VOLGOGRAD, Russia (AP) — An aged T-34 tank clattered into the center of the southern Russian city once known as Stalingrad and soldiers dressed in World War II-era uniforms marched solemnly as Russia marked the 70th anniversary of the end of one of modern warfare's bloodiest battles.
President Vladimir Putin came to the city later Saturday to take part in the commemorations, including a visit to the famous hilltop memorial complex surmounted by a towering 87-meter (280-foot) statue of a sword-wielding woman representing the motherland.
"Stalingrad will forever remain a symbol of unity and invincibility of our people, a symbol of genuine patriotism, a symbol of the greatest victory of the Soviet liberator soldier. And as long as we are devoted to Russia, our language, culture, roots and national memory, Russia will be invincible," Putin said at an evening commemorative concert.
The city 900 kilometers (560 miles) south of Moscow suffered six months of intensive fighting, beginning with massive air strikes, as Nazi forces tried to push deep into the Soviet Union and reach its Caucasus oil fields.
At least 1.2 million people are estimated to have died before the fighting ended on Feb. 2, 1943. The Red Army's defeat of the Nazis after house-to-house battling was a decisive turn in World War II.
One of the houses became a particularly resonant symbol of the battle. The four-story apartment building became known as the Pavlov House after the sergeant whose platoon inflicted heavy damage on Nazi troops and tanks while under heavy attack for two months, even as civilians continued to occupy it.
A woman born in the house a couple of months before the siege, Zinaida Andreeva, told the Interfax news agency Saturday that "for me, Feb. 2 is like a birthday. It's a special day, in which tears and happiness are side by side."