A Russian amateur diet club became the target of online fury on Tuesday after proposing a weight-loss program inspired by the Siege of Leningrad in World War II — which killed 670,000 civilians, mostly from starvation.
The diet, posted by a group called "Get Thin Like Me," suggests eating the same food as starving residents of Leningrad, now called St. Petersburg, did after the Nazis cut off food supplies to the city.
"You won't only get a jump start on your figure and health — you'll also get a charge from the energy of a unified team and recall the triumph of Leningraders during the fascist Blockade," the group's founder, Alexander Siry, wrote.
The diet, styled after rations for workers in December 1941, involves eating only 400 grams of bread all day. Men are allowed to drink 100 grams of vodka in the evening, but without bread.
The particularly committed are encouraged to make their own "blockade bread" with offal, grist, wood shavings, and cat food. Regular brown bread is OK, though.
Though Siry's event only attracted 19 attendees, hundreds of offended Russians wrote hostile comments on the page.
"Organizers, are you crazy? What's going on in your thinning heads?" someone who uses the name Yana Podyanova Timmerman wrote.
"Let them starve for 900 days," just like the citizens of Leningrad, a user named Tamara Deikina wrote. "Natural selection. They'll all die and we'll have more room to breathe."
Siry, 48, a documentary filmmaker, told BuzzFeed News that he created the event to honor the 71st anniversary of the end of the blockade and said he was surprised by the criticism.
"It's all been blown out of proportion," Siry said. "I don't see anything wrong with it."
Siry said that he lost 250 pounds in two years by developing his own weight-loss method based around overcoming problems with motivation, belief, and "a few other things you can call diseases, like gluttony and expanded stomachs." He shares his knowledge for free with a small group of obese people online — some of whom live as far away as Mariupol on the front lines in eastern Ukraine.
"I just asked my friends who are trying to lose weight but have problems with their motivation to just drink water and eat a limited amount of bread," Siry added. "Today I was walking around and saw lots of promos in town with much more dubious connections to the blockade."
Russians are fiercely protective of their victory in World War II, during which over 20 million Soviet citizens died.
The Russian government has sought to exploit its memory in recent years as a way of whipping up patriotic fervor. Last year, the country's only independent news channel was nearly driven off the air after running a supposedly offensive survey about the blockade that asked whether the Soviet Union should have surrendered the city to save civilian lives.
Max Seddon is a correspondent for BuzzFeed World based in Berlin. He has reported from Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and across the ex-Soviet Union and Europe. His secure PGP fingerprint is 6642 80FB 4059 E3F7 BEBE 94A5 242A E424 92E0 7B71
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