Victory Day in Russia. May I introduce you to my new friend? He is Nicholai Alexandrovich, decorated veteran of the Great Patriotic War, survivor of the front in the northern Caucuses, and citizen of Samara.
Nicholai kindly agreed to pose with me. I felt fortunate to have this rare opportunity. Few veterans remain from the war where over 20 million Soviet soldiers and citizens perished. Twenty million. Ponder that for a minute. No family is exempt from loss. My own Natasha never knew her papa.
Nicholai wore only some of the decorations he received during and after the war. The most notable (are there degrees of honor?) is the Red Star – for personal bravery and heroism, given only to field officers who saw action.
Several times during our conversation, young children, teens, even adults stopped their stroll through the square and past the Victory Fountain to wish Nicholai “S’pradsnikum” (to the Victory celebration!) as a gesture of thanks and honor. One small boy presented him with tulips which were blooming gloriously in the city this week.
Suddenly the elderly eyes welled with tears. I had to turn away as mine were ready to spill as well. Words of gratitude and delight tumbled out as he spoke of the pleasure of our attention to him. Of the stirrings in his heart of the hard days of his youth and how wonderful to be recognized this year, along with all other veterans, by President Medvedyev. Only recently has there been a rekindling of the desire to celebrate the Victory Day with military parades, parties, and gatherings in the square. Russia does still care.
And so does at least one American lady.
Do you mind us asking, Nicholai Alexandrovich, how old are you?
The old soldier smiled. “I don’t count my years,” he replied. “I count my richness.”
Ninety-two tons of them.