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96-year-old siege of Leningrad survivor awarded Russian passport to return home

Maria Smulskaya currently lives in France because she was forced to leave the Soviet Union 40 years ago
Maria Smulskaya Dmitry Orlov/TASS
Maria Smulskaya
© Dmitry Orlov/TASS

PARIS, November 29. /TASS/. Russian authorities have made an elderly WWII survivor’s dream come true.

Maria Smulskaya, who currently lives in France because she was forced to leave the Soviet Union 40 years ago and hasn’t been able to return to St. Petersburg ever since, was granted Russian citizenship. Smulskaya received her new passport and a copy of the Russian president’s executive order awarding her Russian citizenship from Minister-Counsellor at the Russian Embassy in France Artyom Studennikov.

The elderly woman has been confined to her bed for six years now. However, despite residing in France for such a long time, she has not been able to obtain French citizenship and forfeited her Soviet one once the USSR had collapsed.

"Thank you from the bottom of my heart. This is an honor of a lifetime," the woman said during the ceremony, where she received her passport and the order signed on November 20, 2019. When asked about how she felt about her wish coming true, she simply replied, "If a request is granted, then a person is pleased, too." She hoped that she would still have time to return to Russia and noted that she was counting on the Russian embassy’s support.

Smulskaya told reporters that she followed her daughter to France who is a qualified stage designer. According to the woman, her daughter’s life was going well until her husband fell ill. "I had to give up my flat in Leningrad (the name of St. Petersburg during the Soviet era - TASS), right next to [the statue] of Peter the Great, right near the Neva River embankment," she revealed. According to the law back then, she had to give up the ownership of her flat to the state, so she did not have any place to return to.

Her daughter Iza said in an interview with journalists that France never became a home for her mother and, what’s more, she never learned the language, after having resided in the country for 40 years. Living in Paris with her daughter, Maria Smulskaya helped her to bring up three kids. Iza suggested that her mother return to Russia back in the 1990s when it was easy to restore citizenship, as she believed.

"She asked me, ‘Where am I going to live?’ but now she regrets not going," her daughter said. "Here [she] faces loneliness, but there [she has] the homeland and other social relationships."

Smulskaya announced in a letter addressed to the Russian embassy in France that there is already an agreement with a nursing home in St. Petersburg. "Iza will accompany me so that I can fulfill my dream of returning home," she wrote.

Recollections from the Siege of Leningrad

Before moving to France, Smulskaya had lived in Leningrad for 50 years. She told reporters that from the very first day when the siege of Leningrad unfolded she worked very hard in a hospital. "Many people were dying. Some fought and some worked, it was also very difficult. It was damp, cold and we were hungry," Smulskaya said, recalling the hard times during the siege.

At the same time, the woman emphasized that "people were extraordinary then", everyone was ready to help each other or even a stranger in the streets if they needed it.

After the war, she spent 34 years working in Leningrad construction organizations. In 2019, she was awarded a commemorative medal ‘In Honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Complete Liberation of Leningrad from the Fascist Blockade’ on behalf of the St. Petersburg government in Paris.