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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

60 Years On, Nation Commemorates Nazi Attack

Sixty years after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, people across Russia, Ukraine and Belarus laid wreaths and lit candles to mark the bitter 60th anniversary of the war that killed some 27 million Soviet citizens and defined nationhood for those left living.

"Twenty-seven million dead — such a price was paid by no other country," President Vladimir Putin said Friday in a television address. "You cannot understand Russia unless you understand what we went through in the war."

In an apparent reference to Russia's 21-month-old war with separatists in Chechnya, Putin warned that "big wars … ignite from local ones" and that countries must unite to fight "international terrorism, ethnic and religious extremism."

Russia says the Chechen rebels are Islamic extremists and are aided by foreign terrorist groups.

Under a midmorning drizzle, Putin laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier next to the Kremlin.

Before him, a group of elderly veterans, jackets sagging with medals, placed candles at the tomb. They held their ceremony shortly before 4 a.m. — about the time that German troops crossed into Soviet territory on June 22, 1941.

Several hundred young people also joined the event, holding small flags and candles.

In the Urals city of Yekaterinberg, several hundred teenagers carrying torches and banners reading "Youth Against War" marched through the streets in the wee hours of Friday morning.

Anatoly Kvashnin, chief of staff of the armed forces, used the anniversary to call for measures to ensure Russia would never again be unprepared for war. He cited prospects for NATO's further expansion and U.S. plans for a missile defense shield.

"It must be said bluntly that Russia's armed forces are still in a critical state," Kvashnin told the Defense Ministry newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda. "A severe shortage of funds prevents the normal supplying of military equipment and weapons."

German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der described the invasion of 3 million German troops as "the expression of the race-ideological and power political folly." In a statement, he said Germany pledged to combat "attempts to revive ideologies that have contempt for mankind."

In Kiev, Ukraine, which was bombed during those very first hours of the war, President Leonid Kuchma unveiled a bronze monument to the fallen soldiers at the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. Ukraine lost a quarter of its population, about 3.5 million conscripts and millions of civilians, in the war.

Ceremonies were held in Belarus in the town of Brest near the former Soviet border, where defenders of a Soviet fortress held out for 28 days after being overrun in the first hours of the war.

Many in the former Soviet Union hold sacred the memory of the country's World War II sacrifice and bristle at suggestions that the Soviet army was fighting for a totalitarian regime, led by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

"It's painful to hear people announce that World War II was only a war for world domination between two totalitarian regimes. It is painful to see heroes called criminals," Putin said. "The Great Patriotic War was not a war between Russians and Germans; it was a war with Nazism."

War commemorations traditionally paper over many of the era's less palatable memories. For instance, all signs and memorials say the war lasted from 1941 to 1945, even though the Soviet Union entered World War II in September 1939 in an alliance with Nazi Germany by invading Poland.

(AP, Reuters)