Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited the city formerly known as Stalingrad to participate in celebrations of the 75th anniversary of victory in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.
The battle of Stalingrad "opened the path to the complete destruction of the enemy," Putin said on February 2.
February 2, 2018, marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Stalingrad, a ferocious and brutal siege that proved to be a major psychological and military tipping point in World War II.
RFE/RL correspondent Coilin O'Connor spoke with prominent British historian Antony Beevor -- author of Stalingrad -- about how this engagement between two totalitarian armies helped turn the course of the global conflict.
Read our 2012 interview here.
Putin congratulated and thanked war veterans and urged Russians to build the future of their country on "the foundation" he said they had laid.
"We have no right to let them down, to demonstrate cowardice or indecisiveness," Putin said. "In our actions, we must rise to the level of the achievements of our fathers and grandfathers."
The five-month Battle of Stalingrad became a symbol of Soviet resilience in the face of the Nazi onslaught in 1942-43 and marked a major turning point in the war.
Well over 1 million people are believed to have died in the bloodshed at Stalingrad as Soviet forces halted and then turned the tide on the invading Nazi forces.
The ceremonies in the city now known as Volgograd included a parade with 75 armored vehicles -- one for each year since the victory – headed by a vintage T-34 tank, the warhorse of the wartime Soviet army.
Some 1,500 military personnel and 60 aircraft were featured in the ceremonies in the city center, near the spot where German Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus surrendered the tattered remains of his 6th Army.
Before his short speech, Putin laid a wreath at the monumental Mamayev Kurgan memorial complex on the banks of the Volga River. He also paid respects at the grave of Soviet Marshal Vasily Chuikov, who commanded Soviet forces during the battle.
Earlier in the day, Putin sent a telegram of congratulations to Valentina Shulgina, the only known living veteran of the Battle of Stalingrad. The 91-year-old doctor lives now in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia.
PHOTO GALLERY: The Battle of Stalingrad (click to view)
Although the victory at Stalingrad was the common achievement of the entire Soviet Union, only Russian military units and Russian flags were seen at the Volgograd celebrations.
The city on the Volga River, some 940 kilometers southeast of Moscow, was called Tsaritsyn under the tsars. Its name was changed to Stalingrad in 1925 by the Soviet government to honor then-leader Josef Stalin.
It was renamed again in the early 1960s during the political thaw that followed Stalin's death in 1953.
In his remarks, Putin did not mention Stalin. However, the Soviet dictator has seen something of a rehabilitation since Putin took over the Kremlin in 2000.
State media have played up Stalin's role in industrializing the country and winning the war, while playing down his part in Soviet purges, forced collectivization, and gulags.
Polls show that Russian public opinion has become markedly more positive toward Stalin under Putin, although he is reviled across much of the former Soviet Union and the West.
With reporting by dpa, AFP, Rossia-24, and TASS