My week began with the 66th anniversary of Victory Day in the Great Patriotic War and ended with the battle reenactment of the 67th anniversary of the liberation of Crimea from Nazi occupation. Roughly three thousand people, half of the six thousand announced by the press and event organizers, chose to spend a warm, beautiful Sunday afternoon watching grown men play with toy guns and pyrotechnics. I hopped on a bus headed “to Berlin” and got off near the village Partizanskoe, so re-named after the war in honor of the partisans who stood against the occupiers. Patriotville, if you will afford me the license to translate freely.
The reenactment began with the arrival of the Fascists in 1941. Survivors provided voiceover oral history, but it unfortunately turned out to be mostly indecipherable background noise. The bad acoustics and my bad Russian formed a wicked combination and left me with very little substantive back story. I understood/heard bits here and there: an old woman spoke about how Fascist troops ransacked her home, another survivor read the names of local civilians that perished in the war, and yet another recited solemn poetry.
A reenactment is like a real-life re-run of your favorite movie, the one you’ve seen a thousand times. You know how it ends, but yet you have to make your way through the entire buildup. Same here. The Red Army stood on the horizon awaiting 1944, while the Fascists made themselves at home in the village, terrorizing the helpless civilian populace with the iron fist of oppression. For a roughly half-hour time span symbolizing the four brutal years of occupation, the bad guys pointed guns at civilians, threatened to execute old ladies, chased village girls around the haystack, and massacred livestock. The most egregious war crimes on display were the merciless executions of two chickens in cold blood and the blowing up of a movie-set style shack with a bazooka, seemingly done for recreational enjoyment since the civilian structure held no intrinsic military value whatsoever.
The old adage rang true. War is boring until a moment of intense madness abruptly sends the banal silence into abyss. The crowd remained patient, but precursors of restlessness came to foil. Everyone anxiously awaited the familiar ending, for the Red Army to heroically charge and free the villagers from their oppressive hell. The strike commenced with a thunderbolt. An artillery strike, made possibly with liberal application of pyrotechnic technology, hit the German position and sent them scattering. Soon, the sides began exchanging small arms and mortar fire, with the liberating Red Army slowly, but surely advancing on the Fascist position. With each passing moment, the battle intensified, bullets and shells being fired in quicker succession. The first Soviet charge was pushed back, but the second overwhelmed the Germans. Soviet mortars and snipers took the high ground, forcing the Germans into a last stand in the trenches. Then, on the appropriated date in the simulated calendar, the Red Army charged the German trench incurring heavy casualties in the process, but ultimately taking the trench – with the aid of their fists and the butts of their rifles. Over the next year, the Red Army would continue the westward charge, rapidly gaining territory along the way. The Germans unconditionally surrendered in a treaty on May 8th, but it was already the 9th on Moscow time by the time the treaty came into force, hence the holiday I blogged about in my previous entry.
Afterwards, the reenactors mingled with the crowd, lending their props and themselves to posing for pictures. I snagged a few good photos-ops with the confiscated Nazi motorcycle, Red Army flag, and Red Army rifle, but missed out on the prized machine gun photo-op. The reenactors were in a jovial mood, elated with their moments in the spotlight and buoyed by the healthy dose of drink they must have taken prior to the reenactment. They let some observers shoot the prop guns in the air, but I wasn’t lucky enough on the day to be afforded that privilege. The gentlemanly soldiers reserved that honor for the girls in the crowd. Afterwards, a lunch consisting of military rations was to be served but I didn’t stay for this. I made my way back to town in time for the afternoon Tavriya football match, but ultimately decided against attending it. I had woken up early to attend the re-enactment and the lack of sleep caught up with me.
Now, without further ado, here is the video recording of the battle’s climax and its aftermath, just made availably by the political commissar and propaganda ministry censors.