Behind New Year’s, May 9th is the largest holiday in Russia. Victory Day celebrates the Soviet victory in World War II over the German Reich. This year marked 71 years since hostilities ceased in that war, but it seems that time has done little to weaken the remembrance of that great event.
The main event of the day was the parade. The streets were blocked off well in advance, and the crowds gathered early near the city square and stretching down the street. The parade commenced at 10:00 am with an introduction by one of the senior military officers in Vladivostok. It began with a presentation of the different regiments of soldiers from different branches of Russia’s armed forces, each of which yelled out the customary “Ura!” three times as they were recognized. The show got underway as the regiments marched down the street, followed by the parade of military vehicles.
Although it is generally a holiday of celebration, Victory Day also carries an attitude of sombre respect. Vladivostok, which is almost as far as possible from the European theater of war in Russia still played an integral role and clearly paid a costly sum in terms of human life.
During the war, Vladivostok served as an important port for the delivery of Lend Lease matériel from the United States to the USSR. After the American Liberty Ships delivered their cargo across the Pacific to the Russian Far East, the food, vehicles, and other important supplies were shipped overland via rail to reach the Soviet soldiers on the Eastern Front.
The Soviet Pacific Fleet, based in Vladivostok, also served in the war against the German Navy. Although most of the fleet remained in the Pacific on alert in case of action with Japan, several vessels were dispatched to the European theater to support.
But the surest sign of the war’s significance in the Russian mind came at the end of the parade. After the military’s presentation of regiments and vehicles of war, the people of the city followed. Each person or family walked down Vladivostok’s main thoroughfare carrying a sign bearing the picture and name of a relative who fought in the Great Patriotic War. The line of people walked past and grew longer and longer until it vanished from sight over the hill. Thousands participated in this moving display of respect.
Following the parade, a stage set up in the main square featured performances throughout the day of singing and dancing, remembering the war. The World War II monument in the city was also the location of plentiful activity. People gathered to lay hundreds of roses at the city’s Eternal Flame, and another location had been set up to serve Soldatskaya Kasha, or Soldier’s Cereal, to let people experience part of the common diet for soldiers during the war. This meal consisted of buckwheat cereal served with bread and black tea.
In the evening, I attended a show at the Mariinsky Theater featuring music that was written around the time of the war. It was a very last-minute decision to go for me, but I’m glad that I did. The ticket was extremely inexpensive, only 100 Rubles, and I had a fine seat. The music was excellent, with the orchestra and choir playing a selection of 15 songs such as “Katusha” and the first movement of Shostakovitch’s Symphony No. 7 “Leningrad.”
To cap the night off, the city shot off fireworks at 10:00 pm. I did not make it to see these, but I could hear them and see a few smaller displays in different parts of the city from my window.
In all, it was a fascinating day to see how Russia remembers one of the most important events of the 20th century. May 9th is certainly a day to be spent outside exploring the different events happening throughout the city. I’m sure I only scratched the surface of the holiday, but even so, the significance is undeniable.