Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 08.05.2018
Since the Revolution of Dignity, an old holiday from the time of the Soviet Russian occupation of Ukraine is being supplanted by a new commemoration. The old Victory Day is a relic of Stalinism and domination by the foreign Muscovy regime. It falls on May 9, the day after Victory in Europe Day in 1945. The new Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation in Ukraine is a contemporary and thoroughly Western marking of the memory of all those who died in the Second World War. It falls on May 8. Symbolizing the choice of Ukrainians to join the European family, the Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation is commemorated with displays of the red poppy.
Russia under Putin is imposing a nationalist and Stalinist doctrine concerning the Second World War. May 9 is “Victory Day” of the “Great Patriotic War”: the “defeat of fascism.” Following Soviet orthodoxy, this war is considered to have run its course from 1941 to 1945, commencing at the time Nazi Germany invaded the USSR. Putin is attempting to refashion the memory of a time when the Soviet Union was considered the equal of Great Britain and the United States – when Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill met at Yalta and divided up Europe. Putin is invading Ukraine, inveigling against NATO and the EU, supporting separatist movements and extremist political parties, subverting democracy, and conducting cyberwarfare – all to destroy Europe. Victory Day gives Putin the opportunity to evoke the image of Soviet (to him, Russian) armies sweeping from Moscow to Berlin, and subjugating every nation in between.
Ukraine as a robustly democratic, European state is taking a more contemplative and historically nuanced view of the Second World War. For Ukraine, the war began in September 1939 when Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s USSR combined to invade Poland, which included territory of what was the West Ukrainian People's Republic and which is today western Ukraine. For Ukraine, the war didn’t end with the surrender of Germany in May 1945: the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) fought on, for an independent Ukraine. Active combat operations by the UPA continued against the People’s Republic of Poland until 1947 and against the USSR until 1949. Guerrilla resistance against the foreign Muscovy occupation of Ukraine lasted until the mid-1950s. When Ukrainians commemorate a Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation they are bowing their heads to all those who died at the hands of Hitler and Stalin. Ukraine suffered under both these foreign dictators, more than any other country.
The symbol of Russia’s Victory Day is the St. George’s Ribbon. Since Russia invaded Ukraine on 20 February 2014, the St. George’s Ribbon has been awarded to Russian soldiers and terrorists who participated in war crimes in Crimea and Donbas. As a symbol both of Stalinist triumphalism and of Russia’s war against the Ukrainian people, the St. George’s Ribbon is a banned symbol of hate propaganda under Ukraine’s denazification and decommunization law. Russia stands alone by using the St. George’s Ribbon symbol.
The symbol of Ukraine’s Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation is the red poppy. This simple flower commemorates those who died in war, from all sides. The defender and the invader of the nation are remembered together in death. The symbolism of the red poppy reaches back to the First World War. The poem “In Flanders Fields,” written in 1915 by Canadian physician and soldier John McCrae, begins: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row.” Ukraine stands with every other Western democratic nation by using the red poppy symbol.
Russia will boastfully celebrate Victory Day with triumphal parades of troops and military equipment in Moscow, as will as in Russian-invaded and occupied Ukrainian Crimea and Ukrainian Donbas. Sadly, this jingoistic and chauvinistic display will get a lot of superficial attention from the Western press and no critical attention. Ukraine will solemnly commemorate the Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation by visiting war graves and war memorials, and laying flowers in memory of all those who died in war. Ukrainians will be thinking about their own war, in which they are now fully engaged, to defend the homeland from Muscovy invaders who have already grabbed Crimea and a part of Donbas. Sadly, this reflective and thoughtful display will get no attention from the Western press.
The lesson of the Second World War for Ukrainians is that whether it is German “Lebensraum” or Russian “Russkiy Mir” foreign occupation means war and death. Only the freedom and independence of Ukraine is a safeguard. The Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation is formally about the memory of all those who died in the Second World War. But every Ukrainian is affected by the invasion of Crimea and Donbas by Russia that is going on right now. May 8 has a special resonance for Ukrainians because Russia is invading Ukraine and Ukraine’s war for national salvation is not yet won.