Russian word for the day: Победа or “victory”.
Today a holiday to celebrate the end of the “Great Patriotic War” (World War II, in Europe). Despite a cold wet rain, today had much more of a holiday feel to it than May 1st (today felt like a combination of 4th of July, Veterans Day and Memorial Day; May 1st felt like Columbus Day). The celebration is still a big deal in this city that survived a blockade of 872 days and where about a million died in that blockade. Today was a huge celebration for the veterans and current soldiers and sailors: banners had been strung up for days. Many people wore commemorative orange and black banners or carried red carnations. Soldiers in full dress uniform were everywhere.
The day started with a visit to Двортсовая Плошад (Palace Square) in front of the Hermitage. A large crowd was watching troops marching in formation around the square in front of the reviewing stand. Bands played military marches as the crowd watched. Despite being a large square, it was difficult to see over all the umbrellas.
After this the streets were busy. Red carnations and orange/black ribbons were everywhere as were soldiers in uniform. The second photo shows a memorial where people were placing flowers. I wandered through town stopping at an internet café and got email that Mickey had cycled into town. I also wandered through some of the shops to stay out of the rain. The third photo shows a military band playing in front of the large Gostiny Dvor shopping center.
At 5pm, the large parade started down Nevsky Prospect. This was a soldier’s parade with a few additional groups marching as well. The fourth photo shows a group of soldiers and sailors marching past.
What I found particularly moving were the veterans and survivors groups. If the war ended 62 years ago, most of these soldiers would have to be in their 80s (or 90s) now. Some walked such as in the fifth photo. Others were driven in old military jeeps. People clapped and cheered as they went past. The sixth photo shows a group marching under a banner “children of the blockade – 900 days”. The city then known as Leningrad was surrounded by the German armies in fall of 1941. Rather than attack the city, the Nazi plan was to starve the city and otherwise bombard and shell the city. The Soviets brought some supplies over the frozen ice of Lake Lagoda but at times rations were down to 175g of bread a day and up to 30,000 died per day.
Following the main groups in the parade were several others. The seventh photo was part of a collection of military vehicles. It is a US military jeep with soldiers in US uniforms and a large Soviet flag. I’m not 100% certain if this commemorates the large amounts of “lend lease” aid sent from US factories to Russia or the US troops in World War II themselves. The last photo was part of the communist party group that followed the main parade. The women in center are carrying some of the few photos of Stalin you see here (statues of Lenin are seen frequently).
Once the parade was past, the people filled the streets to join the end of the parade in walking to Palace Square. Despite the rain, many more people turned out for these parades than on May 1st. It also felt like a more emotional commemorative day. I found the sharp contrast between how the Russians view the war [Победа] and how the Latvians view the war [lumped together with Soviet times as part of “The Occupation of Latvia 1940-1991”] particularly striking and also a way of describing some of the emotions surrounding the current war memorial controversy in Tallinn, Estonia.
After the parade, I walked to the bicycle shop and my bike was ready! I then cycled a little further to the youth hostel and met up with Mickey. Nice to see she has arrived and we can now figure out how to go further from here on Saturday. In the evening, the windows rattle slightly from the fireworks.