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A Day to Remember in St Petersburg Printer friendly page Print This
By Bruce K. Gagnon | Space4Peace
Popular Resistance
Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Photo: By Will Griffin

Our guide in Crimea arranged for her friend Elena (who lives in St Petersburg) to escort our group in the May 9 ‘Immortal Regiment’ march that drew well over one million people on the more than three-mile walk through the city. Elena carried a photo of her grandfather who fought against the Nazis during the war.

I carried a photo from 1941 of my mother, her sister and her two brothers who both served in the US Navy during WW II.  Both were on ships sunk by the Nazis and miraculously survived.

VFP member John Schuchardt (left) carried a photo of his uncle in a Navy uniform during WW II

Fellow Mainer Bill Bliss (center with hat) and his two tall sons just behind him.  Bill carried a photo of his father who served during WW II. Needless to say many Russians were more than surprised to see a large delegation of Americans in the march.

GN board chair Dave Webb (UK) and Mary Beth Sullivan (Maine)

How can we ever forget the May 9 (Victory Day) experience of being with with over one million people in the ‘Immortal Regiment’ march in St. Petersburg, Russia?

Our guide for the day was Elena Ivanova who is a friend of Tanya (our guide in Crimea).  They have traveled together to the US in the past on citizen diplomacy trips.  Elena is a remarkable person and her eyes revealed a deep and kind soul.  I walked by her side for the several hours it took to reach the parade destination at the enormous plaza by the world famous Hermitage Museum.

In an email from Elena, when she sent me the photo at the very top of this post, she wrote, “Exactly 1 million, 180 thousands of people participated in the Immortal Regiment this year in St. Petersburg. Please tell your colleagues that we all in one boat on the Earth.”

It should be recalled that in cities all across Russia people held similar parades.

It was a fitting conclusion of our remarkable Russia Study Tour and I am grateful first to the Global Network leadership for agreeing that we should organize such an experience for our members and friends.  Secondly, I must thank the excellent group of 24 people who came on the trip. (One GN leader, Agneta Norberg from Sweden, had to drop out at the last minute due to illness.  She was terribly missed but she kept up with us via Facebook on a daily basis.)

Our group was diverse in age and in other ways as well.  Some were experienced travelers, others new to the role of international bridge building.  We were fortunate to have wonderful guides and translators along the way but special thanks must go to Leonid Ilderkin in Moscow (who came along with us to Crimea) and Tanya Bukharina in Crimea.

I still plan to write more – particularly about the outstanding presentation by the Russian Veterans For Peace president who came and spoke to us in Moscow.

I can only sum up the experience by saying that the constant western demonization of Russia is trash.  The people we met were kind (more than you can imagine), thoughtful, loving, generous (more than you can imagine) and much more.  They have great pride in their history and their nation.

In all of our stops in Moscow, Crimea and St. Petersburg the hotel staffs we met were excellent.  The streets of the cities we visited were cleaner than I’ve ever seen.  As we were walking back to our hotel in St. Petersburg after the march was over I saw less than one-handful of pieces of litter on the streets.  That’s after more than one million people just paraded through the heart of the city.  I’ve been on many marches and parades in my lifetime but that is an achievement that says many important things about the Russian people.

I once asked Tanya if it was accurate to say that the Russian people are conservative?  She replied that ‘traditional’ was a better way to describe them.  The ‘Immortal Regiment’ march is a tradition of remembering the deep cost of defeating the German Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union during WW II that cost them more than 28 million lives.  It is a tradition of honoring their relatives who gave their lives to stop the fascist invasion and occupation.  It is a tradition of seeing their collective future wrapped up in their collective determination to protect their nation.

We were all lucky to make this trip to Russia.  We will explore doing it again.  More people from the west need to make this eye and heart opening journey.  Thanks to all who helped make this a very special experience.

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