From American news sources you sort of get the impression that in Russia the celebration of Victory Day is just an excuse to display military might and, this year, to gloat over the annexation of the Crimea.
I can only tell what I see, but I’m sure it’s pretty much the same everywhere: the purpose of the May 9 observance is to celebrate a great victory, which was won at the cost of millions of Russian lives. The Second World War—or, as it’s sometimes called here, the Great Patriotic War—left its permanent scar on virtually every family.
For me, the most moving and impressive part of the whole event is how the Russians treat their veterans. Not only are they publicly honored. Young and old go up to them, give them flowers, shake their hands, thank them for what they did, and wish them health and long life.
Not just living veterans receive honor. Descendants of soldiers march in the parade carrying placards of their fathers and grandfathers who fought in the war, many of whom died in combat. There’s even an organization called “Children of the War (Дети войны).”
This year one might have expected a lot of political rhetoric concerning the current situation in Ukraine. Not so. In the speeches following the parade, I heard only one tiny reference to this crisis, and it was not addressed against Ukraine, but against certain extremists there. Truly, the people came to celebrate the end of the war in 1945, not to promote any current cause.
At these events you will note a lot of symbols from the Soviet times. Americans see this and wrongly conclude from it that nothing has really changed. It’s simply a fact that the victory was won by the Soviet Union and the Allies. This is the historical reality, and the emblems from that time are a part of the picture.
Not that there isn’t any political proselytizing on the side. The Communist Party was there, passing out its literature. (See pamphlet below.) They probably hoped to capitalize on nostalgia and on one of the successes of the Union. Not many people seemed too interested, however.
The Victory Day parade is a joyous day here. There’s something for everyone. From the few surviving veterans of World War Two, to soldiers serving now, to children’s organizations, all join together to keep alive the memory of that time. They honor the past and look toward the future.