What is Victory Day? Why is it celebrated?
In early May, the week before my first days of finals, I had the surreal experience of witnessing a Victory Day celebration in the heart of St. Petersburg, Russia.
May 9th is an extremely heartfelt day to everyone in Russia. This day is the annual celebration of when the Soviet Union defeated Germany in World War II, appropriately memorialized as “Victory Day,” or as it is called in Russian “День Победы (Den’ pobedi).” This year, while I was in St. Petersburg, marked the 74th celebration since the USSR’s victory against Germany.
The reason why Victory Day is such an important celebration in Russia is because of the great loss the people of the Soviet Union suffered during World War II. According to post-Soviet research, records show that the Soviet people lost around 26.6 million individuals during World War II. I was even told by someone during the celebration that 80-90% of modern day Russians are related to someone who died in World War II. It is because of this intimate connection most Russians have to the holiday that you can see this phrase on banners, shirts, scarves, etc. – “Праздник со слезами на глазах» (Prazdnik so slezami na glazakh); A celebration with tears in our eyes.”
Victory Day is celebrated all over Russia with parades and demonstrations of military might with military tanks, planes, helicopters, a soldier march, and fireworks. The two places in Russia with the greatest and most grand performances are in Moscow in the Red Square and in St. Petersburg along Nevsky Prospekt.
Russians remember and they will never forget.
The one thing that stands out the most to me from May 9th was watching the children participate in the parade of the Immortal Regiment (Бессмертный Полк). This was the second big parade of the day where people marched the streets with banners of their lost ones who served during the war. A sea of men and women, some in uniform, and children of all ages carried banners for what seemed like miles. I saw children who couldn’t even walk yet, carrying banners of their grandparents, while they were being carried by their parents.
Seeing how proud they were to be a part of the parade and memorializing their lost family made me see how deep the pain and the pride runs in the Russian community. Victory Day is more than just a celebration of military power; it is also the Russian way of remembering. Being an observer of this celebration was a humbling experience that made me truly understand how remembering a history and remembering those lost is a trans-generational experience.