The physician Polina Persitskaya was born in Mogilev. Shortly before the beginning of Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941, she graduated from the 1st Medical Institute in Leningrad. As a military doctor of the 3rd rank, she treated some of the earliest war wounded in Leningrad hospitals, saving their lives.
In early August 1941, Persitskaya was sent to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, which was about to be occupied by the Germans. She was assigned to Sibir, a hospital ship that was transporting wounded and evacuees to Leningrad. The sea voyage was very difficult, because, by that time, both shores of the Gulf of Finland were controlled by the enemy, and the vessels were deliberately targeted by German aircraft. On August 19, 1941, Sibir came under attack, despite the Red Cross insignia displayed prominently upon it. There were about 1300 persons aboard the ship. Fortunately, Polina Persitskaya survived, and was able to rescue others by helping to transfer the wounded to the escort boats that guarded the hospital ship. Approximately 200 people died in this tragic incident.
After returning to Leningrad, Persitskaya resumed her hospital work. In September 1941, the city came under siege. The shortages of food and medicines were exacerbated by the exceptionally cold winter. People were starving and freezing to death. From September 1941 to March 1943, the besieged city was connected to the outside world by a single route, which became known as the "Road of Life". In winter 1942, having been diagnosed with tuberculosis, Persitskaya was sent away, being chosen to accompany some gravely wounded patients traveling into the Soviet rear along this route. In this way, she found herself in Kungur (the Perm Region), where she worked as a surgeon, performing operations that could take many hours.
In the spring of 1945, with the end of the war, Polina Persitskaya was sent to Vyborg. This formerly Finnish city, which had been annexed to the USSR in 1944, was almost completely ruined and in need of a systemic reconstruction. Persitskaya was involved in restoring the hospitals in Vyborg, making them fully operational.
After a while, she returned to Leningrad and resumed her work as a physician.
January 1953 saw the beginning of the notorious "Doctors' Plot", with prominent Soviet physicians, most of them Jews, being falsely accused of plotting to poison the country's leadership. Persitskaya was one of many Jewish medical workers fired from their jobs as part of this antisemitic campaign. In March 1953, the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin died, and his death brought a halt to the affair of the "killer doctors", who were cleared of all charges shortly afterward. Polina was able to resume working.
Polina Persitskaya died in Leningrad in 1956.