Saturday, May 10, 2014

Victory Day!

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) - Against the background of an impending full scale civil war,and sanctions from the West, Commemorating the Day of Victory attains a new pathos.

            What is most striking about the 'Day of Victory' held on the 9th of May is not the grandiose military parades, the quadrons of planes which fly over our apartment in full formation or the shimmering ,sparkling and flowering firework displays or fiery speeches. It is a sombre silence. It is not an angry or accusative silence, but more an astonished silence. You can intuit this haunting silence which seems to say 'How can people penetrate such evil in wartime? 'There is a kind of eerie and awful mystery about evil which goes beyond comprehension. On this day you can feel it most. It often comes from the war veterans themselves .When I and a Russian English teacher attempted to interview a kind old war veteran of 85 she would not be drawn into speaking about her wartime experiences and when we tried to ask her about this her eyes filled with tears. Instead she told us that she had come from another Russian town of Samara to Moscow and 'I expected to die last year when I was 84 but I managed to live. Life is very hard on my pension'. 

            She began to talk about how hard life was. But like many veterans she was reticent about her experiences. When asked about the war, a pregnant pause ushers and the veteran's eyes water up as if she or he is crying inside. It is distinctly possible that many war veterans     may still be suffering from post-war traumatic stress syndrome.Age doesn't always absolve painful memories!

            A person can go on reliving horrible experiences not only for a few years but even 60 years. However, with other veterans, the words just pour out (When I visited my local Telman square the previous day I heard a veteran whom I had spoken to about two years ago launching a wonderful speech. He was telling the rest of the seated veterans ,children and adults that 'It was a very difficult road to Berlin. The fascists were very well organised and and good at resisting. If it was not for the support of the women we would never have won this won!' He received a loud applause! This was the same veteran who told me 'I love Sir Walter Scott. Scotland and Russian both have same patron saint, Saint Andrew! It is not just our Day of victory but your Day of victory' to! You also helped win the war.' When he sat down I was surprised that he recognised my face and beamed me a friendly smile.

           Then four women broke into singing old war songs. They were actually good at singing them and adored the songs. Today, we were strolling in Lefortovsky park, where we witnessed children and adults going up to old war veterans and handing them flowers and wishing them health and happiness. We saw two female cadets or Girl guides in uniform, run up to an old married couple (both war veterans ). They stood to attention before them, saluted them and         gave them a banquet. The war veteran we encountered told us she hardly ever comes out. She almost only leaves her house during 'The Day of victory'.

           Everywhere I went a person organising events handed me a flower, a day of victory or the Orange and black ribbons which people are expected to dawn over the next few days. Everywhere on the streets of Moscow you will see people either wearing those ribbons or tying them to their rucksacks. Huge billboards loom up on all the main highways with the old photos and life stories of particular war veterans. One of the most popular photos you will notice if you have lived in Moscow for years is of the Guards captain Mariya Dolina who won the gold Star medal.

           She was called 'the Grandmother of Soviet bomber aviation'. While flying over Germany, their bomber flame crash-landed. They all got out of the burning plane on fire nad had to roll over the grass to extinguish the flames.

           To this day, Mariya Dola still suffers from spinal injuries arising from this incident. She shot down three enemy planes and dropped as many as 45,000 kg of bombs on the Germans. And she became a hero again in 1990 when she made a brave speech condemning the terrible conditions of most war veterans. Despite the fact that speeches at the congress of War veterans were strictly limited to five minutes, she spoke for ten minutes! She demanded an increased in war veterans. The next day, the war pensions were increased! If you look at the       war photos of her portrait you are at once struck by her stunning looks. This war veteran currently lives in Kiev!

           It must be very difficult for this war heroine. For the newly unelected Government in Kiev have banned 'Day of Victory ' celebrations. The official government claim is that such a celebration would provoke even more unrest and unwanted conflict. So war-veterans are having to celebrate discreetly and at times,secretly. It is not always safe. Some have been physically assaulted, insulted and jeered in the streets as 'occupants'. The Ukrainian nationalists view the Russians as an oppressive occupation force which imposed repression rather than liberation.

           Why would some people want to insult, jeers and beat up an old war veteran? Make no mistake about it ! I was a witness to seeing an old war veteran being insulted and pushed around my Moldovan nationalists near the entrance to Pushkin park in Kishinev. This happened 20 years ago. And locals told me that Moldova was more tolerant of Russians than Ukrainians are. I would hate to be a war veteran in Ukraine.

           I came across an academic of Celtic studies who told me one of his grandfathers was killed in the war. Grigory Bondarenk told me 'He was around 18 at the time and was in Budapest in 1945 when he unit were being attacked by the Germans. German tanks were advancing towards them and he threw himself under them with a number of hand-grenades which he exploded'. There is a street name in Moscow named after him.'

           All over Moscow you notice war monuments, and streets named after dead heroes. War remembrance is deeply imprinted in the concrete here. It is part of the landscape.

           The celebration of 'The Day of Victory' is viewed as a sacred, holy and hallowed event. Most war veterans view it as an almost unspeakable tragedy rather than as an event to promote patriotism. It is not hard to see why this is so. The losses experienced by the Soviet Union are numb-staggering. Total military and civilian loss estimates can range from 20 to 27 million ! Out of 5.7 million prisoners, 3 million died. Many of the dead have not yet received a decent burial yet ! One thing which also can't be measured is the amount of pain suffered during this time.It has not stopped!

           Remembrance of the 'Day of Victory' is not a side issue but a fundamental issue. The reason why Crimea broke away from Kiev was mainly because Russians really believe they are threatened by fascism once again. The Ukrainian nationalists are still desecrating, damaging and toppling war memorials. And yes,some Russians do in deed think they are having to fight the war again. People in the west should have the sense to acknowledge and address those real fears. So far we see insensibility.

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