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The Diary of Lena Mukhina: A Girl's…

The Diary of Lena Mukhina: A Girl's Life in the Siege of Leningrad

by Lena Mukhina

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This is a remarkably valuable book if you want to learn about World War II in the Soviet Union, and the Siege of Leningrad in particular. Lena Mukhina was an ordinary Soviet girl living with extended family in Leningrad when war broke out (her mother, who was too ill to care for her, lived elsewhere in the city). The early entries are concerned with school, romance and the war effort, but as the Nazis advance and then encircle Leningrad and food goes ever scarcer, Lena becomes obsessed with the everyday task of trying to find enough nutrients just to keep herself and her aunt and grandmother above ground. During the summer of 1941, Lena's mother dies. Bombs are falling, but no one goes to the shelters at night because they don't have the energy to be constantly climbing the stairs in and out of of their apartment buildings. By late autumn, Lena and her family are reduced to eating sheets of carpenter's glue (it's made from the boiled-down hooves of horses and other ungulates, so it has some nutrients). Lena's aunt and grandmother both die of starvation during the winter; she makes it through, but just barely. The diary ends abruptly in the spring, and if I hadn't already known from the introduction that Lena survived, was evacuated from Leningrad in May 1942 and died of natural causes in Moscow in the nineties, I would have assumed she'd finally starved to death.

It's a very detailed account and absolutely heartbreaking. Lena not only writes about the physical effects of starvation, but describes in detail the desperation it drove people to -- see the aforementioned carpenter's glue -- and how selfish and apathetic people become when they're starving. As her grandmother lies dying, Lena notes coldly that she hopes she will die quickly, but not too quickly, because the next ration period is coming up and if Grandma dies right after it begins, Lena and her aunt can eat her rations. Later that winter, Lena's aunt dies at the very beginning of a month-long ration period, and Lena would later credit her survival to the fact that no one in their apartment building reported the death and so Lena was able to collect and eat her aunt's rations as well as her own for the entire month.

Much as I hate bringing Anne Frank into everything concerned with diaries and World War II, you could call Lena Mukhina the Anne Frank of Leningrad. I think her diary would be useful in a college or high school classroom, or for anyone who just wants to learn about day-to-day life during the Siege. ( )
  meggyweg | Mar 2, 2017 |
he Diary of Lena Mukhina – An Insight in to a Very Dark Time

To many people who think they know the stories of the Second World War what happened out on the Eastern Front is often ignored in the West, even though millions more soldiers and civilians died in this theatre of war. When people do talk about sieges of cities they often refer to that of Stalingrad and often forget Leningrad.

The Diary of Lena Mukhina are the memoirs of a 16 year old girl from Leningrad who began her diary before the war, this book details the darkest of times. At times this diary is as moving as Anne Frank’s diary but we get to see some very dark times and sheds light on some of the darker things that happened during the siege.

Before the siege we do see the musings of a teenage girl with all the angst that they face at that time in their life, but things change when the siege begins and things become far darker for her and her fellow citizens. We start at times with statements that could come straight out of Soviet speak school when Lena and others were not given the full truth until after the beginning of Operation Barbarossa.

We are given the news of the invasion of Soviet territory and the people being told how well they are doing defending the motherland. It is not until the Finish army is blockading the north and the German Army has surrounded the City that the people are told the full story of what is happening.

This diary lives the horror of what happened at Lena describes this in detail and how her and her family were conscripted to trench digging. She explains how there were shifts at digging these trenches and how it was all part of the people’s effort to defend their city.

When the air raids begin in the July food rationing followed soon after and the queues that developed as her family waited for what little they were entitled too. We also see that in the following February Lena’s mother died and left her alone at 16 in a city under siege.

What stuns me is that throughout the diary is the optimism Lena clings on to is not only surprising but inspirational even when she is showing signs of succumbing to starvation herself. But her story of her survival and is important and needs a wider audience.

To some the constant notes on what she if doing to find food and fighting starvation might be tedious but for any serious historian of the period this is an important historical document. ( )
1 vote atticusfinch1048 | May 27, 2015 |
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In May 1941 Lena Mukhina was an ordinary teenage girl, living in Leningrad, worrying about her homework and whether Vova, the boy she liked, liked her. Like a good Soviet schoolgirl, she was also diligently learning German, the language of Russia's Nazi ally. And she was keeping a diary, in which she recorded her hopes and dreams. Then, on 22 June 1941, Hitler broke his pact with Stalin and declared war on the Soviet Union. All too soon, Leningrad was besieged and life became a living hell. Lena and her family fought to stay alive; their city was starving and its citizens were dying in their hundreds of thousands. From day to dreadful day, Lena records her experiences: the desperate hunt for food, the bitter cold of the Russian winter, the cruel deaths of those she loved. The Diary of Lena Mukhina is a truly remarkable account of this most terrible era in modern history. It offers readers the vivid first-hand testimony of a courageous young woman struggling simply to survive.… (more)

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