Sprightly Veterans

I came across this story on Twitter, which I’ve translated using Google:

During the Victory Day parade, Vladimir Putin’s guard firmly pushed the veteran of the Great Patriotic War, who was walking next to him, from the president. After that, Putin personally approached him and suggested going to the Alexander Garden and laying flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

If you follow the link you can watch a video of the events unfold, and you can clearly see this man in uniform being manhandled by a goon in a suit. If this veteran of the Great Patriotic War was 18 in May 1945 he’d be 91 now. I must say, for a man that age he looks awfully sprightly – almost all the British or American WWII vets are wheelchair bound (George Bush Snr. for example, who is 93 years old).

The victory celebrations in Russia underwent somewhat of a revival during Vladimir Putin’s rule and are now seen as much as a celebration of his new, assertive Russia as anything else. But the veterans played an important symbolic role at the parades and other celebrations (Defender of the Fatherland Day, for example), without whom the whole thing would have looked a bit like something a South American dictatorship might have put on. Provided the link to the defeat of the Nazis can be maintained it remains authentic, and the presence of veterans reinforced that. But what happens when the veterans have all died off?

Life expectancy in Russia for men is just shy of 65 for men, and was even lower for those who lived through the war. It is frankly quite incredible that any Russian war veteran should even be alive now, let alone wandering alone and unaided alongside Putin’s entourage and able to withstand a shove from a security guard without falling over. I don’t know if the whole thing was staged, but I am pretty sure that whoever this man in uniform is, he wasn’t wearing one during the Great Patriotic War. I’ll be interested to hear what story gets told about him in the coming days, and how many Russia-watchers repeat it uncritically.

UPDATE

Apparently the veteran is one Dmitri Sirkachev and born in 1924, making him 94. All I can say is that he is in incredibly good shape for a man of that age. I suspect we’re going to be seeing WWII veterans at these parades for a decade or two yet.

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11 thoughts on “Sprightly Veterans

  1. Like pretty much everything in Russia, this one is a fake. The “veterans” the regime is sporting on those parades are of the “shoot the dissident in the back of the skull” variety at best.

  2. Russia was still supplying Hitler with materials and goods as my young mother sheltered from the May blitz in Liverpool……the modern ‘Russia saved us from the nazis’ shit is all my arse…..they saved themselves with huge help from the west.

  3. Thud
    Any fool can tell you those arctic convoys were bringing pineapples from Murmansk.

  4. Thud,

    Particular black comedy comes from the grumpy Russians complaining how “the Western Allies didn’t hurry to help the Soviet Union”.

    Well, that’s right, because we’d been fighting for two years by then, against German tanks, planes and submarines running on oil sold by Stalin to Hitler as part of the Nazi-Soviet Pact., with no help at all (indeed, even some sabotage by trades unionists told to help out Stalin’s best mate Hitler) from the Soviets; which didn’t put us in the best position to rush to the aid of the poor wee Soviets when Hitler turned out not to be entirely trustworthy or reliable as an ally.

    I’m not aware of any British formations using Soviet-supplied weapons, or equipment, or food, or transport; yet a fifth of the Soviet war machine, and pretty much all their road and rail transport, came from the West, though this was belittled and airbrushed from the histories post-war.

    http://www.historynet.com/did-russia-really-go-it-alone-how-lend-lease-helped-the-soviets-defeat-the-germans.htm

  5. This guy is the UK’s age graded park run record holder
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fauja_Singh
    He covered 5k in 38 minutes at the age of 100. Even if he has fibbed about his age by 5 years, that’s still a stunning effort, and people of his ilk do seem to be attention-seekers. ( There are attention-seeking alleged economists in their 60s who think the world is worse than it’s been in 40 years and big government has never been tried ).
    I’m betting that the story is real.

  6. Bongo,

    There’s no doubt there are some freaks out there, but we only know about them *because* they’re freaks. On Twitter someone linked to a video of a 95 year old judo master, but he was on a programme called Amazing Humans. In this story, we’re supposed to believe what looks like a freak just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I’m not saying it’s impossible, just highly unlikely.

  7. “It is frankly quite incredible that any Russian war veteran should even be alive now…”

    Not really, considering how large the starting pool was – i.e., the number of people who had served during WWII and were alive as of May 9, 1945. I believe it was at least 15 million – 11.8 million on active duty, 1.5 million in hospital, and a reasonable percent of those discharged during the war (3.8 million due to injury and 3.6 million transferred to the labor force). I would guess more than half of them were born in the 1920s.

    The incident could have been staged (the first thing that comes to mind these days), but if the old man is indeed Major General Syrkashev, he’s real. His name is in the WWII awards database, and there are online reports of him speaking in public in the past five years. Only the spritely get invited.

  8. Not really, considering how large the starting pool was

    Regardless, the drop-off past 90 is steep even in societies with a high life expectancy. Anyone being born in Russia in the 1920s and making it to his mid-90s is an outlier, I suspect.

    The incident could have been staged (the first thing that comes to mind these days), but if the old man is indeed Major General Syrkashev, he’s real. His name is in the WWII awards database, and there are online reports of him speaking in public in the past five years.

    Fair enough.

    Only the spritely get invited.

    Oh. Which explains why you don’t see the wheelchair-bound veterans with blankets on their knees. It’s obviously more stage-managed than I thought, which makes it all the more strange that this veteran got shoved aside. There can’t be many 94 year old Major Generals invited, can there?

  9. Australia has solved the problem of how to sustain the sentimental utility of veterans; invite anyone who ever wore a uniform.

    Exactly. Large-scale ANZAC day celebrations should probably have quietly slipped away with the last of the veterans, rather than handing the torch to pissed-up civvies in rugby kit.

  10. “makes it all the more strange”

    A human-interest story Kremlin-style, given how all the Russian propaganda outlets are bleating about the kind czar saving the veteran. None of the stories seem to go into the details of what the lieutenant did after WWII to become a Soviet general or whether the Major General rank is short for “KGB Major General”.

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