“You know, my child,” she explained to me. “I look into the eyes of my peers, who are grey and old, and I see the young ones of my family and friends who have already gone. It’s like a silent film, where everything goes without saying. You can’t get tired of it, because these pictures are in your heart. They return to life when this holiday comes. It is painful and joyful, but everything is real ...”
Every year, long before the annual celebration, Gomel begins looking like a ‘triumphal city’. Everything is polished and preened while the air seems saturated with anticipation. We feel the echoes of the spring of 1945, when the thirst for victory demolished all barriers and brought an unexpected gift from heaven.
…The early morning of 9th May is unusual, if you look and listen carefully. Wartime songs play from the speakers in the quiet streets of the awakening city. There is sincerity, hope and faith in those songs — everything that was important then. The transformation is seamless. You leave the house as your ‘usual 21st century self’ but arrive at the central square as a visitor to the past.
It can’t be otherwise, since old people appear in the streets so early. They are calm and leisurely, like those war time melodies. Their military awards on their jackets ring in unison with their unsteady gait. Together, they return to the past, where most of what they loved, saw, knew and experienced remains. May 9th is like their second birth, because it was unbearably difficult to survive in that war.
This year, few of the veterans of whom I’ve written were present; each year, their number reduces. Time marches on, as is natural, yet this cannot help but shake us and intensifies our feeling of gratitude.I know some young people who regularly write letters to the elderly, on notebook paper. They talk about their lives — filled with school and friends… and they ask questions. This ‘pen pal’ fever is popular now, with young people realising that the elderly have much to share. Also, they believe that receiving letters helps the veterans feel useful — not thrown away from the ship of life.
The urban biker club ‘Night Wolves’ makes a habit of riding out to remote villages in spring, visiting veterans in their little wooden homes, which are almost fused with the ground. The bikers want the veterans to experience the joy of communication. They bustle about, doing housework, and sit on the benches to chat about life. The veterans certainly seem happier during their visits.
I have dozens of such stories in my notebook. All are about the necessity of repaying debts while we have time.
Over all these years of celebrating Victory Day, some traditions have appeared: rallies of memory near monuments, mass graves and memorials to fallen soldiers and civilians; flower-laying ceremonies, a minute of silence; and arm volleys. Millions of lives were lost, including three million Belarusians; we lost every third resident. The Nazis burned thousands of villages and towns...
There is a special shrine near Gomel — the Mound of Glory. Every year, young people bring capsules of soil from various battle fields, keeping the memory of the bloodiest events of the war. One is from near Kiev. To free the Ukrainian capital, the River Dnieper had to be crossed; of 20,000 people, only 5000 succeed. On 27th October 1943, subdivisions of the 240th infantry division began to cross but only the platoon of sergeant Nefedov was successful with his small detachment, consolidating on the right bank. This is just one of two hundred stories told via capsules at Gomel’s Mound of Glory.
I can hardly imagine Victory Day without its bright parade of opening; it’s the same every year, gathering thousands of citizens on the square in Gomel. The old and middle-aged, teenagers and children throng the main streets, with flowers, flags and balloons, entertained by improvised concerts and exhibitions of art.
Historical amateur dramatic scenes conjure up the past: a stylised
sanitary train stopped in Gomel — learning of victory over Germany, which began the war. Meanwhile, a true ‘Partisan Republic’ was arranged at one site, allowing visitors to walk the paths once trodden by partisans, who crossed impassable marshes to put out of action enemy tanks or help wounded comrades.
It’s also impossible to imagine this day without fireworks, street festivities or the veterans’ lunch with porridge. The Victory Day song, red carnations and St. George’s ribbons are symbols of 9th May. Every family lost someone in the war, which began on 22nd June 1941...
By Violetta Danilyuk
June is full of memories
[b]My good friend, Yulia Georgievna Kutas-Kholopova, is already 90 years old. During the war, she was a scout for the Special Forces Detachment. I look for her at every parade in honour of Victory Day; if she’s there, I know she’s still well. Victory Day gives her strength. This year was just the same. I saw her and rejoiced: alive, thank God! We sat on a bench in the park, chatting and remembering[/b]