British and Russian veterans commemorate Victory Day with new generations at Leeds event

Heroic wartime service was remembered and celebrated with a new generation in Leeds at a special event delivered in both English... and Russian.

Tuesday, 7th May 2019, 11:49 am
Traditional dancing, music and poetry readings took place at the Victory Day event held by the Baltica School community in Leeds on May Day. Picture by James Hardisty.

Baltica School, run as a charitable trust for Russian speaking children across the city, brought children and their families together with British and Russian veterans for a Victory Day commemoration on May Day that was attended by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Graham Latty.

Held at New Wortley Community Centre, guests were treated to traditional Russian dance performances, singing and poetry readings, while Second World War veterans, speaking through interpreters, were given the opportunity to talk about their experiences.

British and Russian veterans of the Second World War met at New Wortley Community Centre for an event to commemorate Victory Day. Picture by James Hardisty.

Around 10 veterans dressed in military uniforms and displaying their medals took part, as well as 20 pupils from Baltica School, some of whom had penned stories of their own family’s wartime stories to go on display.

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One Russian-speaking family had travelled to Leeds from Northampton for the event.

Olga Kaplane, treasurer of the Baltica School, said: “For young people, it’s important they know what happened and understand the importance of this, and have respect for our veterans. Many who are still with us will have been about 14-years-old when the Second World War began and yet they did so much for their countries.”

Like Britain, Russia suffered heavy losses. In total, historians estimate that up to 85 million Russian soldiers and civilians lost their lives either as a direct consequence of war or from war-related disease and famine, so that even when peace returned, life was hard.

Ms Kaplane, who is a Russian-speaker from Latvia, a country which became part of the Soviet Union during the war, said: “In Russian speaking countries, most of the men died and after the war everything fell on the women’s shoulders; women who had spent much of their time working on military equipment in factories - it was hard work.”

Ms Kaplane’s great aunt, who was living in Ukraine when the war started in 1939, was forced to work on a farm in Germany during the conflict and this meant she found it difficult to find a husband when she returned home.

British veteran Geoffrey Mellor, aged 93 from Huddersfield and a recipient of The Arctic Star and The Burma Star, attended the commemorative event on Monday.

Mr Mellor served as an able seaman torpedo man on the HMS Myngs between 1945 and 1946 when he was aged 18 and 19. During his service the ship was part of a 65-strong ‘Arctic convoy’ that left set off from the Orkney Islands to deliver essential supplies to Russia, encountering 11 Nazi U-boats during its mission.

Mr Mellor saw another ship in the convoy, the HMS Lapwing, break in half and sink after an attack.

There were 78 convoys between 1941 and 1945, during which 85 merchant vessels and 16 Royal Navy warships were lost.

Belarus-born Nina Danilovich, aged 89, was among the Russian speakers in attendance. The Brest region she called home was occupied by Nazi troops in 1941 and as a teenager, she joined the underground resistance movement, helping her peers by collecting firearms and ammunition from battle fields.

She passed along intelligence on movements of Wehrmacht troops to guerrilla forces, becoming a liaison agent under the command of f Colonel G. M. Linkov until the Brest region was liberated by the Red Army in July 1944.

Another veteran, Nickolai Imchuk, aged 88, was living in an orphanage near Kiev that was bombed by German planes. He ended up in the Uman prisoner of war camp, where up to 70,000 people were believed to have perished, before managing to escape and join the resistance.

During the liberation of Ukraine by Soviet forces he was adopted by soldiers and when on to become a professional soldier who served in the 328th Katyusha Rocket Launcher regiment. His artillery unit took part in the liberation of Budapest and Vienna.

Both Mr Imchuk and Mrs Danilovich were awarded the Order of the Patriotic War, among other medals.

Victory Day, on May 9, 1945, was when the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia marked the surrender of Nazi Germany. In Britain, Victory Day, or VE Day as it is known, was celebrated on May 8.

Asked why it was important to mark Victory Day, 74 years on, Ms Kaplane said: “One of the motives of our school is: remember and respect your roots.”