Victory Day: In memory of the victims of the Second World War
In a few days, all the nations that played a role in the Second World War will celebrate a special event: the victory over the German Reich in 1945. Depending on the country, the date varies between 8 and 9 May, when the Commander-in-Chief of the German Wehrmacht signed the document of unconditional surrender at night. Russia and the former Soviet republics celebrate the Day of Victory since 1965 on May 9. Since 1995 this day is one of the most important holidays of the Russian Federation.
But first of all some background information about this special day. As already mentioned, the document of the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht was signed by the German commander-in-chief at the Soviet headquarters in Berlin-Karlshorst in the night from 8 to 9 May 1945, exactly at 0:16 a.m. German summer time.
In 1995 a parade was held again for the first time, but until 2008 without the use of military equipment. The Russian President Vladimir Putin brought back Soviet symbols from the first day of his reign – and was the first president who spoke about the victims in his own family during the Second World War. The Victory Day was intended to symbolise unity, with the red star of the Soviet Union being replaced by the colours of the Russian flag and St George’s ribbon. The black-orange ribbon is now a widespread Russian sign of sympathy with the event.
The traditional military parade was also slowly reintroduced, and on 9 May 2008 tanks and fighter planes were launched for the first time after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Two years later, on the 65th anniversary of the event, forces from the United Kingdom, the United States, France and Poland took part in the parade for the first time. Former Soviet republics such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine were also represented on Red Square by troops. With 10,500 Russian soldiers, some of whom marched in historical uniforms, this was the largest parade in Moscow since 1945. In 71 other Russian cities, parades also took place, involving a total of 100,000 soldiers. In addition to the heads of state from Poland and China, even the German Chancellor Angela Merkel was present and followed the Parade on Victory Day sitting next to Vladimir Putin.
Immortal Regiment (Bessmertny polk)
Following the Parade on Victory Day, the campaign ” Immortal Regiment” has been taking place for several years. The participants gather for a memorial march and carry the pictures of their family members who fought in the war. The Russian President Vladimir Putin also carries the picture of his father, who was a soldier in Second World War. Already in 1965 there were marches with a similar character: pupils marched through Russian Novosibirsk with pictures of veterans. The event in its present form took place in Tyumen in Siberia in 2007 under the name “Parade of Winners”. In the following years, other cities such as Kemerevo, Kazan and Novosibirsk followed, as did Moscow in 2010. Under its current name, the campaign took place for the first time in the city of Tomsk in 2012. One year later it was held in 30 cities and in 2014 in 120 cities, including Ukraine and Kazakhstan. In 2015, about 500 cities participated in the campaign “Immortal Regiment”.
Its aim is to honour family members who played a role in the Second World War as war veterans, partisans, underground fighters and concentration camp inmates or in any other way.
What is the course of the day and who can experience the parade live?
During my travel planning it was very important for me to be in Moscow on 9 May, because when could I see this parade, which I watched on TV every year, in live? However, for your trip to Moscow you should bear in mind that Red Square cannot always be visited during the preparations for the parade on Victory Day. These begin a few weeks before, but especially a few days before and on the day of the event, the security precautions and the preceding rehearsals can lead to limited passability of the metro system and barriers in the centre. Unfortunately, it is very difficult for tourists and most Muscovites to see the military parade live on Red Square on Victory Day. Important politicians, high-ranking military personnel and special international guests and war veterans are invited to this military parade. You must either receive an invitation or apply for a visitor’s pass. However, it is possible to see a part of the marching column after the military parade on the way from Red Square – either on the Garden Ring or on Nowyj Arbat Street. The military parade will also be broadcast live on large screens in Moscow’s parks. In the evening you can watch the festive fireworks on many squares and in the parks of the city. On Poklonnaya Hill the main fireworks will take place on this day.
If you’re wondering where you can get the black and orange ribbons of St. George’s, they are distributed in large numbers free of charge in the city. This is a way of expressing your sympathy and respect for the brave soldiers.
Many Russian citizens and foreigners living in Russia use these days to take a deep breath and take a few days off during this special week. Anyway, I’ve been watching the dress rehearsal of the parade two days before and I’m really looking forward to witnessing the festivities live on May 9th – even if from some distance.
Finally, it is important to mention that this day is not only about the victory over the enemy in the form of the German Wehrmacht. Above all, it should also commemorate the unbelievably immense suffering and the 25 million people who lost their lives in the Second World War on the side of the former Soviet Union.