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.

It’s unknown whether the Ukrainians will be celebrating it this year as their forces are busy on the frontlines, but we’ll be on the lookout if anything does pop up on our radar.

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

Russians Setting up a Military Parade in Mariupol

Now, the Victory Parade in Russia on May 9th is coming up. Sources have said that the Russians were looking to end the war and “liberate” Donbas by this date, some have said they were going to declare war on Ukraine formally, but nothing seems to be set in stone for now.

What is somewhat clear, however, is that the Russian forces are prepping in Mariupol for a parade, mostly to claim that the city is under their control. Currently, fighting is ongoing in the Azovstal iron and steelworks plant in Mariupol, the last Ukrainian stronghold in the devastated port city.

According to Ukrainian officials in Mariupol, the Russian forces have cleaned and cleared out debris from the drama theater that the Russians bombed. You may remember this location for having been targeted by a Russian rocket attack while it was full of civilian evacuees, with the word “Children” written on the ground in large, white text.

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)

“The occupiers continue to dismantle the debris in the city center, including the Drama Theater, in preparation for the parade,” Mariupol Mayor Petro Andryushchenko said.

The Russians are using their Mariupol “victory” as a propaganda tool to say that they have overcome the Ukrainians in a fierce battle that lasted for three months. More so, they might also parade POWs, notably two British soldiers who were captured and possibly those captured from the Azov Battalion, if any, to prove their point that the Ukrainians are neo-Nazis, except that the Azov only comprise a small number of Ukrainians. In the last election, the Azov garnered just 2% of the vote and hold no seats in their parliament.

While they have captured the majority of Mariupol in a drive to establish their landbridge toward Crimea, some analysts have said that this was not actually a win for them. This is because Mariupol is the only major city aside from Kherson that they have managed to fully capture in 3 months while losing 12 generals and thousands of troops. If anything, it is proof that Russia lacked proper planning and training, as we previously pointed out as they chose to invade Ukraine during the winter, where mud would eventually stop their tracked vehicles and with far too few troops to take a country the size of Texas.

Currently, Ukrainian forces are stubbornly fighting the Russians in the Azovstal Iron and Steelworks plant with little supplies and ammunition. More so, an unknown number of Ukrainian civilians are still in the compound after 150 people had been evacuated a few days ago. Without backup, these fighters might fall within days. However, the Ukrainians have held out the Russian onslaught so far, which is a testament to their morale and determination. Whether they can hold out or not, the siege of Mariupol will be recalled in the annals of military history as a heroic stand against great odds.

2020 Moscow Victory Day Parade (kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2020_Moscow_Victory_Day_Parade_008.jpg
2020 Moscow Victory Day Parade (kremlin.ruCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

In Russia, their May 9th Victory Parade is reportedly being cut by almost 35%  which is probably a reflection of the number of army units in the Moscow area that are away fighting in Ukraine along with the expense of pulling units from other military districts to replace them for the parade.