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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Paratroopers Go Wild for Holiday

MTA paratrooper carrying a cross Thursday in a procession on the Day of Ilya the Prophet on Red Square. Story, Page 3.
Thousands of young men in blue berets and striped T-shirts brought chaos to parts of Moscow on Thursday, Paratroopers Day.

Despite the miserable weather, several hundred paratroopers turned out for the official celebrations, which culminated in a concert on Red Square. Most, however, preferred to head for the parks to drink and run amok.

Paratroopers Day coincides with the Day of Ilya the Prophet, an Aug. 2 religious holiday celebrating Russia's expulsion of Polish forces from Moscow in the 17th century.

A religious ceremony was led by Patriarch Alexy II earlier on Red Square.

Vladimir Yakunin, head of Russian Railways, said the day was heavily promoted to raise the profile of the armed forces.

"A career protecting your motherland is becoming more and more prestigious," Yakunin said, shouting over the music. "Anyway, the Russian army is one of Russia's few remaining friends."

Russia's paratroopers are elite fighting forces and were among the few elements of the armed forces that remained combat-ready during the turbulent mid-'90s. Thus, they were extensively deployed in Chechnya

A paratrooper attending the concert, Sergei, 21, who declined to give his last name, said the holiday was essential to foster camaraderie among the troops and to boost patriotism among the people.

"It's like everyone is your brother and you are congratulating him on his birthday," Sergei said.

Hundreds poured into Gorky Park and split into groups around the shallow pond surrounding the fountain. Some stripped down to their underwear to take a paratrooper flag to the center point, raise it and scream "Slava, VDV! Slava, VDV!" or "Glory to the Airborne Troops!"

VDV is an acronym for Vozdushno-Desyantniye Voiska.

There were few families in the park -- mainly because the proceedings did not make for family viewing, with the fighting, wrestling, drinking games, raucous singing littered with swear words and full-frontal nudity. The activities made a stroll through Gorky Park on Thursday afternoon more like channel surfing on late-night cable television.

But an atmosphere of friendship and fraternity transcended the bedlam.

For every missed punch, there were two bear hugs. For every time spit hit the concrete, there were two sincere kisses. For every swear word, there was chorus of "here's to us, my brothers!"

President Vladimir Putin also congratulated the troops in comments posted on the Kremlin's web site. "The history of the 'winged soldier' contains countless examples of courage and heroism," he said. "I know you will never let us down and will skillfully carry out any task put in front of you."

Vladimir Filonov / MT
A group of paratroopers in their traditional blue striped shirts and berets celebrating Wednesday on Red Square.
Military doctrine dictates that paratroopers are the reserve forces of the commander-in-chief of the armed forces -- Putin.

"I am absolutely sure that the Airborne Troops saved Russia from internecine war," said Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, who once served as a paratrooper, Interfax reported.

The annual holiday marks the first time troops with parachutes were deployed from planes in Voronezh on Aug. 2, 1930. But it is regularly tarnished by violence.

Vladimir, 74, who declined to give his last name, relishes Paratroopers Day. It took the veteran about 20 minutes to walk across Krymsky Bridge on his way to Gorky Park because every paratrooper he met on the way shook his hand and gave him a hug, bringing tears to his eyes. He hugged 24 people -- all of them drunk.

Vladimir served in the Far East. He first jumped out of a plane in 1949, when his parachute failed to open. "Luckily, the reserve chute worked," he said. "Look around you. These guys are defending you and me. It makes me proud to think I was once one of them."

Several ambulances periodically came and left the park with sirens wailing.

They had their work cut out for them. People with minor injuries after slipping on the concrete lined up to be taken away. Others, who had possibly peaked too early, lay motionless splayed out on the grass.

Before suggesting a reporter leave, one drunken reveler shouted: "Spread the word: The Airborne Troops are the greatest!"

Outside Gorky Park on the Garden Ring, speeding cars swerved across lanes with flags flapping from the windows and horns beeping.

Around 3,000 police were deployed around the city.

The police presence was most visible around the Park Kultury metro station, where hundreds of them did nothing while drunken paratroopers wandered across the ring road, causing cars to swerve, which led to a fair bit of fishtailing.

Eventually, some officers ordered one of the drivers out of his Jeep and verbally reprimanded him for not slowing down for the paratroopers.

Staff Writer Natalya Krainova contributed to this report.