Thursday, May 9, 2013

Victory Day Remembrance: May 9, 2013

Mother Ukraine (Rodina Mat) rising above the National Museum of the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945)

We are again on holiday in Ukraine.  May 9, Victory Day in Ukraine, marks the capitulation of Nazi Germany in 1945 to the Allied Forces.  The former Soviet countries that we've lived in always leave out the "Allied" part stating instead that Nazi Germany surrendered to the Soviet Union.  It was May 9 Moscow Time when the German military surrender became effective, which is why Russia and most of the former Soviet republics observe Victory Day on May 9 instead of May 8.  

When Ukrainians ask us how Americans observe Victory Day, we explain that May 7, 1945 was only the end of the war in Europe (VE day) and America continued to be at war with Japan.  Our public remembrance of those who died in all wars is Memorial Day, May 30.  Why May 30, I don't know.  

Last night we watched parade practice as the beautiful last rays of sun fell across Kreschatyk Boulevard at Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti).  The lighting for the parade practice was much better than the harsh light during the actual parade, and I could get closer with my little camera.

The parade was not a display of military might.  It was simply a remembrance of World War II (Great Patriotic War) and of those who fought and those who died.  There were some antique vehicles used in the war, but no new military hardware.  Many of the groups parading wore uniforms of vintage style.  

Boys waiting for the parade to begin

The most interesting and touching part of the day came after the parade finished.  Wherever there was a war veteran, he/she was surrounded by people offering flowers and words of gratitude.  Parents gave their small children flowers to present to the veterans.  Young people posed for photos with these Victory Day celebrities.  

We also saw people wearing the photographs of a relative who had been killed in the war.  I've never witnessed a more touching display of gratitude, sentiment, and respect anywhere.  

After seeing everything we could at Independence Square, we visited the memorial monuments a metro ride away.  Our first stop was the Monument to the Unknown Soldier which has an eternal flame.  All the paths to the memorial were packed with people coming and going.  The ones coming were carrying flowers which they deposited around the eternal flame.  When we were there, the wall of flowers was about 1 meter (1 yard) high ringing the flame.  

This monument was swirling with activity.  While I was taking photographs, I was approached by a reporter from Vesti (a Ukrainian language Russian paper).  She wanted to know if I was a photojournalist or a tourist.  She asked what my thoughts were about the day and how this remembrance compared to the US version.  On the other side, a couple of political parties had set up booths.  I spoke with a woman near the Stalinist party's table.  She explained that Ukrainians are not happy with their present politicians or the condition of the country.  She said that when people are unhappy they become nostalgic for times past rewriting history to omit the worst parts.  The Freedom Party was set up across from the Stalinist party.  The Freedom party banner said something like if you vote for them you are again killing your ancestors.  It was outrageous that the Stalinist party was sitting less than 100 yards from the Memorial to the three famines engineered by Stalin that killed millions of Ukrainians.  

Along the path leading up to the flame are several memorial tombstones.  We watched people leave flowers at names that were significant to them.  

This lady kept touching the stone and rearranging the floral border as people added to it.  It seemed like she wanted to make sure the name was always visible.  

Photograph of Marshal Zukhov

Sadly, I do not know the significance of these demonstrations of caring for these dead loved ones.  In the upper photo, I can see that the man died in 1939.  The photo above is of Marshal Zukhov who had a very long life surviving Stalin by many years.  According to Wikipedia, two of his daughters are still alive.  He was one of the signers for the Soviet Union on the surrender agreement with Nazi Germany.  

View near the Monument to the Unknown Soldier

Between the monument to the unknown soldier and the one to WWII, there is also a monument to the Afghan War 1979-1989.  The flags at the monument look kind of sad, but the monument was piled high with flowers many laid one at a time.

Outside the National Museum of the Great Patriotic War, we saw more veterans receiving more flowers from the huge crowd of grateful Ukrainians.  

In the underpass that is decorated with massive sculptured walls, every horizontal surface was piled with flowers.  

Ukraine was a victim not only of Stalin's Soviet Russia but also of Nazi Germany.  Ukraine was occupied by both powers simultaneously for almost 2-1/2 years.  An article I read in What's On Kiev states that 16% of Ukraine's population died during the Great Patriotic War. "Kyiv's population in 1940 was 900,000 and in 1945 only 186,000."

This day was not a day of shopping and sales, it was a pilgrimage by families with children of all ages to remember those who lost their lives in wars and to remember history as it was.

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