Russians in Brooklyn celebrate 70th anniversary of WWII victory
‘We saved all the good people from the bad people’
Russians in Brooklyn, joined by U.S. WWII veterans, commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany this past weekend with a memorial in Downtown Brooklyn and a parade in Brighton Beach.
The former Soviet Union lost roughly 27 million citizens during what is, in Russia, called the Great Patriotic War.
While the parade in Brighton Beach, a Russian stronghold, is an annual event, it was even larger this year in honor of the 70th anniversary and with the knowledge that the number of living veterans is dwindling.
In Brighton, Russian veterans, chests festooned with medals, shared their stories with youngsters, who handed them red carnations.
On the other side of the borough, dozens marched over the Brooklyn Bridge, carrying photos of relatives who took part in the war. A service with speeches and music was held at Cadman Plaza Park at the War Memorial. Relatives of former soldiers remembered their heroism with carnations, as the Roy H. Mann concert band played Russian patriotic songs.
“We’re celebrating here the Victory in Europe Day, where Americans and Russians fought together, shoulder to shoulder against Nazi Germany,” Igor Kochan, president of the Young Russian Society, an event sponsor, told the Brooklyn Eagle.
“If not that victory, today’s world would have been a different place, so we remember our heroes, and we came over here to lay the flowers in memory of the heroes of the Second World War,” he said.
Gustav Coffinas, 92, fought in WWII with the U.S. Air Force. “We’re celebrating the greatest victory in the world, 70 years ago,” he said. “The good people got together, and we saved all the good people from the bad people. And that’s the union that we still should have today.”
Coffinas said he was born in Brooklyn, “Two blocks from here, on the corner of Adams Street and Sands.”
Kyle Peterson, a fourth-generation American who is half Russian, said it was a great honor to host the veterans at the ceremony. “They’re not going to be along that much longer.”
Peterson handed black and orange striped ribbons to participants. “The St. George ribbon is the symbol of the victory,” he said. “It was attached to medals that were given to veterans, so it’s in memory of veterans.”
Peterson said the day’s events honored what in Russia is being called the “Immortal Regiment.” The march over the Brooklyn Bridge echoed a huge Immortal Regiment parade held in Russia on Saturday, featuring thousands of troops, tanks and war planes flying over Red Square. Russian President Vladimir Putin led the crowd through the square, carrying a portrait of his father.
The Russian mega-event was boycotted by the U.S. and other Western leaders, however, over Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis.
Protesters from the Ukraine and other areas were on hand in Cadman Plaza Park, handing out fliers entitled, “Putin Lies.”
Protester Andrig Dobriansky, a New Yorker, said he doesn’t consider the St. George ribbon to be a benign symbol of honor.
“They’re all wearing ribbons associated with the takeover of Ukraine. They’re conflating those two victories. You have a lot of protesters here who are against that—whether they’re from Ukraine, Belarus, other parts of Eastern Europe, we don’t particularly like this type of propaganda version of history.”
Peterson refuted Dobriansky. “Those people are trying to make it something political. We just want to honor our relatives. They’re being very disrespectful.”
Residents of the former Soviet Union celebrate Victory Day on May 9. In the U.S., the event is marked on May 8. This year’s celebration in Washington, D.C. included a flyover by vintage World War II aircraft.
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