Most Russians have a personal connection to the tragedy of war that many in the West do not
According to most estimates, the Soviet Union lost up to 27 million citizens during World War II, which Russians call the Great Patriotic War. Nine million fell on the battlefield, and to his day, there is hardly a family that doesn’t remember relatives killed or wounded, or who lived through wartime hardships.
That is why V-Day, May 9th in Russia, is a cherished national holiday. The peak of official celebrations is the annual military parade on Red square. But several years ago, a new tradition was born in Siberia: Immortal Regiment Marches, in which young people would come out in the streets carrying portraits of their relatives who fought in that war.
Last year, on the 70th Anniversary of the Great Victory, it went national.
This year, in addition to Russia, Immortal Regiment Marches will be organized in 50 countries around the world. Join them as a sign of gratitude to our ancestors – not just from Russia but from many countries that fought or resisted the Nazis.
Here’s a tragic story from RI reader, Natasha Lipko-Bastow about her family’s WWII experience.
“I’ve always wondered what my Mum's life would have been like without WWII. Her only memory of her Dad was when he picked her up before leaving to fight. She was three years old, and all her life she repeated how tall my Grandad was. His name is recorded on the monument in the village in which she grew up, among to those who died on a battlefield.
My parents’ generation are called the war children. They were the most affected, and carried that burden for the rest of their lives. They were frightened of airplanes, explosions, etc. Mum told me about one occasion when a German soldier stormed into her house and started shouting (in German naturally), lighting matches, threatening to put the house, that had a thatched roof, on fire. All they could understand was "partisan, partisan!". Mum and my Uncle Vasya (who was only a year older) were hiding behind my grandmother’s skirt. She was trying to explain that there were no partisans in the house. 70 years later, Mum still remembered that soldier’s face.
It's not just stories about the actual war, but what it did to those poor people. The land was so burnt during the war that in 1947 there was a very poor harvest, followed by starvation. People had to dig up the previous year’s potatoes to survive. Kids ran after tractors to collect every grain of wheat, so nothing was wasted. My parents were only kids, but it impressed the value of food into their psyche for the rest of their lives. "Bread is sacred", they both used to say...
In Mum's village just outside Kiev, most families had no husbands, and children envied those whose Dads managed to come back from that terrible war...
A few weeks before Mum died, in July 2014, she repeated with a long sigh " I was born in the war and will die in the war". She was here with me, in London, far away from Donbass, but living through it again... She kept saying that the bombings and sitting in cold basements would remain in kids' consciousness for the rest of their lives. There was no anger in her voice, just acceptance, sadness and disappointment in humanity, confusion about the purpose of living a good honest life so your children never see war, and then at the end, it's all back again... the fact that Mum's children and grandchildren were not affected by the war directly, didn't matter. She was living it all over again, taking others’ pain unto herself...
Mum served her purpose on this planet, she went peacefully in her sleep, with her loved ones nearby, as only the very best people do. But we are still around to think about humanity, peace and human nature.
So tell me dear friends, do you seriously think that people who live through war are able to forget it? That they become so desensitized that it’s difficult for them to express their emotions, as it is for many today? I’m not afraid to tell the truth, to say what I think and loudly if I have to! But I will never become fanatical and hate people, whoever they are — Germans, Ukrainians, Russians or westerners, Muslims, Christians or Jews. Because I know what wars do to people, not from text books. I know the value of life and treasure that sacred memory of my family. I’m not afraid to cry in front of my children if I feel pain, because that’s very human..."
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