“A Hidden Form of Protest”: Why Every Year More and More People Come to the “Immortal Regiment” in Ukraine

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard



On Victory Day tens of thousands of people passed through the center of Kiev with the portraits of relatives who fought in the Great Patriotic War. Contrary to the promises and threats of nationalists, they weren’t able to disrupt the celebration. And even more people came to the celebration than last year, which speaks about the failure of the authorities’ massive campaign carried out last year to discredit the celebration.

The mass character of the “Immortal Regiment” was surprising…

“Girls, let’s march, we won’t hesitate, it is our holiday, it is our Victory!” said the 77-year-old Kiev pensioner and age-mate of the Great Patriotic War Ivan Petrovich, accompanying his wife and sister-in-law to the metal detectors near the Arsenalnaya subway. The trio of pensioners held portraits of their relatives who participated in the Great Patriotic War tightly to their chests. “I was born one month before Hitler attacked the Soviet Union. My father left for the frontline as a machine gunner, he passed through all the war, he liberated Königsberg, and he ended the war in East Prussia. He returned when I was 4 years old. He is my main hero, he is a Winner, you understand?! And no Vyatrovichs or Poroshenkos will change this.”

An hour before the start of the “Immortal Regiment” event several hundreds of people with portraits of their fathers and grandfathers – participants, veterans, and the victims of war – lined up on the square near Arsenalnaya subway. People passed through the detectors slowly – this year the path to the march was blocked off by 5 metal detectors. The police selectively asked to show bags.

Closer to the start of the event people kept arriving and arriving, the whole square in front of the subway was filled with people. With flowers in their hands, with cuttings from Soviet newspapers, with portraits of their relatives – everyone hurried to do the main five hundred-meters of the year – from Arsenalnaya Square to the Memorial of Eternal Glory with a monument on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – exactly half a kilometer, and on Victory Day the “Immortal Regiment” passes along this way every year.

Coming out for this peculiar march with portraits of veterans in Kiev started in 2013. This event attracts more and more participants with every year. Later the Kiev police will report that allegedly only 2,000 people participated in the event. However, the photos and videos from the event testify to tens of thousands being more likely.

“If exactly this bunch of police officers evaluated Maidan, they would say that there were only 1,500 participants,” stated the political scientist Ruslan Bortnik.

The head of the Kiev organisation of veterans Nikolay Martynov in a conversation with “Strana” was surprised by the calculations of police officers: “This year tens of thousands of people came. Every year we are more and more”.

Despite the earlier statements made by nationalist radicals – that they will impede the “Immortal Regiment”, they weren’t able to disrupt the procession. This year neither the representatives of C14 who gathered since the morning on Arsenalnaya Square, nor Dmitry Korchinsky’s clan (who promised to organise a march with portraits of SS soldiers from the SS “Galicia” division) didn’t dare to physically block the march of people with portraits of frontline relatives, unlike last year, when nationalists attacked the veterans who came with portraits and chanted “suitcase – train station – Russia”.

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This time the members of “Bratstva” [the Banderist group led by Dmitry Korchinsky – ed], blocked by the police, just stood aside with pictures of the heroes of computer games, having tried to shout out “Nation above all!”, but they were drowned out by the joint chant among participants “Immortal Regiment”“Fascism won’t pass!”.

During the movement people continually sang songs together – “Katyusha”, “Victory Day”, and “Sacred War”. The nationalists tried a few times to drown out these songs with a drumbeat. In response “Fascism won’t pass!” again sounded.

One of the veterans shouted out: “We defeated fascism, we will also defeat these fascist evil spirits!”. He was applauded.

At the end of these five hundred-meters – in the park of Glory – in only a matter of minutes the monument was generously covered in flowers, but the many-thousands columns of people wishing to lay flowers at the Eternal flame didn’t stop for several more hours.

Mass “Immortal Regiment” processions also took place in many other cities of Ukraine, including in big cities of the southeast – Odessa, Kharkov, and Dnepropetrovsk.

Practically everywhere observers note that there were more people than last year.

At the same time sociologists documented that Victory Day remains one of the most favourite national holidays – according to a poll carried out by the “Rating” group, more than 80% of respondents in all regions of Ukraine have a positive attitude towards Victory Day.

“A hidden form of protest”

The experts questioned by “Strana” say that in recent years celebrating Victory Day with “Immortal Regiment” marches definitively turned into a form of protest against the policies of the current authorities. And the growth in the number of participants of marches also allows to draw certain political conclusions.

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“For most of society coming to monuments and memorials of the Great Patriotic War is a hidden form of protest. There is an obvious pattern – the closer the end for the current authorities comes, the more people participate in events that the authorities try in every possible way to forbid or reduce their importance,” said the political scientist Ruslan Bortnik to “Strana”. “Pay attention: today even more people came than during Yanukovych’s reign. Today people don’t come on command. There are no columns of teachers, doctors – people come on their own accord. We observe a surge and development. We speak not about a declining tradition, but about revival. This annoys the authorities. This is the understanding that the cycle comes to an end, and the authorities don’t have much time left”.

“It is enough to have eyes and common sense in order to understand that there were tens times more people than the authorities counted. It has developed in such a way that concerning all events that aren’t favourable for these authorities – whether it is marches, protests, or mini-Maidans – the number of participants is deliberately underestimated. People come out to show that they are fed up, that the authorities deliberately turn the humanitarian sphere into a proverbial territory of war in order to fill their pockets. And such mass meeting on Victory Day is a demonstration of one’s attitude towards the authorities. This shows that the president – with an approval rating close to zero – has no right to interfere in religious, historical, and linguistic questions,” said the political scientist Andrey Zolotarev to “Strana”.

Concerning the quite sluggish reaction of nationalists, experts don’t exclude that in this case the authorities reigned them in. The authorities, by all accounts, didn’t need the scene of a massacre with the participation of nationalist-radicals on May 9th. Especially after several loud “nazi” scandals (to which the West harshly reacted to) and the letters of American senators expressing concern about the growth of anti-Semitism in Ukraine.

“The reaction, in Freud’s understanding”

On May 9th several kilometers from Glory Square – near the building of the “Inter” TV channel on Dmitriyevskaya Street – it was much hotter. Since the morning the rally of “National Corpus”, which involved 70 people, took place there.

Officially the protests of nationalists were connected to the leakage of fragments of a concert onto the Internet for Victory Day on “Inter”. In the prelude the host said that 8 million Ukrainians died at the hands of fascist aggressors during the days of the Great Patriotic War, and that today “naming the streets of Ukrainian cities after the names of fascist criminals shouldn’t be allowed”, and “their portraits shouldn’t be impudently carried during torchlight processions in Kiev”.

It is noteworthy that right-wing radicals perceived these words as being aimed at them, although this phrase can be interrupted as the implementation of the law adopted in 2015 in Ukraine that forbids the demonstration and distribution of communist and nazi symbols.

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Thus, the phrase “naming the streets of Ukrainian cities after the names of fascist criminals shouldn’t be allowed” can mean that “naming the streets of Ukrainian cities after Hitler, Goebbels, or Eva Braun shouldn’t be allowed”. But, obviously, the nationalists perceived this as an attempt to encroach on their heroes. That’s why they demanded from the channel to change their broadcasting schedule.

“Inter” refused to comment on its product before it is broadcasted.

Earlier the head the Inter Media Group Anna Bezlyudnaya in a conversation with “Strana” noted that the channel operates only within legislation. “As for the consequences of May 9th’s schedule, I want to highlight that we act within today’s Ukrainian legislation. And within the framework of rigid forbidding laws, we all the same create a product that draws the attention of millions of people,” said Anna Bezlyudnaya to “Strana”.

“The reaction of nationalists towards these words on the air of ‘Inter’ is a reaction in Freud’s understanding. It is very well-known that many of the new Ukrainian heroes were collaborators and supported Nazis. That’s why the descendants and admirers of Nazis took it personally,” said the political scientist Andrey Zolotarev to “Strana”.

“According to the law on banning Nazism, those people who go on SS division marches, wear a swastika, or glorify the helpers of Nazism, are offenders themselves. If in Ukraine there was a rule of law, legal responsibility in the form of penalties and detentions would’ve come to them long ago. But today only the political component takes place, and there is no talk about legal responsibility,” said the political scientist Ruslan Bortnik to “Strana”.

It is also necessary to remind that the authorities introduced new restrictions after the mass celebrations of Victory Day that took place during the two previous years. For example, they legislatively forbade wearing a St. George’s Ribbons. They opened criminal cases against the organisers of processions. It isn’t excluded that they will try to recoup on something (or on someone) this time too. But, as the example of the last few years shows, as well as the increasing number of participants of “Immortal Regiment” marches, the efficiency of these actions amounts to zero.

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