This year’s Victory Parade was a very different kind of occasion, impacted by the spread of the coronavirus that has brought not only Russia but the entire planet to lockdown. This massive parade, an annual event since 1995, commemorates the sacrifice Russians made to defeat Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War.
The first Victory Day celebration was held a month after the end of that war – which we in the West know as World War Two – on June 24th 1945. 40000 Red Army soldiers marched through the streets of Moscow accompanied by 1800 military vehicles. People would wait 20 years for the next one, held on May 9th 1965, the 20th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe. After another 20 year gap, the 1985 parade reminded the world’s observers that Soviet Russia was still a force to be reckoned with. If you’d like to see footage of some of those historic events, the Moscow Times has produced this video of Russia’s Victory Day through the decades and it’s fascinating to watch.
Since 2005, Putin has been at the helm. The medals on the chests of today’s participants bounce as they march perfectly in sync, battalions followed by the military hardware that’s showcased for all to see. It’s an impressive sight, whether you’re Russian or not. The largest ever parade, taking place in 2015, saw half a million Russians walk through the streets of Moscow.
Sadly, though understandably given the nature of this medical threat we all face, this year’s parade has been postponed indefinitely. There’s hope that the situation will have improved sufficiently for this year’s parade to be staged in September, with the date the war ended after the Japanese surrender – September 2nd – one possible date being considered. Only time will tell, so watch out for an announcement this summer.
This year, Russian citizens had to be content with an overflight by military aircraft, itself a sight to behold. They watched on television as Putin walked, alone, to the Eternal Flame and placed flowers outside the walls of the Kremlin. The mood was solemn as he addressed the nation, and though he did not mention the virus by name, it was ever-present in people’s thoughts. Instead, Putin emphasised that historic Russian sacrifice and alluded to the current threat as he said:
“Our veterans fought for life, against death. And we will always be equal to their unity and endurance. We know and firmly believe that we are invincible when we stand together.”
And so the event, adapted but no less powerful, continued with bombers, fighter jets and military helicopters leaving a trail of red, white and blue smoke across the sky. Russians were invited to send in photographs of those who fought in the war to enable the Immortal Regiment commemoration to take place in an online format instead of the usual outdoor procession. There were also online concerts, lectures and films. Fireworks traditionally draw Victory Day to a close, and this year was no exception, with displays going ahead across the country. In each place, all that was missing was the crowd.
So now Russia waits, to see how long it takes to tame and defeat this pandemic. But you can be sure of one thing, whether in September or at some other date in the not-too-distant future, Victory Day will be back and the streets of Moscow will be full again.
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