Russia on Wednesday commemorates the 81st anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union amid Moscow’s assault on Ukraine that killed thousands and sparked Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II world.
June 22 – the date Hitler’s forces invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa in 1941 – marked the start of what Russia calls the Great Patriotic War and is known today in the country as the Day of Remembrance and Sorrow.
The main cathedral of the Russian armed forces kicked off the commemorations after midnight with a divine liturgy and a memorial service for the estimated 27 million Soviet soldiers and civilians killed in the war.
Thereafter, 1,418 candles were lit outside the cathedral for each war day.
Activists from nine Russian time zones joined the so-called “memory candleprocession by lighting candles in the shape of the Russian flag or Soviet soldiers and singing patriotic songs from World War II.
In the occupied port city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine, which has been devastated by weeks of Russian bombardment, pro-Moscow activists lit 10,000 candles to spell out the phrase “Remember 22.06.1941” .
Russian Ministry of Defense published some of its archives glorifying Red Army soldiers who fought the Nazi invasion, refuted controversial claims that Soviet leader Josef Stalin planned to invade Germany, and shed light on Nazi plans to seize food from the Soviet Union.
President Vladimir Putin, who ordered the invasion to “demilitarize and denazify” Ukraine on February 24, laid a wreath in honor of the dead at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier next to the Kremlin walls.
Russia calls the invasion a “special military operation” and prosecutes those who refer to it as a war.
In a statement marking the anniversary, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused Germany of anti-Russian sentiments as the war in Ukraine heightens historic tensions between the two countries.
“Russophobic hysteria is systematically fueled by almost daily public attacks on our country by members of the German government,” the ministry said, adding that authorities in Berlin were undermining the process of “historic reconciliation” between Russians and Germans after the Second World War.
AFP contributed reporting.