Reportage

“Born in the USSR”: How Russians Сelebrated May 9 in Berlin

Ukrainian photographer Maya Iva has spent 4 hours watching russians celebrate May 9 in Berlin. Maya shares what she saw and heard there with Bird in Flight.

Due to the possible clashes between the pro-Ukrainian and pro-russian rallies on May 8 and 9, these days the local Berlin police has banned the usage of russian, USSR, so called LNR and DNR, letters V and Z, St George Ribbon as well as Ukrainian flags. Such a decision has displeased Ukrainian diplomats and citizens, as the blue and yellow flag was denied removal from the list of prohibited symbols. The events themselves were not cancelled though – over 50 demonstrations and rallies dedicated to the Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation and Victory Day were due on these dates.

On May 8 the Ukrainians held a campaign in Tiergarten park and rolled out a 25m Ukrainian flag, but the guards interrupted it. And on May 9 the russians had a huge rally near the soviet memorial in Treptower park. A photographer Maya Iva has documented what was going on there.

Maya Iva

Ukrainian photographer who has been living in Berlin since 2018. Her works are classified as the feminist erotics.

— I’ve lived in Berlin for a couple of years now, but I’ve never come to watch the russians celebrate May 9. So I can’t compare this campaign with any previous ones, but according to their conversations, this year far fewer people showed up than before, so they were really dissatisfied with this fact. Also, they got angry at the ban of flags and other symbols. Though they, of course, brought tricolours and the USSR flags, and the police didn’t remove them, just simply asked to hide. So they had to carry these red flags in their pockets, unfolding them at times.

I heard one man who was constantly rolling out a “Born in the USSR” flag, begged the other one to hold it for 20 euros, as the police had approached him 5 times already, demanding to put it away. He explained that it’s not even an administrative offence, no punishment would follow. Also, it took some time for the German policemen to recognize the DNR flag. They asked to put it away, but were told that this was of a state which flag hadn’t been banned. They fell for it at first and retreated, but then came back and forced to take it down – I guess, somebody had to explain to them what it was. It seems like they got not so clear guidance in the first place.

It took the policemen some time to recognize the DNR flag. They were told that this was of a state which didn’t get its flag banned. They fell for it.

There weren’t many policemen there in general. I found out that the city has sent 1300 guards, but I’m not sure whether it was just for the Treptower park alone or together with the other key spot – Tiergarten, which also hosts a Soviet monument. But Treptower is the main hallowed place on May 9 – even a bus stop here is called “The Soviet Soldier Memorial”.

The fact that I am Ukrainian was revealed by quite a few people: a German journalist and an American woman. Other than that, some groups even offered me to drink vodka with them. It was blazing hot, but everyone kept standing in the sun and drinking beer. The participants mostly walked around the monument, sometimes dancing in roundel, talking. I heard many saying they planned a BBQ somewhere afterwards, even though it wasn’t even a weekend.

The elderly are usually visiting such events all the time, but they also bring their children and grandchildren with them, so there was plenty of youth yelling out “Russia!” as well. Everyone took photos, streamed through the phone – I haven’t seen so many flip cases in a long time.

I heard something about “Donbas is ours” in their conversations, but the word “war” didn’t come up, except when talking about the World War II. They rather discussed how proud they were of their grandfathers, how strong they were. No aggressive actions towards the Ukrainians were spotted – I think they got scared of the police. Sometimes the russians came up to the police to complain about the Ukrainians. For example, there was a Ukrainian performance right near that rally, and the russians were dissatisfied with us being allowed to make it.

I heard something about “Donbas is ours”, but the word “war” didn’t come up, except when talking about the World War II.

It was interesting to see the ambiguous attitude the russians have towards the police. On one hand, I heard them calling the policemen “Nazis” just because they are German. On the other hand, I heard an assumption that the police really didn’t want to take the flags from anyone, but they had to. Such a story of love and hatred it was.

There was a woman in a blue and yellow T-shirt, explaining to the police that she couldn’t walk around without a T-shirt as it would constitute an administrative offence, so they didn’t manage to persuade her to leave the spot. The russians yelled out, dubbing her a provocateur, but they could do nothing about it. But to be fair, later I read the news stating that some people clad in blue and yellow were not allowed to enter the park.

At the same time, there were people in T-shirts with the “USSR” sign, but they mostly hid them underneath their hoodies so as not to draw the police attention, and then revealed them to take a photo. There were caps and T-shirts with “Russia” written on them, but they were without the tricolour. Some women wore forage caps that were actually also banned, but the police didn’t put them away and just demanded to remove stars from them. One man brought a rainbow flag with “Peace” sign on it, and again the russians complained saying something like why is it that he can be with a flag, but they can’t.

There were people in T-shirts with the “USSR” sign, but they mostly hid them underneath their hoodies so as not to draw the police attention

I arrived there at around noon and spent about 4 hours near the monument. As I was leaving, there were no signs of stopping and people were still arriving there. Everyone had got drunk enough at that point to stop smiling at my camera and ask questions instead. The russian Germans have become quite a meme here, but earlier I didn’t really notice them. But recently a pro-russian car rally took place right on the street where I live, so it was then that I realized how many of them are there and how willing they are to express their stance.

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