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Thread: Russian Heroes

  1. #1
    Veteran Member Madeline's Avatar
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    Russian Heroes

    To repay @The Man for his many kindnesses in trying to help us understand Russia and Eastern Europe, I am posting about some Russian people we should all admire, but about whom most of us have heard nothing.

    Call them the martyrs for biodiversity.

    During the terrible winter of 1941-42, while Hitler`s armies were blockading Leningrad and thousands were starving to death, a small band of Soviet scientists accepted the same fate, even as they guarded tons of rice, wheat, corn, beans and potatoes in a huge seed bank.

    Nine botanists perished in the midst of plenty, thus preserving the seeds for science -- and for future generations, including Americans, many of whose crops today are the result of cross-breeding with varieties the scientists saved from destruction.

    The researchers were on the staff of the Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry, and their ordeal helped maintain their institute as one of the world`s largest repositories of the genetic diversity of food crops.

    Their story, little known in the West, was recently told in the journal Diversity by two institute officials, S.M. Alexanyan and V.I. Krivchenko.

    When World War II came to Leningrad, now called St. Petersburg, the Vavilov Institute had accumulated seeds from 187,000 varieties of plants, of which about 40,000 were food crops. By maintaining the stock, which requires periodically replanting and harvesting fresh seed, various qualities such as resistance to particular pests or adaptability to various climates are available to be bred into existing crops.

    In the fall of 1941, Nazi forces tried to take Leningrad but were held off by the Red Army. The stalemate became a siege with frequent shelling and skirmishing that would last 880 days.

    ``It became increasingly difficult to work in the institute,`` Alexanyan and Krivchenko wrote. ``The building was unheated, as there was neither firewood nor coal. Because of unrelenting firing on the city`s center, the building`s windows were broken and had to be boarded up. The institute was cold, damp and dark.``

    As the winter wore on and temperatures plummeted to 40 below, the potato collection was at special risk of freezing. It, like much of the collection, also was vulnerable to plunder by hungry townspeople.

    Institute workers ``burned everything to get heat,`` the authors wrote -- ``boxes, paper, cardboard and debris from destroyed buildings. To guard and care for the collection they established 24-hour vigils for the scientific workers at a special outpost near the potato storage area.``

    Working secretly, the scientists prepared a sample of the collection to be smuggled out of Leningrad. The collection was transported over a frozen lake to a storage site in the Ural mountains. Other parts of the collection were divided into smaller lots and also smuggled out of Leningrad.

    As the weeks passed, even the rats became hungrier and bolder.

    Famine in the city reached major proportions, killing tens of thousands.

    In January 1942, Alexander Stchukin, a peanut specialist, died at his writing table. Georgi Kriyer, who was in charge of medicinal plants, and Dmitri Ivanov, head of the rice collection, also succumbed.

    ``After Ivanov`s death,`` the authors wrote, ``workers found several thousand packs of rice in his collection that he had preserved while dying of starvation.``

    The siege of Leningrad would continue until January 1944. Through it all, the Vavilov collection was largely preserved. In the postwar years the institute grew and prospered as one of the world`s premier sites for the collection and preservation of plant genetic diversity.

    Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, the Vavilov has again fallen on hard times. Sources of money have become uncertain and, according to Jose Esquinas-Alcazar of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, ``the Vavilov doesn't even have money to pay its electricity bills. It would be a terrible shame if the world lost that institution.``
    Scientists Died Guarding Seeds During Wwii - tribunedigital-sunsentinel
    Last edited by Madeline; 22nd May 2017 at 04:16 PM.
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  2. #2
    Veteran Member Madeline's Avatar
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    And then there's this guy.....

    Thirty years ago, on 26 September 1983, the world was saved from potential nuclear disaster.

    In the early hours of the morning, the Soviet Union's early-warning systems detected an incoming missile strike from the United States. Computer readouts suggested several missiles had been launched. The protocol for the Soviet military would have been to retaliate with a nuclear attack of its own.

    But duty officer Stanislav Petrov - whose job it was to register apparent enemy missile launches - decided not to report them to his superiors, and instead dismissed them as a false alarm.

    This was a breach of his instructions, a dereliction of duty. The safe thing to do would have been to pass the responsibility on, to refer up.
    But his decision may have saved the world.

    "I had all the data [to suggest there was an ongoing missile attack]. If I had sent my report up the chain of command, nobody would have said a word against it," he told the BBC's Russian Service 30 years after that overnight shift.

    Mr Petrov - who retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel and now lives in a small town near Moscow - was part of a well-trained team which served at one of the Soviet Union's early warning bases, not far from Moscow. His training was rigorous, his instructions very clear.

    His job was to register any missile strikes and to report them to the Soviet military and political leadership. In the political climate of 1983, a retaliatory strike would have been almost certain.

    And yet, when the moment came, he says he almost froze in place.

    "The siren howled, but I just sat there for a few seconds, staring at the big, back-lit, red screen with the word 'launch' on it," he says.

    The system was telling him that the level of reliability of that alert was "highest". There could be no doubt. America had launched a missile.

    "A minute later the siren went off again. The second missile was launched. Then the third, and the fourth, and the fifth. Computers changed their alerts from 'launch' to 'missile strike'," he says.

    Mr Petrov smokes cheap Russian cigarettes as he relates the incidents he must have played over countless times in his mind.

    "There was no rule about how long we were allowed to think before we reported a strike. But we knew that every second of procrastination took away valuable time; that the Soviet Union's military and political leadership needed to be informed without delay.

    "All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders - but I couldn't move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan," he told us.

    Soviet protocol said the military should respond to a nuclear attack with one of its own.

    Although the nature of the alert seemed to be abundantly clear, Mr Petrov had some doubts.

    Alongside IT specialists, like him, Soviet Union had other experts, also watching America's missile forces. A group of satellite radar operators told him they had registered no missiles.

    But those people were only a support service. The protocol said, very clearly, that the decision had to be based on computer readouts. And that decision rested with him, the duty officer.

    But what made him suspicious was just how strong and clear that alert was.

    "There were 28 or 29 security levels. After the target was identified, it had to pass all of those 'checkpoints'. I was not quite sure it was possible, under those circumstances," says the retired officer.

    Mr Petrov called the duty officer in the Soviet army's headquarters and reported a system malfunction.

    If he was wrong, the first nuclear explosions would have happened minutes later.

    "Twenty-three minutes later I realised that nothing had happened. If there had been a real strike, then I would already know about it. It was such a relief," he says with a smile.

    Now, 30 years on, Mr Petrov thinks the odds were 50-50. He admits he was never absolutely sure that the alert was a false one.

    He says he was the only officer in his team who had received a civilian education. "My colleagues were all professional soldiers, they were taught to give and obey orders," he told us.

    So, he believes, if somebody else had been on shift, the alarm would have been raised.

    A few days later Mr Petrov received an official reprimand for what happened that night. Not for what he did, but for mistakes in the logbook.

    He kept silent for 10 years. "I thought it was shameful for the Soviet army that our system failed in this way," he says.

    But, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the story did get into the press. Mr Petrov received several international awards.

    But he does not think of himself as a hero.

    "That was my job", he says. "But they were lucky it was me on shift that night."
    Stanislav Petrov: The man who may have saved the world - BBC News
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  3. #3
    Veteran Member Madeline's Avatar
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    So...anyone else have such stories to share?

  4. #4
    the "good" prag pragmatic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Madeline View Post
    So...anyone else have such stories to share?

    Boris and Natasha

    Thanks from Madeline

  5. #5
    Veteran Member Madeline's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pragmatic View Post
    Boris and Natasha

    That was genius! So was Spy v. Spy.

    Remember that cartoon?
    Thanks from Bourne and pragmatic

  6. #6
    The Un-Holy One The Man's Avatar
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    @Bourne, want to come post your senile Russophobic nonsense in here too?

    lol Probably would, if I posted it..

  7. #7
    Veteran Member Madeline's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Man View Post
    @Bourne, want to come post your senile Russophobic nonsense in here too?

    lol Probably would, if I posted it..
    Aw, don't squabble with Bourne. I am fond of both of you.
    Thanks from Hollywood

  8. #8
    Banned Camp
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    Quote Originally Posted by Madeline View Post
    Aw, don't squabble with Bourne. I am fond of both of you.
    No squabble from me. I avoid intellectual vapidity here.

    Cheers,

    Bourne

  9. #9
    Veteran Member Madeline's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bourne View Post
    No squabble from me. I avoid intellectual vapidity here.

    Cheers,

    Bourne
    *Sighs*

    This was meant to be a happy thread.....
    Thanks from Hollywood

  10. #10
    Banned Camp
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    Quote Originally Posted by Madeline View Post
    *Sighs*

    This was meant to be a happy thread.....
    And so it shall be as far as I'm concerned. I've done nothing to derail it.

    Cheers,

    Bourne
    Last edited by Bourne; 22nd May 2017 at 04:42 PM.
    Thanks from Madeline

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