Canvas of Victory
Time is implacable. The number of those still living who witnessed the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) falls each year. The number of participants is even less. Accordingly, the Gomel Region is keen that all veterans should participate in honour of the 65th anniversary of Belarus’ liberation
Roman Smotrenko, head of a youth association, displays red cloth patches to me: “We bought over 200 metres for the parade, as we want the 8294 veterans of the Great Patriotic War — living in the Gomel Region — to participate in celebrating the 65th anniversary of Belarus’ liberation (even if they are quite frail). We invented the Canvas of Victory as a symbol of participation for veterans in the celebration; even those not present in person will be present via the patch they have signed.”
Roman tells me that the cloth patches were sent to veterans for the signing of their full names, as well as the years of their battle and awards. “Primarily, young people from Houses of Art made their own district Canvases of Victory from these patches. We are going to make a regional Canvas of Victory for the 65th anniversary of Belarus’ liberation (celebrated on July 3rd). According to our estimates, it will be 60 metres long. Some schoolchildren will be selected to carry it during the solemn parade in Gomel; afterwards, we’ll transfer it to the regional museum of military glory.”
Together with pupils from secondary school № 15 in Gomel, we visit military navigator Pavel Enilin. He was 17 when the war began, having graduated from the military aviation school of air-gunners and radio operators. By the end of the war their force was incontestable and, after May 9, 1945, he saw action in Mongolia and Korea. He continued flying until he retired, spending 5000 hours in the sky. On a computer, he shows us the planes he used to navigate. A virtual journey takes a plane into a tail-spin and it plunges to earth in flames.
After chatting, the schoolchildren give him a patch of the red cloth. He diligently writes his surname and years of military service on it in blue ink, listing his awards. He’s showing signs of tiredness and jokes, “I should have done some training for this!” His notes reads: Order of the Great Patriotic War, War Merit Medal…
86 year old Vasily Vasilets used to work in tanks and laughs about the heaviness of his Medal For the Defence of Leningrad as he tries to put it on. His dark-blue uniform has a great number of awards sewn on to it and is certainly heavy. His Medal For the Defense of Leningrad was awarded to him by the Russian Embassy representative in Belarus.
“You weren’t aware of being awarded, were you?” we comment, but Vasily just laughs. “It’s not the first time. A year ago, I discovered that I’d been awarded the Medal For the Defense of Stalingrad; now, I’ve been given one for Leningrad. I saw action in both cities. I was awarded after each battle but was in hospital or waiting for my tank to be repaired — so didn’t hear the news. If it were not for the military commissariat in Gomel, I wouldn’t have these awards on my jacket.
He recollects that it was horribly hard waiting for action on the battlefield, but that there were happy moments. Once, he met his friend from his home village and they took photos. Soon his friend was sent to Moscow. He later met Belarusian partisans, who took the photos back to his occupied village. “My father and brothers were partisans and those photos were a drop of hope and faith. The second happy moment occurred near Leningrad. I was sitting in the tank and heard news that our troops had liberated the villages of Andreevka and Rovenskaya Sloboda — where I lived.” Clearly, his feelings are difficult to describe… but each veteran has their own story, filled with similar moments. Vasily is keen to stop talking about the war; he prefers that we write our own history now, and he takes up the pen…
At each house we visit, new names and histories are unveiled; sadness is mixed with joy. Navigator Pavel Enilin, tanker Vasily Vasilets and tens of other veterans won’t be able to come to the parade in honour of the Liberation but they will be among us — their bravery still pulsing via the ink in which they have written of their heroic past.
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