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Historian Sergey Galani: Why Victory Day on the 9th of May is a deeply important occasion for Russia

Updated: May 16

Tomorrow in Russia we celebrate Victory Day on May 9. This is the 75th anniversary of the victory of civilized humanity over a terrible and insidious enemy, a victory over the destructive and inhumane ideology of Nazism.

Many Russians are astonished that individuals in the United States and much of Europe know so little about the most important non-religious holiday in Russia and several other countries.

On the 9th of May, Russia received news of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender, thus ending The Great Patriotic War/World War II in Europe. According the most conservative estimates for Soviet deaths in the Great Patriotic War/Second World War are just over 26 million. Between 1941 and 1945, more Russian mothers had to bury their sons than any other group of mothers in the world.

This is why people in our country and politicians are so sensitive to attempts to glorify Nazi collaborators in Ukraine and the Baltic States. Let me try to give you a real-life example. My great-uncle Peter Gаlani was shot by the Nazis in the autumn of 1941 in the occupied Mariupol. In February 1942, my great-grandfather also was shot by the Nazis with the assistance of Ukrainian nationalists. How can I and my family forget these facts?!

In the West, victory over Hitler's Germany is celebrated on May 8. On the eve of this anniversary event, the US Department of defense on its website published a thematic quiz dedicated to the Second World War. It is preceded by a multimedia presentation entitled "Victory Day in Europe: a time for celebration and reflection".

"Comprehended" overseas military specialists quite in the spirit of the trend that has emerged recently: to rewrite, clean up the history of the war, not only pushing the Soviet Union (and Russia as the legal successor of the USSR) further into the back ranks of the victorious countries, but also making it, along with Germany, one of the countries that unleashed the Second world war.

How we can compare the Battle of Guadalcanal (the «Allies' first major offensive - and a decisive victory») with the victory at Stalingrad?  How can we compare the battle of El Alamein with the battle of Kursk?  Of course,  not. The numbers and all the statistics suggest otherwise.

Consider, for example, the Battle for Stalingrad. It took with it 724.000 of the Axis forces best troops, including selected Nazi units involved in the invasion of Serbia and then in Greece, with an overall loss of a bit over a million men during the entire operation. These could not be replaced. As a matter of fact, the Axis had lost over a million men the year before as well, during the failed Operation Barbarossa. Many or most of its most veteran and seasoned troops, that had stormed most of Europe in week/month long operations. That puts things into perspective. The German troops defending the western front represented a years’ worth of losses alone on the eastern front. Many of the western division of Germany were also substandard.

The German losses on D-Day were slightly more10.000, no more than half a division and most not the best troops. For the entire Operation Overlord, losses would be around 400.000–500.000 for Germany. The invasion of Normandy across the English Channel in June 1944 began in light conditions and passed without much resistance from German troops on the coast, General Eisenhower later recalled. The so-called "Atlantic rampart" turned out to be a series of ordinary trench lines and then not solid. There were no more than three thousand guns of various calibers along the entire line of defense. On average, a little more than one gun per kilometer. These facts, even for people not connected with military topics, indicate a low density of fire German defense line. To break through such a line of defense, given the advantage of the allies in men, guns, and air support was not so difficult. The grandiose scale of the naval landing operation in Normandy does not need a false political varnish. It deserves respect. But it cannot compare in scale with the battles of Russian on the Eastern front.

I would like to emphasize that at the end of the same year, 1944, the Germans launched a serious counterattack in the Ardennes, and the Americans from the 12th group of General Bradley's Army could not withstand the enemy's attack.  It is no accident that the British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, asked the leader of the USSR, Joseph Stalin, for urgent help. The Russians helped again. And Hitler was forced to withdraw his shock troops from the Western front and transfer them to the East against the Red Army.

I say nothing new when I emphasize that Russia stood alone against Germany for a long time. The western allies were delaying the opening of a second front against Nazi Germany. They could have opened a Second front much earlier, back in 1943, but deliberately did not hurry to do so, waiting for a more significant defeat of Germany and the depletion of the capabilities of the armed forces of the USSR. Many historians and politicians today also speculate on the subject of Western supplies of weapons, equipment and fuel to the USSR without which the alleged Russian victory over the Germans did not take place. To the total number of weapons that the Russians produced in their factories during the war, Western lend-lease deliveries averaged 4%.

Nevertheless, the victory over Nazism was a common victory. I think this 75th anniversary has represented an opportunity to bring the history of the world to the fore, in particular to the Soviet contribution, Russian contribution to the world. The Victory day anniversary is the anniversary of an exemplary model of negotiations and agreements between representatives of various political systems, building alliances and coalitions in the interests of ensuring universal peace. In 1945, the leaders of the «Big three» at the Crimean and Potsdam conferences demonstrated that the desire for peace should be above the personal ambitions and interests of individual States. This is beginning to happen today, against the backdrop of the fight against the global coronavirus pandemic. We see how the Russians help Italy, Serbia and other countries. China is helping us, and yesterday US President Mr. Trump announced his readiness to provide technical assistance to Russia in the supply of medical equipment. These are encouraging symptoms, the symptoms of improvement in the international relations.  But personally, I would like that we were united not only by common problems, like fighting a common enemy or epidemic, but also common achievements in the fields of science, medicine, trade, education, and so on. It is important that world leaders, despite all their differences, rise above ideological and geopolitical contradictions and work out solutions for our common future. The anniversary of the Victory over Nazism is a clear signal, a clear message to all mankind about the need to take such measures.

May 8, 2020




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