With wars come a few moments of respite. With Russia seemingly unable to take the Azovstal iron and steelworks plant in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, sources have reported that the Russian forces are setting up a military parade in the devastated city on May 9th. However, there is another holiday not known to many westerners and those not familiar with Ukraine, which is Infantry Day.

Let’s delve into the Ukrainian celebration first. Infantry Day is a national holiday in Ukraine created by former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in April 2019. The holiday was created in order to “honor the courage and heroism” of soldiers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, specifically those from mechanized, motorized, and mountain-assault military units as well as those from the Land Forces of Ukraine. Ever since then, it’s been observed yearly.

It is always celebrated on May 6th, honoring infantrymen who fight under difficult weather under the rain of bullets and bombs to defend their country. According to Poroshenko, these celebrations were also to establish “modern military traditions” as the Ukrainians were dealing with the effects of the Russian annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas. These events are notably helpful in boosting military morale and public morale. It is a good way to posture military capability, as is the purpose of military parades in other countries such as Russia and North Korea.

Members of the Ukrainian Army (zsu.gov.ua). Source: https://www.zsu.gov.ua/photo/photo-galery
Members of the Ukrainian Army (zsu.gov.ua)

People might think that these holidays are eerily similar to the Victory Day parade in Russia that is annually held in Russia every May 9th. However, they do celebrate them for different reasons. Yup, both are military celebrations, but the Russians celebrate theirs to mark their victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, where more than 8 million Soviet soldiers died.

Historically speaking, May 9th was made a national holiday by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. It was then turned into a Russian tradition by former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Then it was made famous by Vladimir Putin, who turned the parades into a Russian spectacle for the majority of the Russian public. This is also where westerners get to see what type of weapons they have in active service (or in development) as they use the parade to show off their so-called military prowess.

On the other hand, the Ukrainians celebrate their Infantry day to honor those who have fallen and those who continue to defend their freedom, independence, and territorial integrity. Historically, May 6th is important for the Ukrainians. On May 6, 1648, the Battle of the Yellow Waters (Battle of Zhovti Vody) ended when the Ukrainian Cossack Infantry led by Bogdan Khmelnitsky defeated the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth led by Stefan Potocki.

A Ukrainian Territorial Defense serviceman aboard an unidentified armored vehicle (www.zsu.gov.ua). Source: https://www.zsu.gov.ua/photo/photo-galery
A Ukrainian Territorial Defense serviceman aboard an unidentified armored vehicle (www.zsu.gov.ua)

Another significant event for the Ukrainians happened on May 6th, 1920, when the First Winter Campaign by the Ukrainian People’s Republic won against the Bolshevik Forces, where the Ukrainians defeated their enemies despite suffering from a typhus epidemic. About 5,000 people fought against the Red and Volunteer Army during that time, utilizing various guerilla tactics to win the war.

The date also bears significance for the Ukrainians who are Orthodox and Greek Catholics as the feast of St. George the Serpentine is also celebrated on the 6th. Interestingly, St. George the Serpentine is one of the patron saints of the Ukrainian forces. A similar celebration, the Ukrainian Day of Marines, is also observed on May 23rd.