“For Motherland! For Stalin!” Seattle’s Russian WWII Vets celebrate Victory Day

"For the Motherland! For Stalin!"

For the 41 veterans who of the Soviet Union’s “Great Patriotic War” who live in Washington state, World War II is more than just a history lesson.

Exactly 68 years later, the tears of happiness still roll down veterans’ cheeks when they remember the end of the Great Patriotic War on May 9th, 1945. Fascism had been defeated and the Soviet flag was placed upon the Reichstag.

“I remember I received a phone call at around 5:30 a.m. and the voice on the other side told me ‘Victory! The war is over,’” said Nadezhda Savitskaya, 89, an honored veteran of WWII. “I was guarding the police station from bandits at the time and I had grenades and a rifle in my office. All I remember is grabbing the rifle, running outside, and fire the entire magazine into the air. People got afraid, it was early morning and they thought they were being attacked but I just kept crying and screaming ‘Victory!’”

The celebration in Moscow's Red Square on the first Victory Day in 1945.
The celebration in Moscow’s Red Square on the first Victory Day in 1945.

Victory Day over Nazi Germany is celebrated every year on May 9th in former USSR countries to preserve the memory of unbearable suffering and great courage of the Soviet people. Over 20 million had lost their lives for their country and for their families.

And 68 years later, many of the survivors are still alive to tell the tale of the Soviet experience in World War II.

Washington has 41 Soviet veterans who fought at the front, 13 survivors of the Leningrad blockade and 10 veterans of labor who worked in the rear during the years of war.

They came together on Thursday to celebrate Victory Day with the Association of Veterans of the War and Labor from Eastern Europe in Washington at the Super China Buffet in Shoreline.

Veterans were greeted with red carnations, traditional flowers associated with that day, and live accordions playing familiar melodies from those years. Local Russian dancers and singers were on hand to congratulate veterans for their victory. Guests included the General Consul of the Russian Federation and regular sponsors of the association such as the Jewish Family Services organization.

Association member Boris Grinshtat and Nadezhda Savitskaya have been married for over 67 years but you can still feel the warmth between them. Both born in 1924, so they were just 17 when Hitler’s army had set foot on Soviet soil.

Nadezhda Savitsina and Boris Grinshtat both veterans of the "Great Patriotic War" who moved to Seattle in 1997. (Photo by Valeria Koulikova)
Nadezhda Savitsina and Boris Grinshtat both veterans of the “Great Patriotic War” who moved to Seattle in 1997. (Photo by Valeria Koulikova)

Savitskaya lived just outside of Minsk, Belarus and was coming to the city on June 21, 1941 to see the opening of an artificial lake when war was suddenly declared on June 22. She didn’t make it back home to her family. She was evacuated from the area and ended up the leader of a police station in and area of Ukraine freed from the Nazis.

“My family never knew where I was for all these years since I left for Minsk,” she said. “Only once the war was over I was able to send the letter and let them know I was still alive.”

Her husband Grinshtat had just finished ninth grade when it all started. The Germans were getting closer and together with his family he had to evacuate to Saratovskaya Oblast. He was drafted and trained for six month in 1942. After graduating, he was sent to the 62nd army under General Chukov near Stalingrad, whose troops were weakening. In April of 1943, his left arm was severely injured in a battle and almost got amputated, but the doctors were able to save it. Going back to the front after this was impossible. Among the painful memories of the war, there is one that changed his character.

“When the Nazis were pulling back they burned everything behind them,” he remembers. “When we had freed Verkhnyaya Kuban’, Russia my company had found a dugout and there were about 18 Russians together with little kids, hungry and cold. They heard Russian speech and with tears in their eyes started screaming ‘Russians! It’s Russians!’ We fed and took care of them. Since then, I made a promise to myself to take care of helpless children.”

The couple moved to U.S. in 1994 when their grandson needed surgery that could only be done there. Their first destination was Philadelphia but they moved to Seattle in 1997.

The Soviet flag is placed upon the Reighstag, Berlin on May 9, 1945
The Soviet flag is placed upon the Reighstag, Berlin on May 9, 1945

When asked how they feel about American perspective on who won the war, the soft smile faded from Boris’ face. Their own grandson once came from school after a history lesson and said that Americans had defeated Fascism.

“Objectively, I would say that the Soviet Union had won the war with the help from U.S. and Great Britain,” he said.

“It’s incorrect and not serious to say that U.S. had won. They were not the ones who suffered millions of losses, they were not the ones walking and crawling through the dirt to Berlin fighting off the Nazi scum. U.S. and Britain helped a lot by sending food, planes, and steel to make the weaponry and we are very grateful. But the second front was opened almost too late. Stalin kept writing letters to President Roosevelt and Churchill asking for help. We lost millions waiting.”

It is hard to imagine how these real-life heroes kept their spirits alive through the dark years of war.

“Patriotism!” Buzya Shapovalova, 88 said, with over 30 medals and awards hanging on her chest. “For Motherland! For Stalin! We were raised with great sense of patriotism and were defending our land with all our hearts.”

Young Buzya Shapovalova (center) with fellow Russian Army soldiers.
Young Buzya Shapovalova (center) with fellow Russian Army soldiers.

Buzya had volunteered to join the forces. In 1942, she went after her sister to be trained as a signaler. She was part of the 18th army of the first Ukraine front. Buzya marched with her army all the way from Russia to Germany where she had celebrated the first Victory Day. It was in Breslau when she heard over the radio that Germany capitulation was signed.

“Everyone ran outside,” she said. “They were crying and screaming from happiness. I still remember the big house across the road from our hotel where the captured Nazi generals were held hostage. They were on the balcony watching us and we just wanted to show them how happy we were. It was a glorious day.”

The Soviet Union had won but the country was in ruins. There was little food, clothing or shelter left and it was hard to get back to a normal life. The Cold War didn’t make it easier.

“We were finally hoping for a better relationship with the U.S.” Grinshtat said. “We felt great dislike toward us and propaganda played its part. The Cold War only made things worse because all the money went into military spending on both sides.”

Buzya Shapovalova, now 88 years old, at the Victory Day celebration last Thursday. (Photo by Valeria Koulikova)
Buzya Shapovalova, now 88 years old, at the Victory Day celebration last Thursday. (Photo by Valeria Koulikova)

Now, they feel that relationship toward Victory Day from the U.S. side is improving. During his visit to Russia, John Kerry was the first Secretary of State to lay a wreath in honor of the WWII soldiers. They hope this will change American’s perspective and honor those veterans who now live in the U.S.

Victory Day defines Russia and other former Soviet republics. Massive military parades take place all over the country, St. George’s ribbon is proudly pinned on people’s chests, and the music from the Great Patriotic War plays on the streets.

“It’s really an incredible celebration,” said Andrei Yushmanov, the Consul General of Russian Federation in Seattle at the veteran’s dinner. “[Veterans] saved the country, saved the world from Fascism. [Their] heroism is an example for all of us.”

14 Comments

  1. NOT correct Mark and co. The Allies that includes the Soviets defeated Germany. FACT! Also some Soviets committed war crimes as well – FACT! Poland and others remember, also Putin be careful! The veterans deserve praised and blessings.

    1. For Mother Russia!!! Russia defeated the Nazi’s. Don’t lie to your selves. It was not your war. You guys helped and yes American WW2 veterans did die and suffer. They didn’t die for their land. I understand that you guys helped but for your own good so Hitler wouldn’t take over the United States. Russia lost so much lives and America just a little percentage of what USSR did.

      Marcus Please stop saying that the Allies and Russians won the war! Was not the Allies war to fight. It was on mother Russia’s soil. Also if America was so concerned about ww2 then why did it take them forever to decide who’s side they wanna be on? Did they realize that USSR was going to win and they jump to help and now say it was the allies.

  2. I respect all the WW2 American veterans for fighting, putting their lives on the line and dieing for a country that they didn’t need too. I Thank you!

  3. Americans have the tendency to do that.They show up late and expect a full share of the loot.and if they are denied, they make up something for themselves.

  4. Let us not forget Russian wars of aggression against Finland and Poland! Russia started WW2 as much as the “Nazi Scum!” They loved the “Nazi Scum” when they helped them divide Poland!
    I wonder how these Russian “Heros” liked raping over 2,000,000 German women? Communism and Nazism are one in the same! Both evil.
    Stalin murdered far more than Hitler but, Russia won so that’s the author of history…..

    1. “far more then Hitler” – you got any back up facts to your delusions?
      You get an “F” in history, Curt.
      Where did you pick up the 2,000,000 raped women number? You do realize that that would be almost everywoman in Germany at that time. I suppose the fact that the Alied soldiers were prosecuted for more rape crimes over that period is not going to change your mind. Well the fact is that 78 Soviets were prosecuted for rape and 158 American. Although only the African americans were prosecuted, but then we’re not going to make this about the never ending racism story in America are we. Go crawl back under what ever rock you climbed out from, you ignorant troll.

    2. Oh as for “Stalin murders”. Besides the fact that there was a court which handed out judgements like in any other civilized society, I will just mention that by official declassified numbers from 1922-1953, 3,500,000 were prosecuted across the Soviet Union. 687,000 with execution. This includes everyone, child rapists, Nazi collaborators, plain murderers, and terrorists. Compare 3.5 million incarcerated over 21 years with how many people are in jail in USA today, and you will find your self living in a land far more repressive then Stalin’s Soviet Union ever was.

  5. Thanks to Stalin we are in life and our children. Therefore, all other countries survived because Red Army wan with “For Motherland, for Stalin” or in Russian:
    “Za Rodinu, za Stalina”!

  6. Solzhenicin wrote in his books that Stalin killed about 100 million Sovjets, and how many citizens had USSR in that time? Another thinks, Solzhenicin never have been prisoner of Gulag camps, but just in jail because he was deserting from Red army in 1945, to save his dirty life. We have a question, how he could wrote about Gulag camps if he never have been there?

  7. If Stalin never did clean of Party and Army he should never defeat Hitler.
    Stalin did progress in 10 years what Imperialistic countries did in 100 years with steeling for their colonies.
    Do you remember how many civilians killed Yankee since war with Indians in US, 2 atomic bombs on Japan, Korean War 1950-53, Vietnam War, Afghanistan, Serbia, Iraq, Libya, Syria and so on.
    North Korea today has intercontinental rockets, so Yankee will be calm.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.