Victory Day – All You Want to Know
Q: What’s this Victory Day all about?
A: If you don’t know yet, «День Победы» commemorates Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.
Q: How important is Victory Day celebration to average Russian people? Isn’t it all state-driven propaganda similar to now-defunct «День Великой Октябрьской социалистической революции» [the Great October Socialist Revolution Day]?
A: Victory Day is an enormously important holiday for all people of Russia (and the former Soviet republics). It wouldn’t be too much to say that it’s one of the three «наиважнейшие» [most significant] annual holidays, the other two being the New Year and one’s birthday.
«Иначе и быть не может» [how could it be otherwise] – even the most conservative numbers estimate the losses at 26 million people, including civilian deaths. These numbers are awfully impersonal. But look through a family photo album and chances are there will be at least one old photo of someone – father, husband, mother, sister – who perished in the war. As Russians so often say, «нет в нашей стране ни одной семьи, не затронутойэтой войной» [in our country, there is not a single family that was spared by this war.]
Q: Why is Victory Day celebrated on May 9th in Russia when in Western Europe it’s May 8th?
A: The German «акт о безаговорочной капитуляции» [Act of Unconditional Surrender] was signed in Rheims, France on May 7, 1945. It was to be in full effect as of 11:01pm on May 8, 1945. However, the document had to be ratified the following day in Berlin since it had to be signed by the Soviet Supreme Commander, Marshal Georgy Zhukov. By the time the Act was signed, it was already «девятое мая» [May 9th] in Moscow.
Q: How do Russians celebrate Victory Day?
A: A few days before the Victory Day Russian leaders, including local leaders, lay wreaths at the war memorials. Then, of course, there’s the Victory Day parade in Moscow’s Red Square and, later in the evening, a concert, artillery salvo and fireworks. Smaller parades and fireworks are held in many cities across Russia.
This year things are going to be very different. To start with, the number of cities that will hold Victory Parades will be huge. 72 cities in Russia and 1 in Ukraine will participate in what’s become known as «общероссийский парад Победы» [the all-Russia Victory Parade]. Also, while traditionally Victory Day parades start at 10am local time, this year they are all synchronized to start at exactly 10am Moscow time – «в десять часов утра по московскому времени».
Q: Why 10am?
A: Because that was the time the very first Victory Day Parade started. The first parade took place on June 24, 1945.
Q: Are there any traditional Victory Day songs?
A: There are quite a few, but here are the two most famous ones. The first one, written in the first days of the war, became the de-facto war anthem, calling the country to rise up for the sacred battle. The second one, written for the 30th anniversary of the Victory, is a bitter-sweet reminder of the costs of the Victory.
«Священная война» [Sacred War]
«День Победы» [Victory Day]
Q: Do regular Russians get to participate in Victory Day parades?
A: Only as «зрители» [spectators]. Victory Day parades are 100% military parades, conducted in pass-and-review style. Civilians get to join in only through watching, waving Russian flags and wearing «Георгиевская ленточка» [the ribbon of St. George] – an orange (fire) and black (smoke)- striped ribbon that recently became a symbol of remembrance of «Великая Отечественная война» [the Great Patriotic War] and of respect for the war veterans.
Q: Speaking of veterans – are there many left? What’s being done for them?
A: There are just over 300,000 veterans left. Keep in mind that even the youngest ones are in their 80ies. While there are lots of «высокопарные слова» [highfalutin words] said about their heroic deeds and sacrifices and millions of ribbons handed out to schoolchildren, it is widely acknowledged that not enough is done to improve veterans’ living conditions or provide the care they need. As some point out, the money that «чиновники на верху» [high-placed government officials] spent on this year’s lavish festivities would’ve been put to better end use to improve veterans’ lives in a direct way.
Q: Where can I watch this year’s parade if I don’t have access to Russian TV channels?
A: I’ve been asking this question myself for a while now. Try the State’s official «интернет-канал Россия» [Internet-channel “Russia”]
Some of our Facebook fans suggested the online real-time broadcast of Russia’s First Channel . It looks promising, but keep in mind that they broadcast on Moscow time plus not all of their sub-channels will be available from your country.
Another suggestion was the English-language www.rt.com (go to their On Air section on the day of the parade; they must have at least some of it in the News segments). Failing all of that, wait until someone uploads videos to YouTube.
Unless you've been here in Russia on the 9th May, most people would only associate this date with the Victory Day Parade on Red Square. But it's so much more than that. In towns and cities throughout Russia people of all ages (from toddlers upwards) give flowers to the surviving veterans, Russian children are taught from a young age what happened in their country between 1941-45. On the 9th May many people wear period costumes (last year even some Moscow policewomen were dressed in WW2 military attire for the day), various (and numerous) events with a 1941-45 focus are organised - people of all ages can participate. And do so. The fact that ordinary Russians can also take part in the march of "The Immortal Regiment" (where people can march holding a small placard showing the name and photo of family members who fought for Russia in WW2) is amazing. I would guess 100s of 1000s participate in this - so these people who served their country aren't forgotten. For me, I feel very sad, that in my own country (Great Britain) a huge percentage of children (and adults) have no idea what the people of the British Isles (and elsewhere) went through from 1939-45 and the sacrifices which were made by them for freedom. Often, I wonder what my grandfathers would think (if they were still alive) of the country as it is now - after their generation gave so much to keep it free. Russia gets more than its fair share of negative international press, but how they remember the events of 75 years ago, and their country's defenders is a lesson to my country and many others - I think.