Set for release on November 24, 2016, the upcoming Russian film Panfilov’s 28 Men (28 панфиловцев) resurfaces a historically disputed story from WWII about a unit of 28 troops elevated to hero status through the Battle of Moscow.
In 1941, as German troops approached Moscow, a group of predominantly Kazakh and Kyrgyz soldiers in the Red Army’s 316th Rifle Division (commanded by General Ivan Panfilov) were assigned to defend against a panzer (tank) division. According to official Soviet accounts, all 28 soldiers in the unit were killed after valiantly destroying 18 German tanks. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, reports surfaced that the story of Panfilov’s 28, as the soldiers became known, may have been exaggerated by the Red Army’s official newspaper.
Nevertheless, many Russians maintain that the story of Panfilov’s 28 is true, as after WWII it became embedded into the national consciousness through widespread media attention, the municipal anthem of Moscow (which makes a reference to the 28), and various monuments (including a major park in Almaty, Kazakhstan). Thus, to attack the authenticity of the story would be to attack the national spirit of Russia.
Produced with support from the Russian and Kazakh culture ministries, as well as the video game War Thunder, the movie Panfilov’s 28 Men pushes back at doubters of the official narrative. The film’s website acknowledges that while “historical ‘truth’ has turned away from the heroes”, “nothing can change what actually happened”. Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to agree — along with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, he attended an advance screening of the film last month.