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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Vets Celebrate V-Day, Remember Serbs




On the 54th anniversary of the Allied victory over the Nazis, Yugoslavia seemed almost a subtext of Sunday's celebration, popping up in sermons, speeches and demonstrations all around Moscow.


Russia lost as many as 27 million people in World War II, and even a half-century later the nation honors its war veterans to a degree unimaginable elsewhere. The veterans are rapidly dying off f there are an estimated 2 million in Russia today, half as many as five years ago.


But Sunday's celebration drew tens of thousands to the Poklonnaya Gora war memorial and thousands more to rallies, marches and ceremonies in the center of town.


Crowds of veterans were dancing in front of the Bolshoi Theater, and old units had reunions in Park Kultury.


A parade of 5,000 servicemen in Red Square was dampened somewhat by the absence f for lack of money, it appeared f of the usual artillery and other military hardware.


President Boris Yeltsin made a short speech, mostly avoided mention of the Soviet Union and the Soviet army, instead calling the holiday a victory for Russia.


"Today, the holiday of victory unites all Russians, independent of persuasions or biases," Yeltsin said, standing on a small podium in front of Lenin's tomb. "Then, and now, the strength of Russia lies in national concord and unity."


Communist protesters in Moscow used the day to protest against Yeltsin's rule and call for the restoration of the Soviet Union. A large crowd f 450,000 by the party's reckoning, 11,000 by that of Ekho Moskvy radio, citing police f waved red flags and marched to Lubyanskaya Ploshchad a few hours after the Victory Day parade ended.


Protesters also carried placards bearing the face of President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia and cheered the slogan "Solidarity With Yugoslavia.''


The Russian Orthodox patriarch, Alexy II, told worshipers that the flames of war had risen again in southern Europe and must be smothered before a third world war erupts.


In his speech, Yeltsin made no mention of Yugoslavia.


But afterward, at a Kremlin reception for veterans, Yeltsin said the searing experience of World War II should give modern leaders pause. "All countries should not forget the main lesson of war,'' he said. "The rule of power may spark a big fire.''


Yeltsin's remarks were muted compared with those of many veterans. None saw any parallel between Hitler's massacre of 6 million Jews and the killings or expulsions of Kosovo Albanians. Nor did any draw a distinction between the NATO alliance and the United States.


Rather, they denounced America in general, and especially President Bill Clinton, as outlaws and bullies bent on imposing their will on other countries.


Viktor Chumakov, 73, recalled the morning his division reached the Elbe River in Germany and saw their American allies on the other side.


"I saw the Americans, waving and crossing the river on rafts," he said. "We met. We had lots of fun f singing, dancing, drinking together. I even remember someone had a Russian accordion. That was a great time. Everyone was so glad that the war was finally over," he said.


But his thoughts quickly turned to the NATO air campaign in Yugoslavia.


"Americans who fought in the war must be ashamed today," Chumakov said.


In St. Petersburg, city residents paraded and held a moment of silence for those who died in a three-year Nazi siege. Historians say nearly 1 million of the city's 3 million people died.