Victory day was one of my most favorite days in Russia. It is celebrated on May 9th but I thought I’d do a couple of posts remembering World War II leading up to the actual holiday, to help you better appreciate why this day is so important in Russian culture.

Somewhere in my collection of DVC tapes is a treasure box of memories that I captured with my video camera on this day eight years ago.  One of my favorite things I witnessed on Victory Day was the WWII veterans dressed in their uniforms, adorned with medals walking around Moscow.  They got to be recognized as the heroes they truly are.  Young people would shake hands with them, pretty young girls would kiss them on the cheek, all thanking them for their service. We watched the parade on TV, went to Sparrow Hills to watch a firework show (Салют) and afterward danced and sang old songs on the street while an old veteran played the accordion.

I was so touched by this. It is impossible for us Americans to comprehend what the Soviet Union, specifically Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltics went through in that horrific war.  We Americans talk about Pearl Harbor and September 11 as being horrific, and they were indeed. Imagine such tragedies happening everywhere for a four year period and then you can begin to understand the beginning of the suffering these countries faced. Populations, communities, industry and families were entirely torn apart.

So I will do a couple of posts this week about this beautiful holiday that makes me feel so proud of Russia and those Eastern countries, even though I’m not a native. That war may have ended differently if it weren’t for all the sacrifices on the Eastern Front.

When studying World War II in America we typically focus on the fight in Japan and the concentration camps.  Not a whole lot gets mentioned about the devastation and loss in Eastern Europe.  So today I will show some pictures to help illustrate that, so that we can understand why May 9th represents the end of an unimaginable nightmare.

I don’t claim to be a historian, nor do I claim to have fully accounted for all the suffering and details of that time. I recognize that all of Europe suffered greatly during those times as well as our American soldiers. I just wanted to gather a few pictures to help you imagine what came to be every day scenes for people living in Ukraine and Russia and Belarus during those years.

The Siege of Leningrad (informative link here)

The Nazis took control of Leningrad and cut it off from all supplies.  Meanwhile, residents died by the hundreds of thousands (anywhere from 600 thousand to 1.5 million) due to constant bombardments from the Germans and starvation that resulted from the blockade.

There was so much death over the 900 day period that dead bodies had to simply be taken to mass graves.  These scenes of dead bodies either left in the street or being dragged on sleds was a common one during the siege.

In addition to witnessing death and suffering daily, imagine seeing your homeland and your own home in shambles.

blokada+leningrada+vostochnij+front+vtoraya+mirovaya+vojna+64852175299

Kiev also suffered greatly. Kiev, was also cut off from food supplies and starved. The city, with all of its beautiful ancient churches and sacred relics and places of Holy Rus was plundered. The Germans hauled off anything of value and emptied entire libraries and burned books.

The number or losses in Ukraine during WWII range from 7 million to 13 million, which would mean losing almost a quarter of your population. (More on this here)

Pecherska Lavra

Pecherska Lavra

Soviet Troops marching through Kiev

Jews being marched out of Kiev to Babi Yar. As they passed corpses in the street I’m sure they knew what fate awaited them there.

And the suffering in countless other cities:

In the center of Stalingrad. Stalingrad really deserves its own post. Maybe next year.

Nazis burned entire villages. Often rounding up all the residents, locking them in a church and setting it on fire. This is eerily depicted in the movie “Come and See”

Pskov

Crosses on soldiers graves in Kursk

The stories of destruction and suffering are endless. I wanted to post these pictures to help us Westerners comprehend that suffering that people in that part of the world have endured and why May 9th deserves to be a happy and meaningful day, because it represents the end of this.