High Spirits, Shrinking Numbers

Weapons on Display
Dozens of tanks, missile launchers and assorted military vehicles rolled across Red Square during the Victory Day parade Friday -- a revival of a Cold War tradition that once evoked feelings of pride in the Soviet Union and unease in the West. The Defense Ministry said 111 ground vehicles were showcased, along with 32 aircraft:
Light Vehicles
"Tiger" GAZ-233014
Heavy Armored Vehicles/ Artillery and Rockets
BTR-80 armored personnel carrier
BMP-3 armored infantry vehicle
BMD-4 armored paratrooper vehicle
T-90 tank
"Sprut" 2S25 125-mm self-propelled cannon
"Msta-S" 152-mm self-propelled howitzer
"Smerch" multiple rocket launcher
Missile Defense Systems
"Tunguska" mobile air defense system
"Tor" mobile air defense missile system
"S-300" air defense missile system
"Buk" air defense missile system
Ballistic Missiles
"Iskander" short-range missile launcher
"Topol" ICBM launcher
Fighters/Ground Attack Planes/td>
Strategic Bombers
"White Swan" Tu-160
Other Aircraft/td>
"Ruslan" An-124 heavy-lift cargo plane
Il-78 flying tanker
Mi-8 helicopter
-- The Associated Press

Floating high above the tracks at Kievsky Station, Stalin's smiling face beamed down from an enormous flat-screen television, exhorting his aging cadres to "repel the enemy and bring home victory."

Below, a jet-black steam engine spat black smoke upward into the morning sky as pockets of veterans waited to board the Veteran's Train, an annual event that reunites veterans aboard a celebratory train tour around the city.

From Kievsky Station, it was onward into the city and the celebrations that veterans on the platform made possible.

But amid the usual celebrations, a sense of sadness pervaded this Victory Day. Many veterans were unable to find wartime comrades. Many spoke openly and with vivid awareness about their dwindling numbers.

Lydia Kuznetsova, 75, came to Gorky Park to celebrate with her veterans' organization. She used to come with her husband, with whom she served on the Kalinin front, but he died last year at age 84. Now, she came to remember him, she said.

"Before, there were so many of us. Now, there are just 20 or 30," she said. "They're just too old, and many of them have died, like my husband."

One woman, who only gave her name and patronymic, Lidia Vladimirovna, wept openly as she stood alone outside the Bolshoi Theater, carefully dressed in a black suit and white sandals. She said she had not met any old friends on the square, a traditional meeting place for veterans.

That dwindling number of veterans was apparent at Kievsky Station, where attendance was down significantly from previous years.

Russian Railways spokeswoman Yekaterina Misharina claimed an attendance of 600 people, but the number was clearly much lower. It was unclear whether she was including the jittery squads of first aid providers hovering around the fringes of the elderly crowd. About 100 veterans could be seen around the train, compared with 200 veterans last year. About 3 million veterans are still alive.

Still, spirits were high under the station's vaulted ceilings, as groups of elderly veterans, many of them accompanied by more than three generations of family members, mingled and chatted about the war.

On the platform, a band in World War II military dress exhorted the crowd to dance.

"Come on soldiers! Let's dance to celebrate your victory in the Great Patriotic War," yelled a young accordionist as he launched into a rendition of "Katyusha," a popular wartime song.

Several female veterans, who just moments before were shuffling with difficulty down the platform, began to dance with visible glee.

At Gorky Park, veterans posed at the entrance for British photographer James Hill, who was taking pictures of veterans for a planned book. He later said he took more than 70 rolls of film.

Some gathered to watch a brass band and quietly sing along. A former sailor on the Gremyashchy, which helped protect the Allies' Arctic convoys, proudly recalled a visit to Britain in 1993. He is now the only living crew member in Moscow, he said.

On the square beside Bolshoi Theater, medal-bedecked veterans sat on benches and danced slowly to wartime tunes played on the accordion. Some had brought vodka or cognac and drinking snacks to raise a holiday toast.

For one, the wartime memories were particularly fresh. Nazir Natisayev sat with his son and grandson, wearing medals, including one with Stalin's portrait and the words "We are on the right side." The Uzbek veteran, born in 1922, had flown from his home near Andijan to attend Victory Day in Moscow for the first time since 1985.

On Wednesday, he had visited the mass grave in Pskov region, where his brother was buried in 1944. He became agitated as he told how the military had only provided details of the grave's location this year.

Two men sat on a bench together, each weighed down with mixed bouquets of flowers constantly topped up by members of the public. Boris Sokolov, 88, and Semyon Shkolnikov, 90, said they were two of only three remaining members of the 258 camera operators who covered the war.

"One out of five was killed," Sokolov said.

He filmed the signing of the capitulation on the outskirts of Berlin in 1945 and returned to Moscow for the 1945 Victory Parade. Shkolnikov traveled to Moscow from Tallinn, where he has lived since soon after the war.

Maria Rokhlina, 84, a wartime nurse who heads a veterans' organization, accepted a carnation from a passer-by. Posing for a photographer, she acknowledged the steady march of time.