Russia can't handle the truth about a legendary group of World War II heroes

Russia's state archives have touched off a firestorm with the release into the legend of the
(Image credit: Dmitry Astakhov/AFP/Getty Images)

The "Panfilov 28" are the stuff of legend in Russia: 28 brave soldiers from the Panfilov division of the Soviet Red Army who stared down German tanks on Nov. 16, 1941, dying to save Moscow rather than surrender to the Nazis. "Russia is vast, but there's nowhere to retreat," one of the squadron leaders said before dying, according to a contemporary report in the military newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda. "It's Moscow behind us."

Stirring words, still recited today. But, The Wall Street Journal notes, almost certainly made up by the Krasnaya Zvezda reporter and his editor, along with most other details of the story. "The recent online publication of a Soviet-era investigation into the matter has touched off a storm over the sanctity of a cherished piece of wartime lore," reports The Journal's Paul Sonne. "Though the findings were printed in a journal in the 1990s, their re-emergence now — in the era of social media and amid a resurgence of Soviet pride under President Vladimir Putin — is striking an especially sensitive nerve."

Soviet authorities never took action or released the 1948 investigation, launched by a prosecutor surprised that some of the 28 purported martyrs were turning up alive. The fight over the truth of the Panfilov 28 story is pitting Putin's government, notably Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, against State Archive director Sergei Mironenko, whose allusion to the report led to its publication online in July. You can read more about the messy collision of lore and fact at The Wall Street Journal.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.