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Ukraine switches World War II victory date to May 8

May 8, 2023

In a break with Ukraine's Soviet past, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country would shift its commemoration of the the defeat of Nazi Germany from May 9 — like Russia — to May 8, Victory in Europe Day.

The Motherland Monument in Kyiv, a part of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine
Zelenskyy gave his speech close to Kyiv's Motherland Monument, which celebrates victory over the NazisImage: Anna Fil/DW

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday said Ukraine would stop celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany on May 9, instead marking the event a day earlier.

The announcement, on the day — May 8 — that most of Europe celebrates victory over Nazism, cements a break with Ukraine's history as part of the Soviet Union.

What Zelenskyy announced

"Today I am submitting a bill to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine proposing that May 8 be the Day of Remembrance and Victory over Nazism in the Second World War of 1939-1945," Zelenskyy said in a video statement standing in front of a war memorial on a hill above Kyiv.

Russia celebrates the defeat of the Nazis on May 9 because the German surrender was intentionally signed at 11:01 p.m. on the evening of May 8 in Berlin, to ensure the clocks had ticked over to May 9 in Moscow and to give the Soviet Union a day all of its own.

Most Soviet satellites also commemorated the event on May 9, but some have already moved to May 8 since the Cold War.

Russia calls May 9 "Victory Day," while May 8 is known as "Victory in Europe Day." World War II would end later that year, with Japan's unconditional surrender in September 1945. 

Zelenskyy said that Ukraine, like other European nations, would instead adopt May 9 as "Europe Day," a celebration of the "peace and unity in Europe" after the war introduced by the Council of Europe in 1964. 

"Together with all of free Europe, we will celebrate Europe Day on May 9 in Ukraine. A united Europe, the basis of which should be and will be peace."

"We will commemorate our historic unity — the unity of all Europeans who destroyed Nazism and will destroy Rashism [a term the Ukrainian government often uses to mean Russian fascism]."

Ukrainian Ambassador Oleksii Makeiev on Monday joined Berlin Mayor Kai Wegner and German Foreign Office minister of state Tobias Lindner to lay wreaths at the Neue Wache central memorial
The Ukrainian ambassador said he would not lay wreaths at former Soviet memorialsImage: picture alliance/dpa

Ambassador says Russia forgetting 'never again' mantra

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Ambassador Oleksii Makeiev on Monday joined Berlin Mayor Kai Wegner and German Foreign Office minister of state Tobias Lindner to lay wreaths at the Neue Wache central memorial to the victims of World War II in Berlin. 

Makeiev explicitly said he would not be laying wreaths and flowers at any of the Soviet memorials in Berlin, as has been done in the past.

"I cannot go to the Soviet memorial," he told DW. He said that among other things, he objected to them carrying the dates 1941-45, therefore only including the period after Germany broke its non-aggression pact and attacked the Soviet Union, not mentioning the early period of the war as Hitler and Stalin sought to carve up eastern Europe among themselves. 

"Ukraine and Ukrainians have made a very important contribution to the victory. And to the elimination of Nazism in Europe," Makeiev said. "We've been always saying 'never again.' But unfortunately, [the] Russian Federation brought war to Europe in 21st century, and they're using pretty much the same methods as Nazi Germany in Ukraine."

Horror at renewed war in Europe

Meanwhile on Monday, in light of Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the International Auschwitz Committee said former victims of the Nazis were distraught to see war return to Europe.

"Most of those who survived Germany's concentration and extermination camps saw the end of World War II and their liberation from the hands of their would-be murderers as their victory. They earnestly hoped that Europe would move beyond war with the end of the fighting and the realization of its horrors, suffering, and crimes," said Christoph Heubner, the committee's executive vice president.

"They are all the more horrified to once again experience towards the end of their lives a sordid and lying war of aggression in Europe, which also hits them in the heart and pushes them back into the darkness," Heubner said of Russia's attack on Ukraine.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock marked the anniversary with praise for the Allied forces which defeated Adolf Hitler's regime, describing May 8 as a day of "liberation" (not defeat), echoing a famous speech by former German President Richard von Weizsäcker. 

"We live in freedom today, because others fought for our freedom," Baerbock said. "That May 8 was a day of liberation for Germany and Europe is our immeasurable good fortune, even 78 years later." 

rc/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)