Victory Day – rift among former USSR nations
When the war veteran Pyotr Zubrik from Lithuania’s capital Vilnius leaves home on May 9, he will have to wear a coat. That is despite the promise of sunny weather.
“I have to cover my war medals. Because I am afraid I might get attacked,” he told RT. “Once a teenager came up to me and hit me on the face, bruising my eye.”
Pyotr fails to understand why, in a country he once liberated from the Nazis, his war medals are classified as Soviet symbols, which he is prohibited from wearing. Unlike Moscow and other capitals of the post-Soviet countries, Vilnius will not see a colorful military parade on Victory day.
“I respect veterans, but I do not think this day should be marked with parades. There are many other ways to celebrate it, like putting candles at the cemetery,” said speaker of Lithuanian parliament Irene Dyagutene.
It is only this year the authorities allowed veterans to walk through the capital’s central street to a local cemetery to lay wreaths. Before that, all marches had been banned.
The go-ahead for this march is the result of long-running protests by local veterans’ communities and such rifts are common among other Baltic states.
During the Nazi invasion, parts of their population collaborated with the Germans. Now they do not regard May 9 as a day to celebrate.
The same goes for Ukraine – one of the biggest victims of Hitler’s conquest. Here, the perception of the past is still making huge waves in society.
A monument with an eternal flame was built in Kiev’s Park of Glory to honor hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers who gave their lives for the liberation of Ukraine. However, nowadays one of the Ukraine capital’s most picturesque areas received yet another obelisk – quite opposite in its ideology. Just a stone throw away stands a statue of an ever-burning candle to commemorate those who died in the 1930’s famine in the Soviet Union.
One monument glorifies Soviet power, the other indirectly accuses it. The candle was put here by former president Yushchenko, who insisted that the disastrous famine, which took place all across the USSR, was genocide against Ukrainians orchestrated by the Kremlin.
However, it is not that stance which became the largest insult for many. It was his decision to award leaders of the insurgent UPA movement, Roman Shukhevich and Stepan Bandera, with the Hero of Ukraine title.
“There were cases when UPA troops killed doctors and teachers, which Moscow sent to re-build western Ukraine. They blew up trains which took Red Army soldiers home from liberated Europe,” said a chairman of Kiev’s Veteran Fund, Viktor Malevanny. “But now these fascists are being glorified. This is a humiliation for all Red Army veterans and of what they fought for.”
The UPA army was initially formed to fight off the Nazi invasion, but later switched sides and collaborated with the Germans against the Red Army.
Bandera’s associates are believed to have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of Russians and Jews in western Ukraine. Sometimes – in a brutal manner.
“We had a guy – a forester, we knew his wife had contacts with Soviets. We apprehended him and wrote on his chest ‘For the betrayal of Ukrainian people’. It was his sentence and that was it, we hung him,” UPA veteran Ivan Ondryushko remembers.
During his election campaign, Viktor Yanukovich pledged to review Yushchenko’s decisions and possibly abolish them. However, now Ukraine’s leader has backed down – according to some experts, so as not to irritate part of the country’s population.
However, while Ukraine and some other parts of the former Soviet Union are riven by ideology, for those who lived through the horrors of war, May 9 will again be a vital day of commemoration.