Ukraine's May 8 Day of Remembrance marks shift from Soviet-era traditions

Poppies are a symbol of remembrance of war victims (Ukrainian soldier in Zaporizhzhya Oblast, archive photo)
Poppies are a symbol of remembrance of war victims (Ukrainian soldier in Zaporizhzhya Oblast, archive photo)

Ukraine observed the Day of Remembrance and Victory over Nazism in World War II (1939-1945) as a public holiday on May 8, eliminating the Soviet-era Victory Day on May 9. This change underscores Ukraine’s alignment with Western European traditions and a departure from Soviet and Russian narratives surrounding World War II.

Previously, Ukraine marked two separate days: May 8 as the Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation, and May 9 as Victory Day. But in late May 2023, Ukraine’s parliament established a unified holiday, marking May 8 as the official Day of Remembrance and Victory over Nazism. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed the legislation in June, with the holiday being celebrated for the first time this year.

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This change aligns Ukraine with other European nations, where May 8, 1945, is recognized as the day Nazi Germany surrendered. The law emphasized that May 8 should be celebrated with the rest of Europe as the Day of Victory over Nazism, reflecting Ukraine’s commitment to historical truth and distancing from Soviet and Russian propaganda.

May 8 and the global tradition

On May 8, 1945, Nazi Germany’s surrender came into effect following its signing in Reims, France. This document was signed by Colonel General Alfred Jodl, representing the Wehrmacht, and it marked the unconditional surrender of German forces.

Since then, May 8 has been celebrated as Victory in Europe Day. The UN General Assembly also recognizes May 8-9 as Days of Remembrance and Reconciliation, to honor victims of World War II.

Read also: Russia cancels Victory Day parades in several regions

In 2015, Ukraine’s then-President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree establishing May 8 as the Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation. This practice continued until 2023, when a new bill established May 8 as a national holiday.

Soviet and Russian manipulation of May 9

The Soviet Union and its allies celebrated May 9 due to Moscow’s insistence on a second surrender ceremony in Berlin after the Reims signing. This led to May 9 being recognized as Victory Day in the Soviet Union and later Russia.

However, Moscow has distorted the significance of May 9, using it to promote a cult of Soviet victory and consolidate historical myths. Russia has used these narratives to justify its aggression against Ukraine, including the “denazification” propaganda.

To counter Russian propaganda, Ukraine passed legislation in 2015 to commemorate World War II victims and prevent historical falsification. This year’s unification of Victory Day and Remembrance Day into one holiday marks another step in distancing from Soviet propaganda.

The Red Poppy as a symbol

Globally, the red poppy is recognized as a symbol of remembrance for war victims, particularly from World War I. The tradition is rooted in John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields,” and it’s most prominent in British Commonwealth countries.

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In Ukraine, the poppy also symbolizes bloodshed in battles fought by Ukrainian Cossacks. It became a national symbol during the Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation in 2014-2015. Created by designer Serhiy Mishakin, the stylized poppy symbolizes a blood-stained bullet hole, and honors the millions of Ukrainians who died in World War II.

Ukraine’s adoption of the red poppy aligns its traditions with the global practice, while also providing a unique cultural meaning that honors the victims of Russia’s ongoing aggression.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine