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What is Russia’s Victory Day, and what might it mean for Ukraine?

Russian flag flies outside of the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Associated Press-Patrick Semansky
Russian President Vladimir Putin said his rationale for invading Ukraine was to achieve the “denazification” of the former Soviet state.

In Russia, Victory Day is one of the most popular and important holidays, typically celebrated with military parades, festivals and fireworks across the country to celebrate the Russian triumph over Nazi Germany in World War II.

Victory Day this year comes amid a devastating war Russia is waging with its neighbor Ukraine.

Some fear Russia could hasten for a notable victory to capitalize on the holiday, especially with Russian President Vladimir Putin preparing for a new offensive in the eastern region of Ukraine.

Experts have warned that Putin could blitz for a victory in the east ahead of the May 9 holiday to distract from the heavy losses of Russian troops and equipment in Ukraine.

What is Victory Day?

Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, in one of the largest modern military operations in the world. Adolf Hitler sent more than 3 million troops into the nation as part of Operation Barbarossa.

Although Operation Barbarossa ultimately failed, Nazi Germany repeatedly launched failed offensives against the Soviet Union. The Nazi regime’s largest casualties were in Eastern Europe, but the Soviet Union lost more than 24 million people in World War II, suffering the most losses of any country involved in the war.

The Soviet Union and allied forces eventually encircled Berlin, bringing an end to the war.

Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day) was proclaimed on May 8, 1945, but Russia celebrates it the day after, on May 9.

The end of the Great Patriotic War in Russia remains one of the largest World War II celebrations in the world, complete with parades, concerts, events, fireworks, festivals and speeches.

What could happen in Ukraine?

World War II had a profound effect on Russia, driving up patriotic fervor and anti-Nazi public sentiment.

Putin capitalized on Russian patriotism and anti-Nazism when he invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, claiming he was “denazifying” the country, despite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Jewish heritage.

Russia this month retreated from the Kyiv region in the northern part of Ukraine and has reportedly regrouped in the east for a new offensive aimed at achieving a more limited objective: capturing the Donbas region in Ukraine’s industrial heartland.

Dmytro Gurin, a Ukrainian member of parliament, told The Hill he believes Russia will try to “destroy Ukraine” through a large-scale destruction of cities and people, pointing to the devastation in the port city of Mariupol.

Gurin said Russia might take major action around Victory Day.

“They need to show something for their population,” he said.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine warned in a March 24 Facebook post that Russia wants to end the war by May 9.

“There is a constant propaganda work being carried out among the personnel of the Russian Federation’s armed forces, which imposes the idea that the war must be ended by May 9, 2022,” the post read, citing sources within the Russian army.

However, whether Russia actually notches a notable victory might not matter to Putin, author and scholar Faith Hillis told The Washington Post.

“I think for Putin, there’s not going to be a defeat, even if there’s a defeat,” Hillis told The Post. “There’s no room for a defeat in his mind-set. It’s going to be spun as a victory no matter what happens.”

What Russia has said about Victory Day this year

As a sitting president and former KGB officer, Putin usually gives an address on Victory Day. A large celebration and military parade are typically held in Moscow’s Red Square.

For the 77th anniversary, Moscow is preparing for 12,500 people, 190 vehicles and 76 aircraft, according to the Defence Blog.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier this month that Russia will celebrate the holiday as usual.

“We will celebrate it the way we always do it. This is the holiest holiday in our country. It has been and will remain the holiest holiday for all Russians,” Peskov said on April 6, according to the Defence Blog.

Tags May 9 NAzi Germany Russia Soviet Uniom Ukraine Victory Day World War 2

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