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Victory Day in Russia

Significance and Traditions

Russians celebrate Victory Day on May 9 as a solemn day to pay homage for the sacrifices made by the nation in the Great Patriotic War, their name for what we in the West know as World War ll in Europe.

The German Instrument of Surrender ended World War II in Europe. The definitive text was signed in Karlshorst, Berlin on the night of 8 May 1945 by representatives of the three armed services of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) and the Allied Expeditionary Force together with the Supreme High Command of the Red Army, with further French and US representatives signing as witnesses. An earlier version of the text had been signed in a ceremony in Reims in the early hours of 7 May 1945. In the West, 8 May is known as Victory in Europe Day, whereas in post-Soviet states Victory Day is celebrated on 9 May, since the definitive signing occurred after midnight Moscow time.

On May 9 each year, TV networks across Russia broadcast World War II-inspired films, and younger generations pay their respects to veterans. A huge military parade is held in Moscow Red Square.

Russian veteran walks with cadet


What Happens?

People across the vast country attend a local military parade and watch the fireworks display that usually ends the day. The biggest parade is the one best known to Western audiences, in Moscow’s Red Square. Most veterans wear their medals.

It is a tradition is to give flowers, usually red carnations, to veterans in the street and to lay wreaths at war memorial sites. Many schools feature programs made by their students. These usually include wartime songs and poetry.

At home, it is traditional that families gather to honour surviving witnesses of World War II and remember those who passed away. Given the immense scale of Russian losses, it is the case that almost every family has suffered one of more losses. Families frequently watch a film about the Great Patriotic War.

Public Life

Victory Day is a national holiday in Russia. Public offices, schools and most businesses are closed for the celebrations. There may be changes in public transport routes due to parades and street performances.

History

Victory Day marks Germany’s surrender to the Soviet Union in May 1945. The USSR lost about 25 million citizens in the four years of fighting. Victory Day celebrations in the Soviet Union did not usually feature a military parade until 1995.

Rituals

  • St. George ribbon – a black-and-yellow ribbon is worn and often tied to car antennas as a sign of respect.
  • Red carnations – blood red is the color of the Soviet flag under which the veterans had fought. Laying an even number of red carnations at war memorial sites signifies mourning and remembrance.
  • Red Star medal – a military distinction for bravery.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember them. - Laurence Binyon

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Last Modified: 07 May 2017, 20:32