For decades, Victory Day has been an affirmation of patriotism and family pride for millions of former Soviets. On May 9th, 1945, men and women rejoiced across the fifteen former republics that made up the USSR and welcomed the defeat of Nazi Germany with relief and tears of sorrow. At a cost of twenty-seven million soldiers and citizens the nation survived and prospered but remained burdened by memories of slaughtered villages: lost fathers, mothers, and siblings. 1
Nevertheless, the day marks a moment of triumph and celebrates the spirit of survival. It heralds the might of the Soviet military, the perseverance of a Soviet heart, and the strength of family values in an autocratic, traditionalist, nation. For years following the war, the Communist Party organized lavish military parades in Moscow’s Red Square outside the Kremlin. In smaller cities like Odessa, Ukraine, tens of thousands marched for years to Shevchenko Memorial Park to pay tribute to lost soldiers, setting bouquets upon an obelisk, and to this day families continue to commemorate veterans and ancestors. 2 This tradition went on for years and has changed little after the fall of the Soviet Union, with the military of the Russian Federation still parading in Kremlin and families walking hand-in-hand with bouquets to memorials.
However, a mass migration of former Soviets to the United States in the 1990s simultaneously expanded the celebration of Victory Day. With a Russian and Ukrainian enclave in Brighton Beach, New York has seen an array of sporadic parades since the 1980s. 3 Two independent veteran’s organizations have formed behind the processions, and a series of individual celebratory gestures are visible on Brighton Beach streets, from wearing a St. George’s ribbon to dressing car hoods with national flags. Proud veterans walk the streets in uniform with an arsenal of medals weighing down their aging coats, with their wives and comrades beside them, and a diminishing celebratory presence behind them.
The celebration of Victory Day and its cultural landmark is fading away with old age in New York. As cultural differences are fostered in up-and-coming immigrant generations, Victory Day only maintains an organized presence abroad in former Soviet states where it remains a day off from work and is recognized by various federal governments.
As World War II was waged by two international alliances, the Allies and the Axis, and as warfare was rampant on multiple fronts, many still are debate who truly won the war. Many former Soviet states, including the Russian federation, have prided themselves as the victors of the war when Soviet troops stormed Berlin and secured a surrender on May 8th, 1945. 4 When Nazi Germany surrendered on the Eastern front to the Soviet Union the outcome of the war became certain. The Allies’ victory was sealed by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August later that year. What remained of Germany culminated into the fall of the “iron curtain” and the initiation of a power struggle between two of the Allies: the United States and the USSR, thus the start of the Cold War. While this period of political tension and fear of communist contagion began shortly after end of WW2 and survived until the fall of the Soviet Union, the Soviet celebration of the end of the war still permeated to the New York through immigration in the late 20th century.
Go here to learn more about the origins of Victory Day.
- 66th Victory Day Parade. RussiaToday: Web. 16 May 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxPAdmlZCHI>. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxPAdmlZCHI>. ↩
- Kleyner, Garik. Personal Interview by Svyatoslav Brodetskiy. 05 May 2011. 16 May 2011. ↩
- Singer, Pat. Personal Interview by Svyatoslav Brodetskiy. 28 Apr 2011. 16 May 2011. ↩
- “CHAPTER XV The Victory Sealed.” Global Security. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 May 2011. <http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/other/us-army_germany_1944-46_ch15.htm#b3>. ↩