Great Patriotic War remembered

Russia is marking the Day of Memory and Grief to honour the victims of WW2. On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union, in what became known as the beginning of the Great Patriotic War. Russia's government members have laid wreaths at the Tomb of

Meantime, youth movement activists lighted up candles in front of the embassies of all the former Soviet republics to mark the 66th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.

Russians call it the Great Patriotic War, or Sacred War. At 4 a.m on June 22, 1941, Nazi war planes crossed the border of the USSR and began bombarding the country.

Three army groups and 3 MLN German soldiers attacked the Soviet Union along its Western border.

The invasion, code named Operation Barbarossa, was the largest German military operation of WW2.

“The task of the Barbarossa operation was to surround and destroy Soviet troops along the Dnepr and North Dvina rivers and open the road to the East – to Moscow,” said Doctor Mikhail Myagkov, a historian.

The Nazis invaded the USSR almost two years after the 1939 German-Soviet Pact. Hitler always regarded it as a tactical and temporary manoeuvre. For Stalin it was a way to delay the beginning of the war that he knew was inevitable, although he tried not to provoke. However he underestimated Hitler.

“Stalin thought that the war would start with an ultimatum where Germany would first demand Ukrainian grain and oil supplies – and only after the Soviet Union failed to comply with that ultimatum – would Germany launch the military operation. Stalin counted on that but Hitler needed the first strike. Unfortunately Stalin forgot Hitler's Blitzkrieg” operation against France in 1940," explained Mr Myagkov.

Millions of Soviet Soldiers were encircled, cut off from supplies and forced to surrender. Thousands upon thousands of them died in Nazi concentration camps.

Gleb Plaksin was only 16 when he heard about Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union. He was the son of a Russian emigrant living in occupied France. Many Russians there fled the Bolshevik revolution and hated the communists. But not more than they hated the Nazis.

“Many Russian emigres were against the Germans. They were saying we are Russians and our Russia must be saved from any enemy. And only the small part of Russians were with Hitler, with the Germans,” Gleb Plaksin, a veteran of the French resistance, said.

Gleb Plaksin and his French and  Russian friends joined the resistance (underground) and fought the Germans in occupied France – the least they could do then to help France and far away Russia.

“Of course we did not know all the horrible things that the German troops were doing during the occupation of Russian territories. That's why most part of Russian emigres stayed in the underground forces and so did I,” remembers Mr Plaksin.

Many historians still question why Stalin was not prepared for war. By June 1941 the Soviet Army had 23,000 tanks, while Nazi Germany had a little over 4,000 on its Eastern border. The Soviet Union had 18,000 planes and Germany had about 5,000.

“The majority of those tanks were outdated and the personnel were not trained for new ones. Also Germany's total potential with the whole occupied Europe was three times stronger than that of the Soviet Union,” said Doctor Mikhail Myagkov.

The Great Patriotic War may have been almost 70 years ago but new generations still honour the memory of those who fought for their country – an every year people observe a minute of silence for those who died.

For the Soviet Union it was a war for survival and 27 MLN people paid with their lives for the country's freedom.