Victory in Europe Day marks not only the anniversary of World War II’s end in Europe, but serves as a reminder of the immense tragedy and sacrifices that go along with the specter of war. Typically, it is a day of diplomacy, where leaders and countries who don’t particularly get along gather, pay respects, and renew their resolve for peace. Such was not the case this year, the 77 anniversary of the Nazi surrender, in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In Poland, protesters tossed blood-red paint on Sergey Andreev, the Russian ambassador to Poland, to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The paint covered Andreev’s face and torso and splattered across several others around him as the ambassador was arriving at a service to honor Soviet soldiers who fought in World War II.
A video of the incident showed the protestors continuing their pursuit of the ambassador and other Russian officials soaked in red paint as Andreev went to lay a wreath at the Soviet Military Cemetery. The protestors called the Russians “fascists” and waved Ukrainian flags as they pushed back on the ambassador’s police escort. One protestor mockingly offered Andreev a handkerchief to wipe off the paint.
The Russian Embassy in Poland announced it would file a formal protest of the crowd’s actions, and the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the incident.
“The demolition of monuments to the heroes of World War II, the desecration of graves, and now the disruption of the flower-laying ceremony on a holy day for every decent person prove the already obvious — the West has set a course for the reincarnation of fascism,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said via Telegram.
The wreath-laying and memorial service was organized after the Russian Embassy in Poland had to abandon plans to host a Victory Day march over security concerns. Prior to the ceremony and assault on the ambassador, fighting broke out between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian protestors, causing the police to intervene and separate them.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Victory in Europe Day speech Monday also did little to assuage tensions. Zelensky called the Russian invaders “barbarians,” and drew direct parallels between the Nazis and the Russians currently invading Ukraine.
“The Nazis were expelled from Luhansk, the Nazis were expelled from Donetsk, and Kherson, Melitopol and Berdyansk were liberated from the occupiers,” Zelensky said. “The Nazis were expelled from Yalta, Simferopol, Kerch and the entire Crimea. Mariupol was liberated from the Nazis. They expelled the Nazis from all over Ukraine, but the cities I named are especially inspiring us today. They give us faith that we will drive the occupiers out of our own land for sure,” the Ukrainian president went on to say.
Who exactly drove the Nazis from Ukraine, in World War II, again? Zelensky conveniently omits that minor detail.
Nevertheless, Zelensky continued:
There are no shackles that can bind our free spirit. There is no occupier who can take root in our free land. There is no invader who can rule over our free people.
“Very soon there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine,” Zelensky concluded. “We won then. We will win now, too!”
Russian President Vladimir Putin was not innocent of using the holiday to justify the continuation of hostilities, either. During a military parade in Moscow on Monday, Putin responded to other leaders’ Victory Day condemnations of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Russia called on the West for an honest dialogue, to search for reasonable, compromise solutions, to take into account each other’s interests. All in vain. The NATO countries did not want to hear us, which means that in fact they had completely different plans,” Putin claimed. “The danger grew every day. Russia gave a pre-emptive rebuff to aggression. It was a forced, timely and the only right decision. The decision of a sovereign, strong, independent country.”
Certainly, Putin’s concerns about NATO expansion and intervention are not unfounded. But the solution then, as it is now, is a diplomatic one that many world leaders don’t particularly seem interested in at the moment. For that, the Ukrainian people will continue to suffer.