Letter from Russia: The Price of Victory
By Alexander Esin, Maritime State University, Vladivostok, Russia.
What holiday is the most important to citizens of the USA? If I were asked this, I would suggest that it is Independence Day or Christmas. But today I want to tell you about a special day for Russians, which symbolizes the unconquerable will of our people and reminds us of the price we paid for the future of our country.
Victory Day is a holiday celebrated on May 9th that is dedicated to the victory of the Soviet people over Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War (the part of the Second World War that took place from June 22nd, 1941 to May 9th, 1945 and included military action on the Eastern Front).
On this day, every city located in Russia’s vast territory has a colorful military parade; citizens congratulate veterans; and concerts are staged with songs devoted to the war. Although this festival of victory is supposed to be joyful, it is also a day of great sorrow. The population of the USSR in 1941 totaled about 196 million people. Approximately 26.6 million Soviet people were killed during the war, from which only about half served in the Red Army. I am sure you are familiar with World War II, especially with the actions of the US Army. But I would like to refresh your memory a little bit about the events that took place on the Eastern Front.
The German invasion began on June 22nd, 1941. Soviet forces were not ready for the extreme tactics of the Germans and were forced to retreat. By winter, a central group of enemy armies stood near Moscow, and Leningrad (St. Petersburg) was under siege. Fortunately, Hitler’s armies were poorly prepared for the harsh Russian winter, which helped to push the Germans back out of Moscow. This was the first of the Red Army’s major victories.
The turning point of the war was the Battle of Stalingrad (July 1942 – February 1943), which is still known as the largest land battle in the history of mankind. During the course of this battle, more than two million people were killed. In the end, a huge part of the Nazi troops were surrounded and captured. After that, you can be left with little doubt as to the outcome of the war.
“The siege of September 13th, 1942 to January 31st, 1943 will inspire forever the hearts of all free people. Their glorious victory stemmed the tide of invasion and marked the turning point in the war of the Allied nations against the forces of aggression.” Franklin D Roosevelt, congratulating Joseph Stalin on the Soviet victory at Stalingrad, 1944.
From that moment on, the Red Army began to take massive counter-offensive measures. On January 27th, 1944, the siege of Leningrad was lifted. The city had been surrounded by enemy forces for 872 days. According to various estimates, between 600 and 1500 thousand civilians died, mostly from starvation.
The war ended when the Soviet army captured Berlin, and Germany signed a capitulation pact on May 8th, 1945 (due to the time difference, it was May 9th in Moscow).
The price of the victory for the Soviet Union was 26.6 million of people; hundreds of cities were destroyed; and industry collapsed. But the price of defeat would have been total annihilation or enslavement.
Relations between our two nations are constantly in flux, but if you ever find yourself in Russia in May – especially in Moscow – I recommend that you watch a victory parade. It’s a very exciting show dedicated to the mutual victory of our grandfathers.