This Day in History: Soviet Army Day
Today, President Yushchenko celebrates his 54th anniversary. The vast majority of Soviet-born Ukrainians also remember February 23 as Soviet Army Day.
Widely celebrated in Russia as Defender of the Fatherland Day, this holiday is still celebrated in Ukraine, somewhat less officially, though.
Being both the victim and the victor in the Red Army’s campaigns, Ukraine paid a heavy human price for both roles. Having sustained up to 7 million casualties in WW 2, Ukraine became a pillar of the Soviet military industrial complex in the Nuclear Age.
Aside from shouldering the burden of deterrence, Ukraine saw vast military and financial siphoned away from her and into communist regimes around the world. This Kremlin policy translated into a Spartan lifestyle for ordinary Ukrainians, especially for those living in the countryside. Essentially, kolhosp (Ukr for kolkhoz) workers toiled as surfs, with no internal passports issued to them until the mid 70s.
In the hyper-militarized Cold War culture of Soviet society, the army commanded respect and offered the most prestigious careers.
Below are fragments from two Brezhnev-era military blockbusters about a dream team of Soviet airborne rangers who win a war game against all odds. Guided by Lt. Tarasov, a strong and visionary leader, the characters exemplify teamwork, resolve, and humanism.
V Zone Osobogo Vnimaniya (In the Zone of Utmost Attention), 1978
Otvetny Khod (Counterstrike), the sequel, came out in 1981, with the Soviet Union already bogged down in Afghanistan.
These two films represent the cutting edge of Red Army propaganda. Devoid of Hollywood-caliber special effects and scenes of violence, they still employed a very sophisticated sales pitch. Aside from cultivating patriotic imagery, projecting a sense of Soviet military might, and boosting morale, they also put the best face on gender and age issues.
One can’t deny the euphoria that consumed the Soviet soul as jumbo jets soared into the sky and, propelled by the upbeat soundtrack, planted a myriad of mushroom-like parachutes.
Amid this muscle-flexing make-believe, hardly a soul realized what was in store for the USSR. Soon, the Evil Empire would embark on an adventure that, along with other developments, would wreck its already weakening faith in communism and would consign it to the dustbin of history.