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"Zhuravli" (Russian: «Журавли́», IPA: [ʐʊrɐˈvlʲi], Cranes), first performed in 1969, is one of the most famous Russian songs about World War II.[1]


The Dagestani poet Rasul Gamzatov, when visiting Hiroshima, was impressed by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and its monument to Sadako Sasaki,[2][citation needed] a girl who contracted leukemia as a result of the radioactive contamination of the city. Following Japanese traditions, she constructed one thousand paper cranes, hoping (in vain) that this might save her life. The memory of paper cranes folded by this girl—a girl who to this day serves as one symbol of the innocent victims of war—haunted Gamzatov for months and inspired him to write a poem starting with the now famous lines:

"I sometimes feel that the soldiers
Who have not returned from the bloody fields
Never lay down to earth
But turned into white cranes..."


The poem was originally written in Gamzatov's native Avar language, with many versions surrounding the initial wording. Its famous 1968 Russian translation was soon made by the prominent Russian poet and translator Naum Grebnev, and was turned into a song in 1969, becoming one of the best known Russian-language World War II ballads all over the world.[1]

One of the best English translations in verse of the Gamzatov's poem was produced by an American poet ©Leo Schwartzberg 2018:


Sometimes I feel that all those fallen soldiers,
Who never left the bloody battle zones,
Have not been buried to decay and molder,
But turned into white cranes that softly groan.

And thus, until these days since those bygone times,
They still fly in the skies and gently cry.
Isn’t it why we often hear those bell chimes
And calmly freeze while looking in the sky?

A tired flock of cranes still flies – their wings flap.
Birds glide into the twilight, roaming free.
In their formation I can see a small gap –
It might be so, that space is meant for me.

The day shall come, when in a mist of ashen
I’ll soar with cranes, and final rest I’ll find,
From the skies calling – in a bird-like fashion –
All those of you who I’ll have left behind.

Sometimes I feel that all those fallen soldiers,
Who never left the bloody battle zones,
Have not been buried to decay and molder
But turned into white cranes that softly groan…

Musical adaptation[edit]

The poem's publication in the journal Novy Mir caught the attention of the famous actor and crooner Mark Bernes who revised the lyrics and asked Yan Frenkel to compose the music.[1] When Frenkel first played his new song, Bernes (who was by then suffering from lung cancer) cried because he felt that this song was about his own fate: "There is a small empty spot in the crane flock. Maybe it is reserved for me. One day I will join them, and from the skies I will call on all of you whom I had left on earth." The song was recorded from the first attempt on 9 July 1969. Bernes died on 16 August 1969, about five weeks after recording the song, and the recording was played at his funeral.[3] Later on, "Zhuravli" would most often be performed by Joseph Kobzon. According to Frenkel, "Cranes" was Bernes' last record, his "true swan song."[1]


"Cranes" became a symbol of the fallen soldiers of World War II. So much so that a range of World War II memorials in the former Soviet Union feature the image of flying cranes and, in several instances, even verses of the song, e.g., the Cranes Memorial of St. Petersburg.

Today, "Cranes" is still one of the most popular war songs in Russia.[1]

Since 1986, every 22 October, the Russian republic of Dagestan, the birthplace of the poet Rasul Gamzatov, holds "The White Cranes' Festival."

In 1995, fifty years after the defeat of the Nazis, Russia released a stamp in memory of the fallen of World War II. The stamp depicts flying cranes against the background of the Kremlin's War Memorial to the Unknown Soldier.[1]

In 2005, a Russian Veterans Memorial with an image of three white cranes and four lines of the poem Cranes in Russian and English was erected in Plummer Park, West Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California, United States. The cost of the 9-tonne monument was largely covered by the Los Angeles Association of Veterans of World War II, a group of Russian-speaking veterans. Local ceremonies to commemorate the end of the WWII are regularly held on the Victory Day in May. ( https://www.wehoville.com/2016/08/15/lengthy-costly-controversial-task-memorializing-veterans/ )

Covers and use in other media[edit]

  • in 1977 the very famous Greek poet, Giannis Ritsos, translated this poem in Greek and included it in his poetic collection "11 Russian folk songs". The Greek version of the poem is sung by Margarita Zorbala and it is called "Άσπροι Γερανοί" (=in Greek "white cranes")
  • In 2000, Russian opera singer Dmitry Khvorostovsky has released his own version of the song for the 55-year anniversary of Soviet Victory Day.
  • In 2003 Marc Almond recorded an English version "The Storks" for his album Heart on Snow.
  • This song was featured in a famous Korean Drama called Sandglass (TV series).
  • This song would become the theme song of Choi Min-soo, who starred in Sandglass, in Korean variety game show Running Man (TV series).
  • The Mark Bernes version was featured in a 2017 episode ("Dyatkovo") of the television series The Americans.
  • Valery Leontiev performed this song in 2004
  • Serebro performed this song in 2008


  1. ^ a b c d e f Elena Polyudova (2016). Soviet War Songs in the Context of Russian Culture. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 178. ISBN 978-1-443-88974-2. Archived from the original on 2017-09-26. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  2. ^ "www.school.edu.ru :: Журавли". Litera.edu.ru. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2013-05-24.
  3. ^ "43 года назад не стало Марка Бернеса". Tatar-inform.ru. Archived from the original on 2015-04-13. Retrieved 2013-05-24.

External links[edit]