Vera Inber had survived the first cruel months of the Leningrad siege. In the depths of winter the death toll from cold and starvation had mounted alarmingly. The ordeal was far from over but some relief came with the opening of a road over the the frozen expanse of Lake Ladoga.
As a journalist, on 26th February, she had the chance to leave the city to visit a army base nearby:
Lake Ladoga is an enormous plain of ice and snow-as on the Pole. Everything is made of snow-fences, made solid or with snow bricks, semicircular igloos for the anti-aircraft crews, foundations for the anti-aircraft guns. Everything is virgin clean, white almost blue, and over it all the gentle vault of blue sky.
Everything that is not white comes as a shock to the eye. The poppy-red flag of the trail scout can be seen from a kilometre away. Not for nothing it is said here, ‘Snow is the life-line for the soldier. He digs himself into it, drinks it, washes himself in it.’
My long sight, which is a nuisance when I am reading or writing, is most useful here. I could see nearly everything, right up to the horizon. There, on the frozen lake road, multi-coloured dots are moving . … there are the lorries. If they are pink, it means mutton carcasses are being transported, if black – coal, if yellow – boxes made of bark with I don’t know what in them, smooth and white, almost indistinguishable from the snow – bags of flour.
This is our daily bread, our life-line, sent to Leningrad from the Great Earth. [Landmass in Soviet hands as distinguished from enclaves within German occupation held by the partisans or besieged places.]
The labour of the Ladoga lorry drivers is a sacred labour. It is enough to cast an eye on the road. This worn-out, bombed, tormented road which knows no peace, day or night. Its snow is turned to sand. Wrecked machines and spare parts are lying everywhere-in ruts, pot-holes, ditches, in bomb craters, there are wrecked vehicles.
And this is the road that the Ladoga drivers cross four times a day under bombing and shell-fire. It is for them that everywhere there are notices printed in scarlet on shields: ‘DRIVER HAVE YOU DONE TWO RUNS TODAY?’ And indeed each driver does his two trips.