The Dagestani poet Rasul Gamzatov, when visiting Hiroshima, was impressed by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the monument to Sadako Sasaki. The memory of paper cranes made by the girl haunted him for months and inspired him to write a poem starting with the now famous lines:
"It seems to me sometimes that our soldiers
Who were not to return from fields of gore
Did not one day lie down into our land
But turned into a skein (wedge) of white cranes..."
The poem was originally written in Avar language, with many versions surrounding the initial wording. Its famous Russian translation was soon made by a Russian poet and translator Naum Grebnyov, and was turned into a song in 1969, becoming one of the best known Russian-language WWII ballads all over the world.
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. When Frenkel first played his new song, Bernes (who was ill with lung cancer) cried because he felt that this song was about his own fate: "There is a small empty spot in the crane wedge. 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 the Earth." The song was recorded from the first attempt on 9 July 1969. Bernes died a month after the recording on 16 August 1969, and the record was played at his funeral. Later on, "Zhuravli" would most often be performed by Joseph Kobzon.
In the aftermath, white cranes have become associated with dead soldiers, so much so that a range of WWII memorials in the former Soviet Union feature the image of flying cranes and, in several instances, even the lines from the song.
- 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).
- Valery Leontiev performed this song in 2004
- Serebro performed this song in 2007