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10 May, 2010 05:56

Victory Day celebrations unite former allies 65 years on

Soldiers from Britain, France, Poland and the US marched alongside Russian troops in Red Square during the biggest-ever Victory Day parade, marking the 65th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Watching were those to whom the day is dedicated in the first place, the veterans.

“The Soviet Union took the main blow of the fascists, who threw three-quarters of their troops to the Eastern Front. They wanted to burn our country down, but faced a resistance that has no match in courage and strength. Our veterans gave us the most important thing ever: they conquered freedom for us,” Dmitry Medvedev said during his address.

It was an emotional day for around 3,000 veterans in attendance – a day of joy through tears, as many described their feelings. Their ranks included some from former Soviet Republics and Western wartime allies.

Among them was Jock Dempster, a veteran of the Arctic Convoys – British naval and merchant vessels which ensured the delivery of vital wartime supplies to the Soviet Union. Russia has decorated him many times, but he says that the Soviets are not given enough credit in the West for defeating the Nazis.

“The Russian government has never forgotten and always appreciated what we did in the war. We lost 2,800 men on these convoys. They’ve never forgotten us. But we in the UK, we in the West failed to really appreciate that Russia lost 28 million in the war. And this is what annoys us: that people don’t appreciate that Russia’s losses were enormous. And if they hadn’t won the war on the Eastern Front, the world wouldn't have enjoyed the peace in the last 65 years,” Dempster said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel put aside the European financial crisis to come and pay respects to those who fought against the Nazis. Also present were leaders from countries which have criticized Soviet rule – like Estonia – which has faced its own accusations of wartime Nazi collaboration.

Hundreds of veterans were invited to the Victory Day dinner after the parade, where they shared a meal with leaders from around 25 countries. These war heroes hadn't met each other during the war, but they say now they feel as united as ever.

“It's very important that we invited troops from the UK, America, France and Poland. This seals the friendship that our nations had during the war,” Russian WWII veteran Boris Gerdel said.

“I was a pilot in the French Normandie-Nieman squadron – we fought under Soviet command. I personally shot around 12 enemy planes. Every year, on the 9th of May I come to Russia,” French WWII veteran Pierre Lurion said.

“No one paid so heavily as the Soviet and Russian people to break Hitler's back. So I come here with great feeling,” WWII veteran John Kapstien said.

Back then, the war united countries which seemed to have nothing in common. Now, it is hoped that the memory of battles fought together and the shared joy of victory can help provide the same unity and friendship – 65 years on.