Memory and victory: How the end of WWII is commemorated in Ukraine

Source : 112 Ukraine

Since recently, Ukraine has been starting celebration of the end of the World War II on 8 May and ending on 9 May. Let us explain what the new tradition is about and why such changes were introduced.
08:15, 9 May 2018

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For a fifth year, Ukraine will be celebrating the end of WWII in a new way: for the first time our country distanced itself from the celebration of the Victory Day in the Soviet-style and organized official events devoted to the end of the war in Europe on May 8-9. 

Later on, new names were attached to these dates on the legislative level. Thus, 8 May, according to the decree by president Petro Poroshenko dated 24 March 2015, became the Day of Memory and reconciliation, whereas 9 May, according to the decommunization laws that were approved by the Parliament of Ukraine in April of the same year, became the Day of victory over Nazism in WWII.

At the same time, the former date is a memorable day, while the latter is an official state holiday and day off.

Why new measures were necessary

The rethinking of the events of WWII is not only a requirement of time, Ukrainian historians for a number of years have been talking about how inappropriate it is to use the term “The Great Patriotic War” in the context of our country. Moreover, they have stressed the controversy over the notion that the act of capitulation of Germany was actually signed on 9 May.

According to the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, the fact of the matter is that for Ukraine the war began on 1 September 1939, when Nazi Germany attacked Poland – on that day the German air force bombed Lviv and other cities.

The institution goes on to say that from 17 September the Soviet Union became a German ally in the WWII. As the result of the division of Central and Eastern Europe between the Nazis and the communists, territories of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus became part of the Soviet Union in 1939, while the Baltic states, Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina all followed suit the next year.

Related: Ukraine celebrates Day of Remembrance

Therefore, it could be said that the term "The Great Patriotic War” for Ukraine (June 1941 – May 1945), is incorrect from the first day of the war – 1 September 1939 to its last day – 2 September 1945. WWII was not limited to military actions and occupation of a territory that is present-day Ukraine, but also included the participation of Ukrainians in military actions on all of the military battlefields”, - the Institute concludes.

The controversy around the day of victory over Nazism is that the parties to the conflict signed the act of capitulation of Germany in a suburb of Berlin late at night on 8 May 1945 – precisely at 10:43 pm Central European time, hence, at 0:43 am on 9 May Moscow time. The ceasefire was declared for 11:01 pm Berlin time – when it was already 9 May in Eastern European countries too.

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This is why the overwhelming majority of European countries sadly commemorate the end of the military actions on 8 May, while on 9 May they celebrate the Europe Day, which began with the proclamation of the Schuman declaration published on 9 May 1950 and is considered the start of the unification of Europe. Taking into account the difference between Kyiv and Moscow time, this date of the end of WWII is considered more appropriate for Ukraine too.

What kind of traditions replace the Soviet ones

Once the dates and terms of the celebration of the previously universal Day of victory of the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War, traditions of this celebration of the end of military actions incorporated some changes as well.

Previously in Ukraine, just as in Russia, which is the direct descendant of the USSR, the victory over fascism was celebrated with military parades, fireworks and the cult of Soviet military commanders, seeking to demonstrate military might.

Nevertheless, according to the Institute, Ukraine lost some 8-10 million of its citizens in that horrible war, as well as some 285 million of Soviet rubles in economic losses. Crimes by both the fascist and communist regimes were committed, meaning that there are actually very few events for Ukrainians to celebrate, while there is a lot more of sad and tragic events that should be commemorated. This is why the use of communist or Nazi symbols has been declared officially unlawful, whereas the parades and fireworks were replaced by mourning the victims. The commemoration is now focused on stories of individuals within that horrendous war, as opposed to commemorating the history of military actions.

At the same time, it should be pointed out that the Soviet symbols such as red flags and St. George ribbons were replaced by new attributes. In particular, a poppy flower has become the symbol for the Day of victory over Nazism in WWII, as well as for the Day of memory and reconciliation. Poppy flower is the universal, worldwide symbol of celebrating the memorable days of the Second World War.

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It is worth noting that his emergence is linked to the poems of two people: a Canadian military doctor John McCrae and a representative of the Christian association of young women Moina Michael. Under the impression of fighting in Belgium in 1915, John McCrae wrote the poem “In Flanders fields”, which began with the words:

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
  That mark our place”

Moina Michael, on the other hand, wrote “We shall keep the faith” in 1918, wherein she promised to wear the red poppy to commemorate the fallen soldiers. It was exactly Moina Michael who put a red silk poppy onto her jacket in November of that year.

In Ukraine, this symbol is used in its own style designed by the Kharkiv-based designer Serhiy Mishakin.

The motto of both commemorative days in 2014, when Ukraine first joined the European tradition of celebrating the Day of memory and reconciliation was "Never again", and was changed to "We remember. We win”.

Related: Victory Day without Putin's congratulations

What's in the program of celebration planned for 8 and 9 May

Finally, it should be pointed out that there is no universal plan of events for the entire country on the Day of memory and reconciliation or the Day of victory over Nazism in WWII. In each individual village or town, the respective local authority decides when to stage the flower-laying ceremony, commemorative gatherings, etc. The only requirement is for them to be in accordance with the new standards set by the law and tradition.


Therefore, such events are planned in Ukraine for the next two days:

8 May

11:00 — The "Heroes" photo exhibition opens in the National Museum of Ukrainian History in WWII 

12:00-18:00 – Creative program "Years will never erase the memory" on the Singing Field of the Pechersk landscape park;

12:00-13:00 – The "Battle for the Dnipro and liberation of Kyiv" cinema lecture takes place in the Museum of the Occupation (a branch of the Kyiv history museum);

22:40 — “First minute of peace” campaign at the National Museum of Ukrainian History in WWII

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9 May

9:00 – Solemn flower-laying ceremony at the Grave of the unknown warrior in the Eternal Glory park

11:00-17:00 – Festivities entitled “We remember – we win!” continue in the National Museum of Ukrainian History in WWII, including a live performance by the Kyiv academic municipal wind orchestra “Ukraine, a holy land”, a commemorative requiem “Memory”, pray for peace in Ukraine, garland-laying ceremony at the “Forcing of the Dnipro” sculptural composition, a concert program called “Victory, sacred victory!”

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