HUNDREDS of people – including many from London’s Russian community – gathered in the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park in south London on Monday 9th May to mark the 71st anniversary of the Red Army victory over the Nazi hordes that had invaded their country.
The Soviet Union lost around 27 million soldiers and citizens in that terrible conflict which ended with the capture of the German Reichstag in Berlin by Red Army troops.
Many of those present at the ceremony held up pictures of their relatives who had died in the conflict.
And a group of veterans from the Red Army and Red Navy joined British veterans of the conflict in a place of honour at the ceremony.
The event began with a speech of welcome from Philip Matthews, who chairs the Soviet Memorial Trust Fund, followed by speeches from the Mayor of Southwark, Councillor Dixon-Fyle and Colonel Steve Francis, who spoke on behalf of the Ministry of Defence. The final speech was made by the Russian ambassador to London, Alexander Yakovenko.
Then came the main part of the ceremony – the wreath laying with local officials, ambassadors from the countries of the former Soviet Union, the Soviet veterans and British veterans of the Arctic Convoy Club. Both the veteran groups were cheered, applauded and thanked by the crowd.
Then wreaths were laid by many organisations, including a wreath laid on behalf of the New Communist Party.
At the end of the wreath laying Alexei Korobko, from the Russian embassy school, read the poem Wait for me by Konstantin Simonov and two other pupils from the same school – Aksinya Yelovik and Pelegeya Selyakova – sang the sad and haunting Zhuravli (Song of the Cranes) by Rasul Gamzatov. The song is based on the legend that when a Russian soldier dies in battle his soul transforms into a crane, which flies back to his home and loved ones. In wartime Russian women in their villages look up to see flocks of cranes flying overhead, wondering what has become of their men.
After the Last Post the exhortation was read by Stanley Ballard of the Arctic Convoy Club and then came the two minutes silence.
At the end of the ceremony Alexander Yakovenko invited everyone to drink a toast to the victory – with vodka, food and a variety of other drinks laid on in marquees in the park.