Commemorating 1945 Victory in Europe Day during 2022 wartime

Jubilant crowd waving U.S. and British flags in street (© AP Images)
People gather in London May 7, 1945, to hear the announcement of Germany's total surrender. (© AP Images)

Victory in Europe (V-E) Day is May 8, 1945, the date Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies in the Second World War.

It recalls a time when the Soviet Union, which incorporated Russia, Ukraine and other areas, fought together with the United States, the United Kingdom and other nations against a brutal, common foe.

But today, Russian President Vladimir Putin is the one perpetuating a brutal war of aggression, reminiscent of Nazi Germany during World War II.

In World War II, ethnic Ukrainian soldiers fought in the Red Army alongside Russian soldiers. The Soviet Union suffered 24 million civilian and military casualties while battling Nazi Germany and its allies.

And yet, on February 24, Putin claimed he was “denazifying” Ukraine when he launched his premeditated, unprovoked and unjustified full-scale invasion of a country that contributed to the struggle against Nazism and today is led by a president of Jewish heritage, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Putin’s invoking Nazis to justify his invasion of Ukraine has been globally condemned for its use of stereotypes and distorted reality. It’s also bad history.

The real history

Historical photo of man sitting at desk and looking at documents while other men stand behind (© German War Department/AP Images)
Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov, seated, signs the German-Soviet nonaggression pact in Moscow August 23, 1939, a few days before the outbreak of World War II. Standing behind him are General Secretary of the Communist Party Josef Stalin, second from right, and German Reich Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, third from right. Others are unidentified. (© German War Department/AP Images)

Putin likes to accuse his victims of being Nazis, but it’s important to remember that in 1939 Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression pact. Days later, Germany and then the Soviet Union invaded Poland, ending Polish independence and partitioning the country, and much of eastern Europe besides. Only after the Nazis launched a surprise attack on the USSR in June 1941 did the Soviet Union join the anti-Nazi struggle.

Even so, the United States contributed greatly to the Red Army’s ultimate success. From 1941 through 1945, the United States sent $11.3 billion, or $180 billion in today’s dollars, in goods and services to the Soviets.

More history: As the Allies liberated European nations from Nazi rule, the Western powers, including the United States and the United Kingdom, sought to protect the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of those nations. The Soviets imposed their Communist economic and political system on the nations of Eastern Europe. Over the decades that followed, Moscow intervened militarily in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia to deny those nations the ability to choose their own institutions and way of life.

Historical photo of people gathering in street around military tank (© PhotoQuest/Getty Images)
Unarmed citizens jeer invading Soviet military forces in Prague in August 1968. (© PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

Still more history: After the war, the U.S. launched the Marshall Plan in 1948, a massive economic aid program that helped rebuild the continent. Moscow forbade Communist nations from receiving that aid.

What does it mean?

There still are people alive today who remember when Moscow was aligned with Hitler, when Moscow’s troops brutalized Poland, and when, long after the Nazis were gone, Moscow’s forces suppressed freedom in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

Today, Putin’s forces are in Ukraine. He says it’s to fight Nazism. History says otherwise.