Victory Day, the celebration of the Nazi defeat in the Second World War, is a complicated and sometimes divisive holiday in the former Soviet Union.
For those in America and the UK, the lesson is fairly simple: victory of Western democratic society over Nazi totalitarianism. But for some Ukrainians—particularly those in western Ukraine—there isn’t much celebration. To many of them, the day is little more than glorification of victory for one murderous, authoritarian regime over another. That attitude has sometimes led to violent confrontations between Ukrainian nationalists and families of veterans since the country’s independence.
This difference in perspective is a sticking point between the regular soldiers who fought in the Red Army and millions of Ukrainians whose relatives were starved to death, deported, or executed under Stalin, since triumph over Nazi Germany served to further legitimize the Soviet regime under its most cruel and oppressive leader and allowed it to expand its reach westward.
In this part of the world, the holiday is both a commemoration of the soldiers who fought and died to stop Hitler’s war machine, and a day of reflection for those who were victims of the very system that made victory possible.