Victory Day is on May 9th. Important for the Russian mind this national holiday commemorates the victory of the Soviet Union over the Nazi Germany and the end of the Great Patriotic War in 1945. The significance of this day cannot be overestimated, especially since the events in the last decades in ex-Soviet republics and, more recently, in Ukraine, prove to us that the people’s collective memory may be rather short.
I always noticed how people who lived through the long four years of the Great Patriotic War were eternally shaped by it. The war not only left a huge mark on each veteran but was rather a major event from which each one, no matter how successful in his or her peace life, seemed to count time. For my grandfather’s generation you were not only a doctor, an engineer or a teacher, you were a veteran of a certain division or you were a Soviet partisan – a member of the resistance movement. This phenomenon has absolutely nothing to do with the militant ideology. Rather, the war left such a big impact on each individual and each family that its echo was resonating well into many years past the war itself.
For myself and my peers – those of us whose childhood happened to be in 1970s and 80s – Victory Day is one of the essential holidays and I can assure everybody that our veneration of this historic event is not the result of the Soviet propaganda. We honor Victory Day because we understand the importance of defeating the fascism. We consider the 9th of May a very dear day because it was always personal. Every family was affected by that war somehow. Growing up we heard veterans’ stories, we participated in their meetings.
In my family four men fought in that war – my grandfather, his father, and his two brothers. My grandfather started the war as a nineteen-year-old in 1941. A teenager, as we would say now. He fought in the regular army, was a head of a partisan group and finished the war in Czechoslovakia. Every 9th of May he would meet with his war comrades, usually in Moscow in front of the Bolshoi Theater. I remember polishing his medals – he usually wore them once a year – and going with him. I could recall many stories I heard during their meetings and I can still feel that atmosphere of comradery and joy but also of sorrow and remembrance of the fallen soldiers that prevailed there.
My grandfather passed away 20 years ago. With every passing year there were less veterans here to share their stories with us. “Two or three years from now who will our children see” on Victory Day? was a question organizers of the Immortal Regiment initiative asked themselves in 2012. (http://moypolk.ru/ustav-polka) The non-government non-commercial initiative started in Tomsk as an idea — on Victory Day bring a photograph of a soldier, a veteran, a partisan, a person who worked on the home front, was in a Nazi concentration camp – anybody who has to be honored and remembered – and go in a symbolic parade so people can see and remember all members of this Immortal Regiment.
Since its inception two years ago the project grew in popularity. This 9th of May Immortal Regiment participants marched in 450 cities in 6 countries. (http://voiceofrussia.com/2014_05_09/photo-Immortal-Regiment-forever-remembered-by-descendants-4028/?slide-1) Tula was among these towns.
There were several places in Tula where you could make a placard from your photograph. The cost of each one was really symbolic (80-150 rubles or about $4. In comparison, a 1 litter of milk costs around 60 rubles). I think that participating printing shops volunteered their work and charged only for the materials used. (http://moypolk.ru/tula/inform-bureau) You did not need to have a placard to participate – you could make your own poster or you could march with just a photograph.
In Tula Victory Day was celebrated with a parade on the central square and a multitude of events in city’s parks.
It is estimated that Russia lost about 26 millions of people in the Great Patriotic War. Today not only those who fought on the battlefield but also people who worked on the home front, those who were on occupied territories and in Nazi’s concentration camps are honored.
Later, fireworks were held in several areas of the city. Central streets became a big parking lot with everybody cheering the fireworks and Victory Day.