Charles is studying with us in St. Petersburg, Russia and he wrote about his experience at Victory Day Celebrations.
The semester has reached an end, I had a remarkable time, and what better way to end it all than to participate in one of the biggest and most important holidays in the Russian Federation? Victory Day: The Victory over Fascism in the Great Patriot War!
I rose out of bed at six in the morning, grabbed my coat, hat, and my ribbon, and raced to the metro. As I approached, I already saw a few Russians eager to celebrate, wearing their ribbons and enjoying themselves a few bottles of beer. I arrived to Palace Square around 6:45 and was lucky enough to obtain a good spot.
The ceremony opened with a group of four soldiers marching across Palace Square while hundreds of others stood at attention. The soldiers hoisted up the red flag and the tri colored flag as they marched across Palace Square to the tune of “Sacred War”. It was very powerful. They sang the Russian National Anthem, rolled out the artillery, tanks, trucks, Katyusha cannons, and then out marched the soldiers. During the celebrations some familiar symbols of Russia’s recent past are proudly hoisted up: the red star, the red flag, and the golden hammer and sickle, next to Russia’s now present tri-colored flag. These old symbols are displayed not only for the preservation of history, but out of respect to the veterans and those that gave their lives. Victory Day is a day that touches every Russian as virtually every family in Russia had a member that perished in the war.
People were cheering, whistling, shouting “UURAAH!!!” and one man in particular climbed atop a tree to wave a giant USSR flag in the air, cutting his legs and arms while doing so. People were handing out flowers to the veterans of the war, some had so much that their family members had to hold some for them! My group and I found a nice spot in a park where many Russians gathered to eat, drink, play games, and dance to music. A group of Russians were rallying around a man playing an accordion, and everyone joined in to sing. They danced to folk songs and even a few babushkas got up to sing and dance themselves. A gentleman in a suit even started to dance and as he kicked up dust onto his clothes, he did not even mind. Children joined in and the adults encouraged them to dance. The atmosphere was a state of pure joy. I was surprised by the amount of patriotism and love of country. It showed me Russians really love their country amid all the problems it may have; this is one day where they all come together and just have a good time.
I had gone to a monument dedicated to the people of Leningrad where people had placed flowers around an eternal flame. The fireworks began at 10, just above the Peter and Paul fortress. People screamed the war cry “URAH!”during each blast, and I couldn’t help but join in. Just after the fireworks came a burst of rain that lasted for around 5 minutes. Everything became complete soaked, but that didn’t faze people. Some people stood on Nevsky shouting “To Victory! To Victory! (За Победу!) while others cheered them on as they passed by. Police were present to establish order and keep control of the crowds as they gathered in throngs to enter to the metro station. I was standing on the main street, literally pinned up against others unable to move. At one point as I was grabbing for my metro token, my apartment keys fell out of my pocket and I had to fight against the crowd to reach them! Finally, I arrived home; people were still celebrating and drinking outside but it was more calm. Having woken up at 6 am, and arrived home at 12:30 am, I was beat.
I had spent my first Victory Day in Russia, a place I had been fascinated with for almost half my life.