VOLGOGRAD, Russia — Russian and German war veterans on Friday took part in ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the decisive World War II battle of Stalingrad, which claimed nearly 2 million lives.
Nazi Germany's 6th Army had seized almost all of the city after attacking it in the summer of 1942, but Soviet forces launched a counter offensive in the winter, succeeding in cutting off the Germans in a pincer movement.
Despite a "fight-to-the-death" order from Adolf Hitler, Field Marshall Friedrich Paulus surrendered on January 31, 1943, and the remainder of German forces on February 2.
The field marshall's surrender was reenacted on Thursday. Delegations from dozens of countries are taking part in Friday's ceremonies. President Vladimir Putin is to hold a reception for 300 veterans and guests of honor in Moscow.
The main celebrations will take place on Saturday in Volgograd, which is changing its name back to Stalingrad just for the day. Human rights activists condemned the move, saying it ignored the bloody crimes of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
The six-month battle was a turning point of World War II. Hitler wanted the conquering of the city, named as it was after the Soviet leader, to stand as an important symbolic victory.
But instead Germany endured some of its heaviest losses of the entire war. Of around 91,000 German soldiers who were captured, only 6,000 returned.