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2 Aug, 2007 05:38

Russia marks Paratroopers Day

Large festivities take place across Russia, as the country celebrates Paratroopers Day. The Soviet Airborne Troops, or VDV, are considered to be the elite of the Russian army.

For decades just a mention of the regiment would send a shiver down Europe's spine. But the Cold War is over, and the VDV are now seen as vital in counterterrorism and various peacekeeping missions. Their blue berets can be seen in almost every conflict zone of the world.

Anatoly Lebed is a paratrooper and a hero of Russia, his service record being long and distinguished with many medals and awards. He has his own reasons to continue what he is doing.

“The struggle against terrorism is the main task for us today. No matter who the terrorists are or where they are. For the sake of our close ones we must do our best to combat them,” said Anatoly Lebed, Hero of Russia.

Back in 1930 it was the Soviet Union that pioneered the concept of airborne troops as twelve soldiers conducted the first landing not far from Vologda.

Later in 1935, a massive exercise involving about 1200 paratroopers took place near Kiev. It amazed foreign observers, who became keen to apply this experience to their own armies.

Today Russian paratroopers remain the only ones to deploy from moving planes fully crewed armoured vehicles. They are considered to be an army's elite the world over, and Russia is no exception. VDV were always the most battle-efficient and best-equipped forces.

“Yes, the VDV are very special but our main secret is in the unique spirit, a certain brotherhood and traditions. All this has always helped us to survive the most difficult battles,” commented Aleksandr Soluyanov, Airborne veteran, Hero of the Soviet Union.

And this Airborne brotherhood works not only in battles but also in civil life. Just like the Vietnam veterans in the United States, many retired Russian paratroopers have conquered the highs of political and financial life in Russia.

Today Russian paratroopers put on their striped shirts and blue berets and flood the streets to celebrate. Tradition dictates they meet their fellow-servicemen and splash in Moscow's fountains. There is a concert at Red Square at the moment, and it will last till evening.

But this celebration also coincides with the Russian Orthodox Church holiday of Saint Elijah, and many servicemen used the occasion to visit a special service in the Church of Elijah the prophet and to take part in the procession.

“We've had this tradition of celebrating the second of August together with the Russian Orthodox Church for five years now. And the major reason for this is that the Saint Elijah is considered to be the patron of the Russian paratroopers,” explained Aleksandr Cherednik, Head of the VDV Press Office.