Since its inception, Victory Day has always been the most sacred holiday in Russia, marking the surrender of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union in the Second World War in 1945. The war took the lives of 27 million Russian citizens in four year of fighting. For Russians today, it is an important tradition to remember those who are gone and honor those who are still alive. Every year, the Y organizes a beautiful event where Russian veterans are invited to share in food, songs, and memories. It is both a sad and celebratory day; a day of mourning and remembering, a day of celebrating courage and survival. As a tribute, red carnations are given to thank those who fought for freedom.
Among the honored guests this year is Russian-Jewish refugee Michail Feygin from Leningrad. Michail arrived in the US in 1994, settling in Washington Heights with his wife and son. As a young man, he spent four years of his life fighting in World War II. Michail fought in the Battle of Stalingrad, a major and decisive battle of World War II which predetermined the victory over Nazi Germany. He fought for 200 days, witnessing the death of his brother and the methodical destruction of an entire city and its population. “There was not a single building left, not a single house left, not a single friend left.”
For Michail and other veterans, there is nothing more valuable than their medals and distinguished honors awarded during the war, which they wear proudly on May 9. Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer veterans each year, which makes celebrating those who are still with us even more of a treasure. “I thought that the lessons of the bloodiest war of the twentieth century will serve as a major lesson”, says Michail. He wishes for peace and unity in every part of the world. “If only there was no war” he added sadly.
Michail will join eighteen fellow veterans in the festivities organized by the Center for Adults Living Well @ the Y with his wife of almost 50 years who herself survived the war rescuing the wounded and injured.