Why World War II Matters So Much To Russians Today
Massive celebrations are taking place across Russia on Friday to commemorate victory in World War II. After the Soviet era, May 9 wasn't always such a big deal — until Russian President Vladimir Putin brought it back.
It's an emotional day for Russia and Ukraine, which both suffered heavy casualties. An estimated 27 million Soviet citizens lost their lives in the war.
Young Russians and Ukrainians are sharing photos of their relatives on Instagram.
The Soviet state tapped memories of the war to build up a sense of national pride. Throughout the former Soviet Union, WWII is still known as the Great Patriotic War.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, May 9 celebrations in Russia became more muted. Over the last decade, Vladimir Putin has again advanced WWII as a centerpiece of modern Russian identity.
With Russia and Ukraine at odds, this year's Victory Day celebrations have taken on a political cast. Russia's pro-Kremlin state media describes the Kiev government as "fascist," a particularly charged term in the former Soviet Union.
Orange and black ribbons have become a symbol not only of Soviet military valor, but also of support for pro-Russian separatist militants in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian lawmakers from the Svoboda party introduced a bill that would restrict display of the ribbons. Some Ukrainians are marking May 9 with different symbols — red poppies and the blue and yellow national flag.
Amid rising tension, the Ukrainian government scaled back public events planned for May 9 in Kiev.
Putin attended Victory Day celebrations in Crimea, drawing the ire of Ukraine, the U.S. and other governments that denounced Russia's annexation of the peninsula in March.
Critics say Putin has exploited memories of WWII for political gain. "The victory in the war is the indulgence for every government sin," opposition journalist Tikhon Dzyadko wrote.
In the midst of celebrations, clashes broke out in Mariupol, a city in southeastern Ukraine.
And for some Ukrainians, Victory Day felt different than it has in the past.
Susie Armitage is the Global Managing Editor and is based in New York.