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Russians hold first-ever Victory Day parade in Helsinki

The Russian embassy and two NGOs held events on Tuesday to commemorate the Soviet victory in the Second World War, including one in Porkkala, on Finnish land occupied by the Soviet Union for 12 years after the war. These were the first ever Victory Day parades held in Finland.

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Russians marched in Helsinki on 9 May to commemorate the victory of Soviet forces over Nazi Germany. Image: Yle

Russians in Finland organised Victory Day events on Tuesday commemorating a conflict in which Finland fought two separate wars against the Soviet Union, eventually losing 10 percent of its territory and the homes of 400,000 people.

Russians refer to the Second World War as the Great Patriotic War, while in Finland the conflict is divided into three separate wars: the Winter War in 1939-1940, in which Finland stopped a Soviet invasion, the Continuation War from 1941-1944 in which Finland joined Germany's assault on the Soviet Union to regain lost territory, and the Lapland War in 1944-45 during which Finland pushed German forces out of the country.

One procession went from the Sibelius Monument to a Russian Orthodox church in Töölö, Helsinki, while another took place in Porkkala—a peninsula west of Helsinki that was leased to the Soviet Union as part of the peace terms after the war. The Russian embassy rented two buses to transport people to the Porkkala event.

"They understood they were on the wrong side"

Organiser Dania Skippari-Smirnov said that she was aware that Finns might find her event irritating.

"Yes, I understand," Skippari-Smirnov told Yle. "But in 1944 Finland ejected the Germans from Lapland, so they understood in the end that they were on the wrong side. Of course Finns should accept a march against fascism."

Victory Day is traditionally a huge event and a national holiday in Russia, with some 14,000 soldiers and more than a hundred military vehicles involved in the Moscow parade. Even so, Finland's large Russian community has not hitherto felt it was necessary to hold commemorations in Finland.

"Contrived parade"

"Organising a contrived parade in a country that didn't just lose 40,000 people, or one percent of its population, but also 10 percent of its land, and had to find new homes for 400,000 people who left that land, is in my opinion an aggressive provocation that doesn't have anything to do with honouring war veterans," said Elina Gusatinskaja, a Russian journalist working in Helsinki, on the Fontanka.fi website.

The Helsinki march was organised by the recently-founded Finnish-Russian Rufi association, while the one in Porkkala was arranged by the Kulttuurisilta ("Culture Bridge") organisation. The Helsinki event was characterised by the organisers as a "peaceful celebration" and emphasised that it was not a demonstration. Participants were Russians living in Finland whose relatives fought in the Second World War.

Organiser Skippari-Smirnov claimed the event was a simple memorial.

"[We're marching] so that people remember that tens of millions of people lost their lives for us fighting against fascism," said Skippari-Smirnov. "So that it will never again raise its head."

Finland was a co-belligerent with Nazi Germany from 1941 until 1944, when it sued for peace with the Soviet Union and turned on German forces based in the north. After the war Finland was forbidden by the Soviets from receiving Marshall Plan Aid, and paid some 226 million dollars in war reparations to the Soviet Union (at 1938 prices).

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