defensive.
The southern city went by the name Tsaritsyn until it was renamed Stalingrad in 1925. It became Volgograd in 1961, eight years after Stalin’s death and after his legacy fell out of favor.
Under Stalin, millions of Soviet citizens were killed, tortured, imprisoned, or exiled by the Soviet state. He also presided over a famine that killed millions in Ukraine and other Soviet states.
Nostalgia for Stalin and for the Soviet Union has flourished under Putin, who has sought to rehabilitate the communist dictator as the leader who not only fought off the Germans during WWII but also turned the U.S.S.R. into a world power.
There have been rumors on Telegram and other social media that during Putin’s visit a decision will be made to restore the name Stalingrad. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier this week said he could not confirm anything when asked whether there were discussions in the Kremlin about the possibility of renaming the city, according to TASS.
Volgograd’s World War II veterans recently proposed renaming the city in memory of the Battle of Stalingrad. In response to their request, regional Governor Andrei Bocharov announced the creation of a civic council to study public opinion on the matter, TASS said.
During the unveiling ceremony of the bust of Stalin, an honor guard laid flowers at the three monuments. Honorary citizens of Volgograd and representatives of a youth movement, as well as veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya, attended the ceremony, TASS reported.
The chairman of the Volgograd Regional Duma, Aleksandr Bloshkin, called Stalin, Zhukov, and Vasilevsky "the architects of the Stalingrad victory."
Bloshkin said that, while in “unfriendly countries” similar monuments are being removed and everything associated with Soviet soldiers is being destroyed, Russia is taking a different course “to preserve the memory of the Great Patriotic War.”
The new bust is the second of Stalin in the city. Members of the local Communist Party in December 2019 installed a sculpture dedicated to Stalin on the grounds of the party’s regional committee.