US ambassador honors Soviet veterans to mark anniversary of legendary handshake

Russia and the US marked the 65th anniversary of their historic meeting on the Elbe River that symbolized the Allies' resolve to destroy the Third Reich.

The US Embassy is holding a reception to honor the heroes on both sides at the ambassador's Spaso House residence.

Even though the meeting on the Elbe may not have been of any strategic importance, it was certainly a kind of moral victory – the Soviet troops were at last able to meet the rest of the Allies in the battle against Nazi Germany, which meant that the end of the war was in sight.

It was a very long journey – the 69th infantry division of the US Army came all the way from Mississippi, through England and Europe, while the Soviet troops of the first Ukrainian front were making it from Stalingrad.

“We were glad to see the Americans,” veteran Olga Kokorez recalled. “As I was told later, the American colonel that met us frequently wrote home about the significance of this meeting for the future of our friendship. And that’s the feeling we all had.”

A simple handshake across the river marked the beginning of a 65-year friendship, which still continues today.

“We have that sense that we together can really make a difference against the challenges we face – whether it’s in the 20th century or in the 21st century. And I think that spirit between us never really goes away,”  US Ambassador John R. Beyrle said.

To mark the anniversary, the US embassy has gathered a reception to honor the Soviet veterans. A collection of rare wartime photographs, portraying the legendary event and the historical mix of two cultures, is displayed at the embassy. The same cultural mix is represented by the music chosen for the ceremony – the Russian national orchestra and American brass quintet are playing the songs of Glen Miller, as well as some classical pieces and the songs soldiers would be listening to back in 1945, like “Katyusha.”