Moscow marks Victory Day in shadow of Ukraine conflict

·3-min read

Hundreds of thousands of Muscovites marched Monday to remember the victims of World War II, with many believing that Russia is once again fighting Nazism, but this time in Ukraine.

Every year on May 9, Russians celebrate Victory Day, one of the country's most important holidays marking the anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.

After a military parade on Red Square, memorial marches called the "Immortal Regiment" are held in cities across Russia, with participants carrying photos of family members who fought in what Russians call the Great Patriotic War.

This year's march was led by President Vladimir Putin -- who held a photo of his father -- over two months since the Russian leader deployed troops to Ukraine for what he calls a campaign to "de-Nazify" Russia's pro-Western neighbour.

Joining the march was Taisiya Chepurina, carrying a sepia picture of her husband, a soldier who fought in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1944.

For the 81-year-old widow, Russia's military action in Ukraine is justified if Ukrainian Nazis "shoot at our soldiers".

"Putin conducts politics so well, well done to him. He makes sure that our boys don't die, that there is as little blood as possible. I bow down to him," she said.

As the procession marched on, military "Hurrahs" and chants of "Russia" were regularly shouted out by the participants of all ages.

Small orchestras played Soviet war tunes, while food stalls distributed soup to warm a crowd braving the wind and rain.

- 'History repeats itself' -

"Nobody could have imagined that 77 years later, fascist forces, Nazi forces would come back to life, killing civilians, butchering Russians into pieces," another participant, Anastasia Rybina, told AFP.

"History repeats itself," the 37-year-old economist added.

Her words were echoed by Oksana Buranova, a real estate agent dressed in head-to-toe military uniform for the occasion, marching together with her teenage daughter.

"Our grandfathers died for this, and today fascism is reborn," she said.

She added that in Western countries, which have backed Ukraine, "many people are misinformed".

In the city festooned with Soviet-era symbols ahead of the celebration, the participants marched enthusiastically.

In the crowd, there were some signs and flags with the new military symbol -- the letter "Z" that is being used to show support for Russia's campaign in Ukraine.

At the same time, the founders of the "Immortal Regiment," which was an independent initiative back in 2012 but was later taken over by Russian authorities, distanced themselves from this year's event.

Some participants said they came to Moscow especially to take part in the march, like Alexei Karpinsky, who travelled from neighbouring Belarus, an ex-Soviet country and an ally of Russia.

"It was my dream since childhood to come with my family," said the 34-year-old in a black leather jacket, adding that "there is still work to be done to stifle the ideas of Nazism".

Another participant, Andrei Tikhomirov, 49, said he decided to join for the first time because "there is a need to support Russia and our president".

"I never voted for him, but now it's such a time, I think all Russians should be here," the businessman said, adding that today "Nazism has approached" Russian borders.

For others, the march was still only about World War II.

Accompanied by her French husband Frank Lank, Muscovite Tatyana said she came to honour her grandfather Alexander. "So many years have passed and we have not forgotten him".

"We don't want to think" about what's happening in Ukraine she said, adding that conflict "never brings anything good to people, when civilians, women and children are dying".

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