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Local history

12.03.2021

Tsarskoe Selo handed over exhibition equipment to the Local History Museum in the village of Khvoinaya, Novgorod region. The gift is intended for the permanent display commemorating the Air Bridge that connected Leningrad to the rest of the country during the Siege of 1941-44.

Last September the Khvoinaya Memorial Complex was unveiled to honour the airmen delivering food to besieged Leningrad. In autumn-winter 1941, when the air was the only way to the encircled city, every morning the Moscow Special Assignment Air Group transport planes took off from Khvoinaya and headed for the dangerous air route, controlled by the enemy fighters. On their return flights across Ladoga Lake the aircrews evacuated the starving citizens. During the entire 900-day Siege the village of Khvoinaya, with six field aerodromes functioning in the adjacent pine forests, remained the major air supply base of Leningrad.

The Khvoinaya Memorial is being created by the village residents, the airmen’s descendants and many dedicated supporters. The initiative is backed by the Russian Historical Society. 

The commemorative plaque on the natural rock of crimson quartzite was cast at the Petrozavodsk Foundry after the design of Ivan Yudinkov, the grandson of pilot Andrei Molodtsov. There are information boards installed next to the Stone based on the book ‘The Special Assignment Airmen’ by Anna Belorusova who restored the combat record of her grandfather, pilot Pyotr Kolesnikov’s legendary Air Group. 

An important stage of the project development is a permanent exhibition devoted to the Air Bridge history. The display cabinets, donated by our Museum on the Village Administration request, will contain the archival documents, photographs and rare artifacts that keep memory of the Airmen and the people of Khvoinaya who stood side by side in those dark days.   

“Lately our Museum has become actively engaged in search for information about our colleagues who in 1941 evacuated the unique art collections to the rear of the country and then, after Tsarskoe Selo liberation from the occupants, returned to the smoldering ruins and began the unprecedented work to restore its palaces and gardens. The air-bridge between Khvoinaya and besieged Leningrad saved many lives of the children and adults dying of hunger and cold during the first, the most severe winter of the blockade. Among them were the museum curators of the suburban Imperial palaces. We very much hope that the work on the memorial exhibition starting at Khovinaya and our newly-established contacts with the villagers will enable to learn more about that hard and heroic chapter of the Siege of Leningrad” - says Iraida Bott, Deputy Director for Research of Tsarskoe Selo Museum. 

The Khvoinaya Memorial bears a symbolic connection to the memorial dedicated to the Russian Airmen in Errol (Perthshire, UK).

In 1943, when the shortage of transport aircraft became acute, the British Government gave the Soviet Union one hundred of modified twin-engine Albemarle bombers. A nonstop night flight across the North Sea and enemy-occupied territories needed the skills and bravery of ace-pilots. The State Defense Committee entrusted the top-secret mission to the hand-picked crews of the Moscow Special Assignment Air Group – an elite transport aviation unit formed in the first days of Hitler’s invasion from the country’s very best civil aviators to undertake crucial tasks for the Red Army High Command.

Arriving straight from the heat of battle, the Soviet officers were covertly flown by small groups to RAF Errol in the east of Scotland. There they joined the specially formed 305 Ferry Training Air Unit, Royal Air Force, to learn to operate the aircraft and ferry it to Moscow. The Albemarle operation became an important experience of the allied cooperation during WWII.   

In November 2020, on Remembrance Day, a memorial stone shipped from Russia by sea was installed in the historical center of Errol beside the Cathedral of the Carse. It is a rare crimson Shoksha quartzite rock mined in Karelia, the same stone with which the Tomb of Unknown Soldier by the wall of the Moscow Kremlin is lined. The Errol Stone is a work by Aleksandr Kim, a renowned Karelian sculptor. The Petrozavodsk-cast memorial plaque was designed by Ivan Yudinkov.

“Prior to their arrival in Britain on an allied mission the airmen had fought in the hardest battles of the Eastern Front, before the turning point at Stalingrad. Today these brave men symbolize the historical bond forged between the two countries standing shoulder to shoulder in their joint fight against Nazism”, - said the Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for International Cultural Cooperation, Mikhail Shvydkoi. 

The two memorials to the hero airmen in Khvoinaya and Errol will now become permanent sites for the annual Victory Day commemoration ceremony.