Thursday, May 9– We got up early because we had a parade to watch! I went down to the metro to meet Anya. She, her daughter, and her daughter’s boyfriend came to our apartment to watch since our windows overlooked the parade route.
What was the parade for? It was to celebrate Victory Day, the Allied victory over the Nazis in World War II. When Hitler invaded Russia in 1941 he went straight for Moscow, getting within 15 miles of the Kremlin. Plus, the Nazis encircled St. Petersburg for three long years, not allowing supplies in or out in a conscious attempt to starve the city to death. They very nearly succeeded. Russia fought Hitler for three years basically alone; the Allies bombed Germany but didn’t commit serious ground troops until the summer of 1944. So, not unreasonably, Russia views itself as having saved the entire continent from Nazism. It’s hard to imagine a Victory worth celebrating more than that. What makes the victory that much more astounding is that the Russians managed to do it while they themselves were under the control of a homicidal autocrat. They beat Hitler in spite of Stalin.
Dad was the first to get up and see the tanks on their way to the parade in Red Square:
This was very early in the morning, way before people began to gather along the parade route. The gold and black stripes on the side of the tank are the colors of the Ribbon of St. George, the ribbon used for the military medal awarded “For the Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War.”
Once all the heavy armaments made their way to Red Square, then the parade began. We couldn’t actually see the heart of the parade itself because it is only for veterans and dignitaries. But in this video you can get a bit of a feel of what it was like, with all the tanks and the soldiers and the fighter jets:
Once the vehicles left Red Square, they headed back up the street and right past our apartment window. Huge crowds watched down below. Here’s Anya taking some video:
I got into the spirit and waved a Russian flag:
Then the street was overrun with what Mom called “Putin’s Second Army,” the street cleaners.
Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about Victory Day. Despite all the heavy weaponry and the marching soldiers, it’s not a militaristic holiday. It’s a celebration of survival. Over the course of four years, Russia lost over 20 million of her citizens. It’s been nearly seventy years since the end of the war, but those years were a cataclysm, a catastrophe of such enormous proportions that the scars are still fresh. The war lurks just beneath the surface of everything and everyone in Russia.
So here you see the joy of living. We walked from the apartment to a park. Every park in the city had organized celebrations., but this park was particularly special because many soldiers set off for the front from this park. The first thing we saw was a classic car show. Here’s Dad with a car from 1955 whose model name was “Victory.”
All through the park, people were dressed in 1940s-era costumes. Several brass bands were playing 40s-era tunes; everyone was out enjoying the sunshine. And then the children started coming up to Mom and Dad. Because of their age, the children correctly assumed that even if Mom and Dad weren’t veterans, they had lived through the war and that in and of itself deserved recognitions. Child after child came up to Dad and handed him flowers, saying, “Thank you. Thank you for my childhood,” with such earnestness that my eyes tear up just remembering it. Little girls came up to Mom and handed her homemade cards reading, “Thank you for life.” A woman came and tied a St. George ribbon on Dad. People handed them bags of gifts. A little boy came up to both of them and sang them a song.
We stood for a while listening to the bands, while a little girl danced in front of the bandshell.
But, as you can see in the next picture, the true stars that day were the veterans. Look at the crush of people making their way to the stage to shake their hands and say thank you:
It’s kind of hard for me to explain the feeling of that day, but because of the wonders of the Internet, someone else already has. A girl made a video of how she spent the holiday this year with her friends, interspersed with footage from the very first Victory Day in 1945. She watched the parade near where we were and then went to the very same park we did. You’ll see the reverence she has for the veterans she meets that day. The text superimposed over the start of the video reads:
For one more spring
For the ability to live…and love
For the bright sun
And the clear skies
Now tell me, are your eyes dry?