The Battle of Stalingrad, which turned the tide of World War II 80 years ago when German forces capitulated to the Red Army, remains a powerful symbol of patriotism in Russia as it presses its war in Ukraine.

One of the largest battles in history, the fighting raged for more than six months in 1942 and 1943 before the Russians defeated Nazi soldiers trapped in the ruined city in the depths of winter.

By the time it was over, on February 2, 1943, between one and two million people had died.

The first-ever surrender by the Nazis was glorified in Russia as the event that rescued Europe from Adolf Hitler and the city was hailed as a "Hero City."

Russian servicemen dressed in historical uniforms march during a military parade in Volgograd

Located some 900km southeast of Moscow, pre-war Stalingrad was a crucible of Soviet industry with factories in the city of 600,000 people churning out military hardware.

Stalingrad also acted as a gateway to the oil fields of the Caucasus as well as to Central Asia and the Caspian Sea.

For Hitler, who had in June 1941 pulled out of a German-Soviet non-aggression pact, its name alone made it a tantalising target and worthy of an epic fight. Stalin, in turn, was determined to hold on to it at any cost.

200 days and nights

The battle began in July 1942 and lasted for 200 days of grinding aerial bombardments and house-to-house combat between the Germans troops on one side and Soviet soldiers and civilians on the other.

Soviet Anti aircraft machine gun during the Battle of Stalingrad battle in 1942

The Soviets were under strict orders from Stalin to stand their ground. "Not a single step back," he ordered, warning that troops who retreated would be shot.

The 6th Army of German general Friedrich Paulus managed to gain control of 90% of the city.

But in November, the Red Army staged a forceful counter-offensive, overcoming the enemy troops who were trapped and left to starve in the Soviet winter.

In January 1943, the Soviets launched a final offensive, retaking the ruined city district by district until the last German troops capitulated on 2 February 1943.

Founded in late 16th century on the banks of the mighty Volga River, the city was originally known as Tsaritsyn.

It was renamed Stalingrad in 1925 in honour of the then Soviet leader and in 1961 was renamed again to Volgograd amid Kremlin's in the wake of Stalin's death to erase the dictator's cult of personality.

A military parade in Volgograd marks the battle's 80th anniversary

In 2013, MPs in the city voted to revive the name Stalingrad for ceremonial purposes six days a year, including 2 February, to commemorate the Nazi surrender, and 9 May, to mark the final Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.

Yesterday, a bust of Stalin was unveiled in the city ahead of the 80th anniversary commemorations of the Soviet victory in the Battle of Stalingrad.

The city has many Soviet monuments, fuelling a brisk business in historical tourism.

Looming large over the city is a hilltop memorial to the battle that includes a towering 85m sculpture of a woman with a raised sword, known as "The Motherland Calls".

"Defenders of Stalingrad have passed a great heritage to us: love for the Motherland, readiness to protect its interests and independence, to stand strong in the face of any test," Vladimir Putin said in 2018 on the 75th anniversary of the surrender.

The battle has been the inspiration of several films, from German director Joseph Vilsmaier's "Stalingrad", a brutal depiction of the battle as seen by German troops, to Russian director Fyodor Bondarchuk's 2013 take on the Soviet experience.

German soldiers pictured during the battle

In literature it inspired Vasily Grossman's acclaimed 1960 masterpiece 'Life and Fate', which was banned in the Soviet Union for over quarter of a century for drawing a line between Stalinism and Nazism.

In popular culture, Sergeant Yakov Pavlov, one of the battle's heroes, appears in the cult video game 'Call of Duty'.