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8 May, 2009 18:00

The cost of V-Day for Soviet Russia

The cost of V-Day for Soviet Russia

Most of the world marks the end of the Second World War on the 8th of May. But for Soviet Russia it ended the day after. In modern Russia, May 9th is still celebrated as a major national holiday.

For the Soviet Union, the horror of war started with the German invasion on June 22, 1941. That’s almost two years after Europe started suffering from Nazi aggression as Hitler sent his troops into Poland on September 1, 1939.

The clash at the Eastern front between Germany and the Red Army has been labeled the Great Patriotic War. This term was first used in an article in one of the Soviet newspapers, and it still bares this name.

All in all, over 100 million military personnel participated and at least 70 million people died during the Second World War, most at the Eastern front in the period of four years … More people fought and died in the Great Patriotic War than in all other theatres of the Second World War combined.

Shortly before the war, Germany struck a deal with the Soviets, signing a non-aggression pact. According to this document, the two nations were to divide their influence over Europe. Many historians see this document as an attempt of the two titans to delay the deadly clash.

Hitler was the first to break his word and unleashed an attack under the codename ‘Barbarossa.’ According to Hitler’s plan, more than half of the Soviet Union was to be destroyed, with the remaining population turned into slaves. He anticipated it would take four months for the invasion and it had to be concluded by winter. Hitler thought that the majority of the Russian forces would be destroyed at the borders, and he expected free access to Moscow.

It nearly worked out. The Red Army was clearly unprepared for such a massive assault. Within just a few months the two largest cities, including the capital, were under siege. But the Nazi blitz was halted. Cold winter gave the Soviets a good chance to regroup, and they used it. Slowly, the Red Army began to force the enemy back.

This was the turning point. But the cost that had to be paid for it was horrifying. Perhaps the toughest was the siege of Leningrad – now St. Petersburg. It lasted 900 days. People were cut off from all supplies and more than one million people starved to death. The only supply route was in winter, using the ice road over the Ladoga Lake. It was called the road of life, but due to breaking ice and constant bombardments the death toll on it was very high. But it allowed the people to resist.

Later, more victories came – Rzhev, Stalingrad, and finally Berlin. It all officially ended when the surrendering documents were signed in the German capital late on May 8. But in Moscow it was already early morning on the 9th. That’s why Russia celebrates the V-day a day later. This was a great success, but it came at a horrifying cost for the Soviet people. Almost 30 million people died, most of them civilians.