The heraldic animal of Yaroslavl is the bear (click). Nevertheless, the city is famous for its cats. To two of them, our Muska and Lena’s Yoshka we have already raised a monument more lasting than bronze here on this blog. But a bronze monument was also raised to the cats of Yaroslavl, exactly ten years ago, on 25 January 2000.
The bronze cat sits enthroned at one of the most distinguished sites of Saint-Petersburg, on the Malaya Sadovaya front of the beautiful Art Nouveau Elisseeff Emporium – the Elisseeff family, now living in emigration, prefers this spelling instead of the phonetic Yeliseyev –, which was built in 1903 on the Nevsky Prospekt and has maintained its original function for more than a century. The tomcat is called Yelisey after the house.
The Elisseeff Emporium in 1904 seen from the Nevsky Prospekt (the side street is the Malaya Sadovaya)
On the opposite side of the Malaya Sadovaya, on the front of the house number 3 there is Yelisey’s girlfriend Vasilisa purring. This statue was placed there some months later so that Yelisey should not feel alone.
The date of the statue’s erection on 25 January was not accidental: it was a part of festive preparations. In fact, on 27 January the city celebrated the 57th anniversary of Leningrad’s liberation from the almost 900 days long siege, the “Блокада”, in the course of which six hundred thousand inhabitants of the city perished of bombs, diseases and hunger.
Diary of twelve years old Tanya Savicheva in which she noted down the death of all the members of her family between 28 December 1941 and 30 May 1942.
And as if the siege and famine were not enough, the city was also afflicted by an unprecedented invasion of rats that spread epidemics and devoured everything they found. According to the memories of the survivors they advanced in organized troops, sometimes covering in black whole streets. A witness related this in the 5 February 1997 edition of Труд:
…тьма крыс длинными шеренгами во главе со своими вожаками двигались по Шлиссельбургскому тракту прямо к мельнице, где мололи муку для всего города. В крыс стреляли, их пытались давить танками, но ничего не получалось: они забирались на танки и благополучно ехали на них дальше. Это был враг организованный, умный и жестокий.
The rats marched in long, black rows behind their leaders along the Shlisselbourg avenue, right to the mills where flour was ground for the whole city. People shot on the rats, they tried to trample on them with tanks, but in vain: they climbed on the tanks and marched on unshakably. They were an organized, clever and cruel enemy.
After every human attempt failed, there remained only one hope left – the cats. The city council wrote for help to Yaroslavl which, as everyone knows, has the best mouse-catching cats in all Russia. And the help arrived. When the Red Army finally broke through the siege, the greatest gift they brought with themselves along food were four wagons of cats from Yaroslavl.
The Yaroslavl cats soon cut heavily into the hosts of rats, and they forced them back to a great extent. However, the final victory was achieved with the contribution of a new supply of cats that arrived some months after the end of the siege – this time from Siberia.
The cats for Leningrad, the “Hero City” were offered both in Yaroslavl and then in Siberia just like war loans. Announcements called upon help for the much-suffered city, and people who two years earlier enlisted their sons for soldiers now stood in queues to offer their cats to Mother Russia. In Tomsk on the first day they enlisted 238 cats from the age of six months to five years for the aid of Leningrad. According to the registers at the end of 1943 only from Omsk, Tomsk and Irkutsk there were five thousand cats fighting on the rat front of Leningrad – with full success.
And the people of Leningrad accommodated each cat with a family which adopted them. The long-haired, banner-tailed, tiger-statured cats of Saint-Petersburg are the offsprings of these liberators. The bronze statues of Yelisey and Vasilisa, placed for the anniversary at the two fronts of the Malaya Sadovaya street on the suggestion of historian S. B. Lebedev, are raised to their memory.
Petersburg rumour has it that whoever throws a coin on the pedestal of Yelisey will see one of his wishes fulfilled. This, however, is not as simple as it sounds, as Yelisey keeps scanning the city traffic from the height of the second floor. Recently the metal pedestal was changed for a fiberglass one, perhaps to prevent any doubt. Since then every inhabitant of Pityer can see whether his throw has hit and he has found favor with the city-protecting cat.