Fortress of War

By Dilon Bhana

Mr Ilya Rogachev, Ambassador of Russia to South Africa welcoming guests

20 September 2021

The 22nd of June is the day of Remembrance and Sorrow for Russian Soldiers. It marks the first day of the Russian Patriotic war which commenced on the 22nd of June 1941 at the Fortress of Brest. The Russian Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa organised a photo-exhibition to commemorate the day in June of this year. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 lockdown regulations, the event was postponed until the 14th of September, and took place at Apogee hotel.

The photo-exhibition was titled “Symbols of Victory” and it showcased and honoured Russian Soldiers who gave their lives defending their country. In addition to the photo-exhibition, a Russian movie titled “The Fortress of War” was screened. The film shows the defense of the Brest Fortress in Soviet Belarus. It is a beautifully sorrowful film which portrays the lives and the stories of the very same soldiers who are celebrated as Russian Heroes on this day and every day.

During his speech, Ambassador Ilya Rogachev said that this film is, “not an action movie and it does not serve an entertainment purpose. It is a reflection of bitter memories of the very first, the hardest, days of the Great Patriotic War, wrapped in a film.” And there are no better words to describe it.

“The Fortress of War” is a 2010 film by director Alexander Kott and features an enchanting score by Yury Krasavin. It manages to beautifully portray the passion and dedication that the Russian soldiers defending the Fortress of Brest, had for their country; the Motherland. The Nazis planned to seize Brest within 8 hours; however, they fought back for a month. There is a sombre scene in the movie where a soldier inscribes on a wall the words, “I am dying but I am not surrendering. Goodbye Motherland.” Ambassador Rogachev in his speech said, “There’s hardly anyone in Russian who is not familiar with these words and their context.”

The events of the movie are narrated from the perspective of 15-year-old Sasha Akimov who manages to survive the onslaught and years later, the movie shows an elderly Sasha paying tribute to the memorial of Brest Fortress, accompanied by his grandson.

Surrendering to the Nazis meant slavery and abuse. The other option was to fight or to die trying. The heroes of Brest defended the Fortress until the bitter end, choosing self-sacrifice to protect the lives of others. Their deaths were courageous and honourable. In sorrow, we honour these soldiers in their deaths by remembering them and commending their undying courage.