German authorities had also initially banned the Ukrainian flag from being displayed but the decision was overturned by a court following an outcry by activists.
Commemorations of Russia’s Victory Day at the Soviet Memorial Tiergarten in Berlin looked different this year as Germany banned symbols that could be attributed to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Russian flags, chants, military songs, uniforms, and the Saint George Ribbon, a symbol adopted to mark Victory Day, were banned by German authorities from being displayed on 9 May, which is celebrated to great fanfare in Russia as the day the Soviet Army triumphed over Nazi Germany in 1945.
But while flags were absent from the vigil held at the Soviet Memorial Tiergarten, military uniforms and Saint George Ribbons were displayed amongst the crowds, defying the ban.
The vigil was held for two hours, drawing crowds displaying red flowers, along with bouquets that commemorated the Soviet Army’s victory.
The event began with two men dressed in Soviet Union military uniforms walking straight-legged onto the monument in front of a bed of flowers. They were followed by Russian Orthodox Priests leading the patrons in prayer. After it was finished, those who attended laid flowers on the monument, honouring the Russian holiday.
While some flouted the ban, other attendees opted instead for wearing clothes resembling Russia’s national colours: red, blue, and white.
As patrons exited the Memorial, a woman called out, “Russia is a terrorist state. Russia kills children”. One man shouted back, “War is war.”
The woman was one of the few who openly challenged those who attended the commemorations. A man, meanwhile, quietly said, “Slava Ukraini,” the Ukrainian battlecry chanted in the wake of Russia’s invasion, now in its 15 month.
Those two words could also be heard at a march in the German capital on Monday where Ukrainians marked their own Remembrance Day after their president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, signed a decree for the country to officially move the remembrance day to 8 May, breaking ties with Russia and aligning itself with European Union states.
German authorities had initially also banned the Ukrainian flag from being displayed on the day but the decision was overturned on Monday by a higher court following an outcry from Ukrainian activists. These included NGO Vistche Berlin which organised a march through the streets of the Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood.
“Police issued a general decree prohibiting the public display of Ukrainian flags and symbols at memorial sites on 8 May [and] 9 May. Moreover, they mentioned Ukrainian flags in the same line as Russian, implying they both have the same meaning or threat. It is unacceptable and deeply troubling,” Viktoriya Feshak, an analyst with Vitsche Berlin, told Euronews.
“Imagine being heavily impacted by the current Russian war against Ukraine, being a refugee, losing your home and closest ones – and seeing how Russians continue celebrating their feast.”
“This year, the least we could do is to highlight these gaps in the culture of remembrance as well as to speak the truth: Russian flags stand for war and genocide, Ukrainian stand for freedom; it’s amoral to put them in the same line,” she added.
Those who attended the march were, for the most part, dressed in black, the colour of mourning, while many had Ukraine’s yellow and blue flag wrapped around their shoulders.
However, some said they understood Germany’s initial ban on Ukrainian and Russian flags as a way to limit the violence that might occur although they also said they should still be allowed to show their support for the war-torn country.
“Of course, it’s very important to be separated and commemorate our loss and our involvement in this war,” Maria Curteanu, a refugee from Odessa who attended the Vistche march, said.
“I do understand that Germany wants to make a free place, not to fire up a fight inside here. I can understand why they did so.
“But still, I’d like to have the ability to go with my flag in big places, neighbourhoods, places in the city. They forbid it in several places, but there are big places where people will be and can hear us and see that we’re trying to fight here. It would be great to show that we are here, that we are alive, to be heard by somebody,” she added.
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