Posts Tagged ‘tanks’

May 9th, or Victory Day (День Победы, Den’ Pobedy), is a major Russian holiday at commemorates Soviet victory in World War Two in the European theater of war. The first Victory Parade was held in Moscow at Red Square on June 24, 1945. After that, though, Victory Day was not a holiday, and did not become so until 1965 and the 20th anniversary of the ending of WWII. During the Brezhnev era, the Soviet victory over fascism became a point of stability and self-worth for the Soviet government. It was under Brezhnev that the Cult of WWII became a phenomenon and part of Soviet society. Major parades on Victory Day, though, were reserved for large anniversaries of the date. Only four Victory Parades took place in the Soviet Union, in 1945, 1965, 1985, and 1990. The major military parades were saved for the anniversary of the October Revolution, which was celebrated on November 7th (when the Revolution took place, the Russians still used the Julian calendar; the Soviets switched the nation over to the Gregorian calendar). Under Putin, however, the Victory Day parade has become a staple, and the Cult of WWII has regained a prominent place in Russian society. As a fan of military technology and the stereotypical images of tanks and ICBMs rolling down Red Square, it was a dream come true to be in Moscow for Victory Day.

ICBM in downtown Moscow. No big deal.

Due to the importance of the event, a number of practices are held in the weeks leading up to the parade. One night after Taekwondo, Jean Louis found out about the practice, so we headed off to Red Square around 9:45PM in the cold and rain. We were able to stand near the Okhotnoy Ryad Metro entrance and see all of the tanks parked and ready to roll onto Red Square. As we stood under the rain, we heard the soldiers on Red Square shout “УРА” (Hooray) before the machines started up and rolled past us. It was absolutely unreal to stand meters away from moving tanks, missile launchers, and ICBMs. It’s one thing to see them in museums, but it’s completely different to feel the sidewalk shaking underfoot as the trundle past at speed.

A few days later, I managed to see another practice off of Tverskaya Ulitsa, one of the main roads in downtown Moscow. This practice was held earlier in the evening, or rather, I saw the technology roll by closer to 7:00PM. They would then wait outside of Red Square and would again drive onto Red Square after 10:00PM, once the soldiers had finished their marches. I went with two of my dorm neighbors, Gustav and Linda, and we were again very lucky to get right up to the barricade near the Mayakovskaya Metro stop. This repetition was even better because it was daylight. Because we were at the spot where the tanks turn off of the Garden Ring and onto Tverskaya, there were some gaps in the procession and differences in speed of the vehicles. Trying to catch up to the ones ahead, some of the tanks were clearly driving at full speed when they went past. You could see the damage they were doing to the pavement.

On Sunday morning, I had been having brunch with Jean Louis on the 8th floor. While we were cleaning up, we got the surprise of a lifetime with the practice for the aerial portion of the parade. Our dormitory is right under the flight path towards Red Square, and the planes were just overhead. The view from the kitchen window was perfect. I geeked out as I saw a number of really cool planes fly over, such as an Antonov An-124 Ruslan (the largest military transport plane in the world), and the Tupolev Tu-95 bomber. The Tu-95 is known as the Bear bomber according to NATO, and it is Russia’s equivalent to the B-52. It’s the USSR/Russia’s strategic long-range bomber that can drop nukes and conventional bombs as well as fire cruise missiles. Unlike the B-52, which is jet powered, the Tu-95 features 4 turbo-prop engines with 8 contra-rotating propellers.

A trio of Tu-95s.

It’s one of the fastest propeller driven aircraft and is also one of the loudest military aircraft. The noise of them flying overhead was deafening. You could hear them from really far off, and that must have been somewhat what it was like to live through the Blitz, hearing propeller bombers approaching from far off. The sound meant that nothing good could be coming. There was also a sweet flyover of various fighter jets and bombers, which were in great patterns. The final planes dropped smoke in the color of the Russian flag, which was great.

On Victory Day itself, I woke up at 6:30 so that I could leave the dorm at 7:00 to head off to Tverskaya, one of the main roads in Moscow to try to watch the military vehicles parade down the roads. The major ceremony takes place at Red Square, but only diplomats, veterans, and special guests can go to see the parade in person. It’s an invitation only event. Myself and a few others braved the cold weather and rain to head to the same spot on Tverskaya just past the Mayakovskaya Metro stop to catch the machinery roll by before parking off of Red Square. The official ceremony starts at 10:00AM. We figured we could see the stuff and then wait for the planes to fly over.

When we got there around 7:30, we spoke to a few cops and they said that the stuff had already gone by at around 7:00 if not earlier. While deliberating what to do, Jean Louis was briefly interview for some Russian TV channel. Slightly discouraged by the lack of tanks, we walked by foot in the direction of Red Square to see how close we could get. The closest, near the Teatralnaya Metro stop, didn’t give us views of anything. The others talked about maybe going to one particular spot, and I wasn’t sure what would or wouldn’t be visible from there.

I walked back to the dorm to have a quick chat with the security guards about going on the roof. The guy in the first building said that he didn’t have a key to the roof, and to ask the guys in the main building. He told me to tell him if the other guards had the key, because he also wanted to go on the roof to watch the planes fly over. So I went off to the main building and asked the guard there if he had a key to the roof so that we could watch the planes. He said that he didn’t have it, and that he himself had been searching for it for the same reason. I wished him a happy holiday, and he said he would unlock the main door for me to leave. We then stood there for a solid minute while he tried to unlock the door. Once again, I was reminded at how deadly every exit to the university potentially is.

On the street, I ran into an acquaintance named Anna. She said she was waiting for her friend Dasha, and that they were going to go to Tverskaya together to watch the tanks. I said that I had been told that they had already gone by, and she said that was crazy. By this time it was already nearing 9:00AM. She said that the first vehicles, such as the T-34 tank on a trailer (70+ year old tanks aren’t meant to drive miles down the roads of Moscow), were probably what had gone by.

The T-34 gets special treatment. It was the tank that won WWII, and the first to use sloped armor.

We then set off to the Mayakovskaya station to get a spot and wait for Dasha. When we got to the station, a cop was announcing on a megaphone that the tanks had already gone by, and he listed a few places for us to go to see them, once of which was where the others had gathered.

We hopped on the Metro and rode to the center, to a station where there are four stations together. It turns out that we could only exit from one of them, which means we had to walk through basically three others to get to the street. We exited at Arbatskaya and stood in a fairly thick crowd. By chance, another acquaintance, Dima, was there and saw me. He said hello and told us how to join up with the others, so we quickly walked off and wound up on a hill overlooking the exit of the Kremlin, right were the vehicles would leave the Kremlin and drive up and through the city.

Sadly, from that point it’s impossible to see the foot soldiers. The parade of vehicles was just as cool as when I saw the various repetitions. On one hand, the practices were better because I was closer to the vehicles, but it’s something else to see them rolling with the Kremlin walls in the background.

С Днём Победы! Happy Victory Day!

As soon as the tanks passed, the police made announcements for the crowd to disperse. Due to the poor weather, the planes had been cancelled. Some people were saying that it was the coldest Victory Day ever. While I’m not sure of that, I do know that it was indeed cold. On the 8th, it alternated between raining heavily and snowing. I thought that this was intentional. The Russians do something to the clouds to push them out of the sky and cause them to rain before and after the holiday so that the skies are clear on the holiday itself. They either didn’t do it, or it was too cold and the clouds were too saturated. The temperature on Victory Day ranged from the mid-30s to the mid-40s Fahrenheit, and it rained on and off for most of the day. The weather was evidently bad enough that they decided not to do the fly overs. Slightly dejected, we wandered off to get food. We wound up back by Pushkin Square, which was filled with a parade for various political parties including the Communist Party and one that was for the restoration of the monarchy.

Lenin Lived. Lenin Lives. Lenin Will Live.

I wound up getting a photo with some Communist pilots, who I think used to fly for Aeroflot.

With my new pilot friends.

After getting cut off a few times, we eventually wound up in a good cafeteria where we all chowed down and regained some energy. We then walked to the Hermitage Garden, where there was a smaller collection of Victory Day activities. There were a number of old GAZ Volga cars, and there was a Ural motorcycle that we could sit on. There was a concert of military music, and there was a special ceremony of thanks and recognition for a few veterans of WWII. There are still a few of them around, and they were proudly enjoying the day’s activities. From there, we walked back to RGGU to have tea and rest up for other activities.

To Berlin!

Around 7:15, Jean Louis asked if I wanted to get dinner with him. We walked to the store and got some booze and then grabbed some food from McDonald’s, which we ate in the 9th floor kitchen. Izaro was making herself pasta, and Étienne was sitting and having a cup of noodles. Jean Louis then invited him to the fireworks. Gustav also joined us, and we hopped in the metro to ride off to Park Pobedy, Victory Park. The show was supposed to start at 10:00, so we left before 9:00. When we changed stations at Kievskaya, we all piled into an overcrowded car for the one stop to Victory Park. In the station, we met up with Dima, and then we proceeded out and to the park. To get into the park we had to wait in line to go through metal detectors. The crowd was pretty tight getting through security, but once we were inside it was OK, as the park is huge. We then met up with the Italians and two Germans. At 10:00, the fireworks began and lasted for about ten or fifteen minutes.

This might be slightly better than the 4th of July.

Leaving the park was quite difficult. As soon as the fireworks ended, people rushed the exits. We went towards the exit, but all movement stopped pretty quickly. We stood unmoving for quite some time. We then tried to see if we could go out a different exit, but it had been blocked. We were essentially locked into the park by police barricades. Only after a while did they open the main barricade that was stopping us. We got shuffled and pushed towards the exit with the mob. We unfortunately lost two of our friends in the process. As we approached the entrance to the metro, the mob was bonkers. We were being crushed and pushed from every direction as everyone rushed to get down the stairs. Once a few steps into the metro entrance, however, the crowd dispersed and we were able to have some space to ourselves and make sure everyone was there to head home.

Packed metro. All of these people were exiting the station.

In total, Victory Day was absolutely fantastic. I fulfilled a dream of mine to be in Moscow on Victory Day, which is everything I had hoped it would be and more. I also walked 13 miles over the course of the day, so my body feels like one of the tanks rolled over me. And now I have to leave for the former Party Archive, where I will spend my day reading about POWs. Life is never dull as a WWII historian.

Advertisements

I’ve been back in Moscow for over a week and a half, and things have been fairly busy after the first few days of recovering from jet lag. Before I cover my recent escapades, I have to jump back in time to December. I had an action packed couple of days before leaving and forgot to write about them during the jet lag haze from returning home.

The highlights of those days were the two days before flying out, Saturday and Sunday. I got up early in the morning on the Saturday, so I could ride down to the end of the green line, to Tsaritsino, to watch a local Taekwondo tournament and cheer on my club mates.

Watching Nikita winning his fight.

Watching Nikita winning his fight.

From the meet, I took the metro to Sokolniki Park to meet Tobi and Micah, my dorm neighbors, to go cross country skiing there. We couldn’t have had a better day for it. The weather was sunny and it in the 20s. The ski rental was relatively easy to find from the park map. It cost 150 rubles to rent skis, boots, and poles for two hours. The annoying thing was that it cost 200 rubles to leave my boots in the hut. For $2.50 for two hours, the skis weren’t too bad. They were probably Finnish made and had rat trap style bindings. The boots themselves had a small hole in them, but they were more or less OK.

No extra charge for the hole.

No extra charge for the hole.

The park is itself great. It was the former hunting grounds of Ivan the Terrible, and was the first national park in Russia. Within a few minutes of skiing away from the center of the park, we were essentially in deep woods of birch trees. At one point, off in the depths of the woods, we came across a babushka just out for a walk in her fur coat. One of the nice things about Russia is that the natives don’t let the cold stop them. The park was filled with lots of people just walking through the woods, as well as others skiing or sledding. The center of the park even had a fairly nifty circular ice rink going around a giant New Year’s tree.

Into the woods we go.

Into the woods we go.

The skiing itself was pretty good. Some of the trails had fairly soft snow, and some were groomed with the double track for cross country skiing. There were smaller, wooded trails as well as open trails that were built as race circuits. It was Tobi and Micah’s first time cross country skiing. They picked it up pretty quickly, though Tobi was fairly bold and fell a few times. In the process of falling, he broke one of his skis, which he didn’t notice until just before we went to turn them in. In theory, we should have only paid 75 rubles for the skiing as students, but we didn’t fight for it. We also had to pay a 1,000 ruble deposit to ski, which Tobi didn’t get back for breaking the ski.

Ooops.

Ooops.

After skiing, I headed to Alla’s for pelmeni night. Alla had cooked three kinds of pelmeni: seafood, potato, and meat. Each had its own kind of sauce. The seafood pelmeni were accompanied by red caviar in sour cream, the potato by an almost Caesar dressing, and the meat ones with a garlic sauce. There was also a salad and some mushrooms as sides.

So. Much. Food.

So. Much. Food.

Some of the other highlights included a Christmas/goodbye party with some of the dorm neighbors.

Only two of us are staying this whole year. There are only three of us on the floor at the moment. One goes home in a few days.

Only two of us are staying this whole year. There are only three of us on the floor at the moment. One goes home in a few days.

Jumping back to the more recent past, I’ve been fairly busy with archival work as usual. I had ordered my documents ahead of time at the military archive via the internet, and they were indeed ready as promised. My bribes at the military archive have also paid off. Before leaving for Christmas, I gave the reading room staff some chocolates, which they gladly accepted. Upon returning, I also gave them a small box of chocolates from America. This had paid off. Recently, I ordered a few different documents. I didn’t know, but one was on microfilm while the others were on paper. In some archives, this is a huge no-no. God help you if you want to order different media on one slip of paper. One employee told me she caught it and filled out a different form for me so that I would be sure to get the microfilm one. She claims that there is some sort of indication in the finding aide as to whether or not the files are paper or on microfilm, but I think that’s just a myth.

The military archive was the easy one. I had to re-register at the State Archive (GARF) and the Economic Archive (RGAE). The process was almost like I had never been there before. I had to get a temporary pass by showing a letter of introduction and my passport. Then, upstairs, I had to hand in my letters of introduction, one for each of the archives even though they share a reading room and ID card. At GARF, the archivist vaguely remembered me and told me that I could still log into the system with my ID number in order to fill out the registration form again. Thankfully, it didn’t take too long to re-register and order documents at these archives. The archivist at GARF was even nice when I asked which reading room my documents would be in, which turns out to be both of them. Despite being on the same physical campus, they have different hours of operation. Because why not.

After registering at GARF and RGAE, I hopped back on the metro to go to the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (RGASPI) to register there for the first time. Getting there wasn’t bad because the Frunzenskaya Metro station, the one by GARF, has re-opened after renovations. Now I don’t have to switch from the metro to an overcrowded bus to get to and from GARF, which is a huge plus. I’ve never worked at RGASPI, but I was slightly afraid because friends told horror stories of Misha, the infamous archivist there. Surprisingly, he was very friendly and helpful, and registration was quick and easy. It felt like a trap.

The outside of the building is great. There are giant reliefs of Marx, Engels, and Lenin on the façade.

It's easy to find RGASPI. Just turn left at the trio of Soviet faces.

It’s easy to find RGASPI. Just turn left at the trio of Soviet faces.

The building had a great location to boot. It’s a few blocks from Red Square. The archive is across the street from Louis Vuitton and Nobu. It’s also a few doors down from Krasnodar Bistro, the place that sells the delicious nutria burgers. I might have to escape to there for a lunch break sometime.

Probably why the faces of Marx, Engels, and Lenin look so angry. They have to stare at their enemy. I bet no one could have imagined this would be downtown Moscow 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Probably why the faces of Marx, Engels, and Lenin look so angry. They have to stare at their enemy. I bet no one could have imagined this would be downtown Moscow 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Outside of research, I recently went to two cool museums. The first was the Metro Museum, which is free. I met with Anne-Marie to get there. We got off at the stop where it supposedly is, Sportivnaya, on the Red Line. We got out, couldn’t find it at one exit, walked around to the other exit street side to find that it also wasn’t there. We walked back to the first side and asked the woman selling Metro tickets where the museum was. She told us that it had moved to a completely different station on one of the newer lines. In total, about 45 minutes had elapsed since we met up to get to the museum. Anne-Marie mentioned how she is only this patient in Russia, and it’s true. At home, I would probably be very angry that things had changed without much indication on the internet. In Russia, though, this is just par for the course and I go with the flow.

Eventually, we wound up at the correct stop. The museum is built above the Vystavochnaya Metro station. It had some cool documents and maps from the planning of the metro back to tsarist times. Then there were artifacts from all stages of the construction of the metro from the 1930s to present, largely broken into eras that showed the growth of the system and the evolution of its technology.

Older Metro control station.

Older Metro control station. This one is from Park Kultury.

One really cool part of the exhibit was a simulator of the metro engineer. There were a few screens plus a full driver’s console. You had to press the button for the announcement about the doors closing, then close the doors, then accelerate, maintain speed, and then brake for the station. An announcement also had to be made for arriving at the station, and then the doors had to be opened. It was fun, but my years of playing GTA made me want to do everything wrong for fun such as driving above speed with the doors open. I miraculously resisted the urge to be a hooligan, though.

New job?

New job?

The other really cool museum I went to is the Central Armed Forces Museum, formerly the museum of the Soviet Army. I went with Anton, who I met at the Buzzcocks concert in December. He took me with two of his friends. First, we got off at an earlier metro stop to see some houses that had been constructed by German POWs.

Central Armed Forces Museum.

Central Armed Forces Museum.

Then, we wandered around the impressive army museum for hours. Most of the museum is about WWII, but it had some good stuff on WWI and the Russian Civil War. There were some really cool White Army uniforms and artifacts, such as banners and medals that belong to General Kornilov’s group, the Kornilovtsy, as well as a really cool painting that depicted the end of White Russia. The painting was of White Army officers and their family members as well as priests leaving Russia on a boat. Although my family members were peasants, they likely were on a similar boat to the one depicted in the painting.

The end of White Russia.

The end of White Russia.

The best part was walking through the outdoor pavilion filled with tanks, jets, and missile launchers. It felt fantastically Russian to wander around those implements in the falling snow.

Like Victory Day but better because of the snow.

Like Victory Day but better because of the snow.

The final moment of interest from the last few weeks was watching a man watch Trump’s inauguration on his phone while grabbing dinner at a restaurant with some friends. It was being broadcast on Russian media sites and had subtitles.img_3256