Every May 9th is Victory Day in Russia, the day that commemorates the surrender of Nazi Germany to the U.S.S.R. in 1945, at the end of World War II.
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During the course of World War II, known is Russia as “the Great Patriotic War,” around 25 million Russians perished during four years of conflict. Victory Day is dedicated to the memory of those who fought and died and to the celebration of the victory they secured.
Although Germany first surrendered to the Western allies early on May 7th, Russia objected because the surrender was made in Reims instead of Berlin and because it was not made to Soviet forces. To “correct” this situation, Germany again surrendered, this time to the Soviet Union, in Berlin on the 8th of May.
According to Russian time, however, it was already May 9th, and the announcement was made in Russia on May 9th. This is why V-E (Victory in Europe) Day is on May 7th, while Victory Day in Russia falls on May 9th. Although May 9th was immediately declared a holiday in 1945, it was not an off-work day nor a major celebration until 1965 and following. Furthermore, military parades did not become a common feature of Victory Day celebrations until 1995.
On Victory Day, Russian TV is flooded with movies and documentaries about World War II. Veterans are honoured, fireworks displays are common, there are parades all over the country, and the grand parade is held in Moscow’s Red Square. Many give war veterans red carnations of other flowers, and many veterans proudly wear their medals. Local schools and veterans’ organisations hold special events, sometimes featuring war-themed singing and poetry. In the privacy of their own homes, Russian families gather to honour still-living World War II veterans as well as to remember those who have died.
Since Victory Day is a public holiday in Russia, many places of business will be closed. Also note that many transport routes will be detoured to make way for the numerous parades and street performances.
Things to do as a local or tourist On Victory Day include the following:
- Watch a local parade or attend the “big” parade in Moscow. You will see military equipment put on display, including tanks, missile launchers, thousands of soldiers on the march, and the latest new military innovations. The troops will move through Red Square in a stunning display, going right past the Kremlin. After the parade, there will be a ceremony at the Russian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Wreaths will also be laid on the graves of the fallen. Keep an eye out for black and yellow ribbons called “St. George Ribbons,” which are meant to honour acts of valour. Also look for the Red Star Medal, which symbolises bravery, and red carnations at war memorials and on veterans themselves.
- If in Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, look for the towering statue called “The Motherland Calls.” It is the largest statue of a woman in the world and is constructed from pre-stressed concrete and internal wire ropes. The posture is grandiose and very distinct, the sword raised high in the one hand while the other reaches out as if calling for volunteers to defend the “Mother Russia.” This monument commemorates the Battle of Stalingrad, which was pivotal to the outcome of the war.
- Visit Stavropol, formerly Tolyatti, to see the World War II monuments there. The Obelisk of Glory is located in Liberty Square and is dedicated to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War. It is a single stone tower with inscriptions and a nearby star that has an “eternal flame” in its center. In Victory Park, you can see the Victory Monument, erected on the 40th anniversary of Victory Day. It is 33 feet tall and is formed from four columns and a central ring. The columns represent the four years of the war.
If in Russia on Victory Day, May 9th, there will be many parades and other events to attend. There are also many monuments to see dedicated to the memory of those who fought and died in the war. You can learn much about Russia’s history, struggles, and victories.