Russia marks 70 years since Battle of Stalingrad

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Media captionThe military parade included a T-34 tank, one of the Soviet army's most successful weapons

Russians have been celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Stalingrad.

Veterans of the battle attended a military parade in their honour, and President Vladimir Putin paid tribute to their heroism.

The city of Stalingrad, which was renamed Volgograd in 1961, has regained its wartime name for the event, following a council decision.

Around one million people are thought to have died in the battle.

Soviet troops defeated the German Sixth Army, in what is considered one of the major turning points of World War II.

The vast death toll is not the only reason why the battle has huge significance in Russia, the BBC's Moscow correspondent Daniel Sandford reports.

It is seen as the moment when the tide was turned against the Nazis.

From Stalingrad some Soviet soldiers fought all the way to Berlin, he adds.

The defeat threw Hitler's offensive in the Soviet Union into disarray.

The victory in World War II is one of the things that unites all Russians, our correspondent adds.

'Hero city'

A military parade in the city centre was attended by about 200 survivors of the battle, all of them close to 90 years old.

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Media captionUp to a million soldiers died in the six months of intense warfare

They carried red carnations to remember the dead, and watched a parade, including a T34 tank, one of the Soviet army's most successful weapons of the war.

Our correspondent says the temperature for the anniversary was kinder than during much of the battle, hovering just above freezing.

Later President Putin led commemorations with a stirring address to veterans, calling the battle "one of the greatest examples of world heroism".

"We are proud, Russia is proud of the defenders of Stalingrad," he said. "The Red Army lived and fought in that hell."

Image caption The railway station saw fierce fighting in 1942

The celebrations are expected to end with a firework display and an 18-gun salute with World War II-era Soviet artillery.

Some German veterans were also invited to the tribute, along with senior military commanders from Russia's allies in the war - Britain and the US.

On Wednesday, the council of Volgograd passed a decision to restore the city's wartime name of Stalingrad on six specific days a year.

The dates, all associated with military commemorations, are 2 February, 9 May, 22 June, 23 August, 2 September and 19 November.

Under the decision, the title "Hero City Stalingrad" will be used during commemorations as "a symbol of Volgograd", the council said.

"We may use this symbol officially in our speeches, reports and while conducting public events," the council ruling states.

The decision was taken after "numerous requests" from World War II veterans, officials said.

The city has had three names during the past century. It was originally known as Tsaritsyn before being renamed in 1925 in honour of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who led Bolshevik forces there during the Russian Civil War.

The German attack on Stalingrad began on 19 August 1942.

Stalingrad was a strategically important city in their campaign to occupy the south of Russia and take control of the Caucasus oilfields.

It was also of symbolic importance because of its name.

After six months of ferocious fighting, Soviets troops eventually smashed the German siege.

It is one of the bloodiest battles in modern history.

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