05/09/2014 03:47 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Celebrating Victory Day Beyond The Red Square Parade & Glinting Gold Medals


Many Russians (and to this day, even some post-Soviets) celebrate Victory Day on May 9. TV networks across the country broadcast World War II-inspired films, while younger generations quietly honor veterans that brought us the victory we can proudly brag about to our children and grandchildren. The ultimate culmination of the V-Day festivities is a tradition Russians have grown attached to over the years -- a military parade at Moscow's Red Square.

Victory Day marks the end of the Great Patriotic War after Germany's surrender to the Soviet Union in 1945. The USSR lost approximately 25 million citizens in the four years of fighting. Please note that the World War II casualties (both civilian and military) of the USSR included not only Russians, but also the rest of the now former Soviet bloc, such as Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan. (Not forgetting the mass genocide of approximately six million Jewish people during World War II.)

In spite of the current differences and political tensions between our ex-USSR states, this is the one rare occasion when as a Soviet child (born in Georgia and raised in Russia) I can reflect on our team work and the heroism of our troops, rather than the hard times we are facing these days with another potential war on the horizon. Two steps forward, five steps back?

In 1993, during a particularly difficult period for our native Georgia, my family fled Tbilisi and moved to neighboring Russia. My parents promised it was a "temporary move," and once the political and economic situation stabilized, we would be on the next plane back to our hometown.

Although the language barrier was never an issue (unlike today, most Georgian kids were also fluent in Russian), as a nine-year-old kid, I didn't quite feel like a complete stranger in a strange land. Adapting to a new life in a new country was an exciting challenge I embraced in no time.

By the mid-90s, Moscow was actively strengthening its ties with the West. Of course, those living outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg envied our quality of life. With a visible improvement in the economy came a new job for my father - he was appointed Chief Architect and Designer of a major government-funded project located near the Kremlin: Okhotniy Riyad. That was good news for us. But the bad news was that the likelihood of us going back to Georgia any time soon had practically been ruled out. (Although even at an early age, I knew that staying in Russia for good wasn't on my agenda. I was already determined to cross the border and pursue my musical dream across the Atlantic Ocean... Now that's a story for another occasion.)

Of all the national holidays, May 9th (otherwise known in the western world as the Victory Day) is one that has always felt close to home, and thus close to my heart. There wasn't a family in the USSR that hadn't been affected directly or vicariously through a family member by what is often referred to in Russia as the Great Patriotic War.

Yet above all, my compatriots tend to forget that this day is not about the lavish "Red Army" parade with 11,000 soldiers and participating officers marching proudly across the Red Square, nor Vladimir Putin's patriotic remarks in his annual commemoration speech.

May 9th is our opportunity to pay tribute to the surviving Soviet veterans that brought us the historic victory some 69 years ago. День Победы (translated from Russian: Victory Day) is a dying celebration that must (but sadly doesn't often) go beyond gold and silver medals glinting in the afternoon sun in the heart of Moscow's iconic Red Square or the bustling streets of Brighton Beach.

С Днем Победы!