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ussians are well known for their love for alcohol. Their close relationship with vodka has been recorded in history since the birth of the country. No occasion is complete without a bottle of the sacred liquid and to most, it is an essential item for every household.

In Russian history, no occasion can compare with the victory of the Red Army over the German Wehrmacht, the capture of Berlin and the eventual surrender of the Third Reich to the Allies on 8 May 1945, a date which still stands in the Russian calendar as a holiday under the name “Victory Day”. Such an occasion had to be celebrated and thus came the events of victory day on May 8–10 1945.

Against all odds

The celebration of Victory Day came about after years of struggle against the German War machine. The war on the Eastern Front was as brutal for the Red Army as it was for the civilians of the occupied areas. Crimes against humanity like we had never seen before were performed as the Nazi’s cut their way through the Soviet countryside to the heart of the union, Moscow.

The tide was turned on June 22, 1941, with General Georgi Zhukov’s Operation Uranus. This operation involved an all-out offensive on the overextended German’s, something which would prove to be very successful, snowballing into the final victory over the Wehrmacht by taking over Berlin, forcing Hitler to shoot himself rather than face the consequences of his crimes.

The famous photograph of a Soviet soldier lifting the flag of the Soviet Union over the Reichstag. Source: Wikipedia Commons

The fall of the Third Reich came soon after the fall of Berlin with the signing of a peace treaty by Reichspräsident Karl Dönitz. The news soon reached all corners of Europe. As expected, what followed was celebrations with differing levels of enthusiasm across most of the continent. None of these could match the celebrations which went on in Moscow.

A long-awaited night

For the Soviets, the surrender of the Germans was long-awaited. After more than 20 million perished to the Reich’s wrath, the population of the Soviet Union was exhausted and at their wit’s end. The victory came at a perfect time to lift the country’s morale after 4 years of constant work, fighting, and sacrifice.

A Red Army soldier being carried by the public in Moscow. Source: Wikipedia Commons

Celebrations were in order, and thus the people of Moscow started to do what they knew best. Drink vodka! Although the message of the surrender came on the night of the 8th, the citizens of Moscow did not wait to celebrate, rushing to the streets in varying outfits from pyjamas to formal wear to celebrate with their comrades.

“I was lucky to buy a liter of vodka at the train station when I arrived, because it was impossible to buy any later. There was no vodka in Moscow on May 10; we drank it all.”

One could only imagine the relief felt by these people after the years of terror experienced, especially in such a city as Moscow, which was constantly targeted with air raids from the Luftwaffe as to drop morale and placate the industrial capacity of the union. The people’s resolve was never broken, and because of that, the Soviet Union was able to prevail against the German onslaught.


Russian propaganda poster showing a Russian man refusing a shot of vodka. Source: Wikipedia Commons

Some may say that Russians liking vodka is just a stereotype, but such situations in history prove those people otherwise. Alcohol and, more specifically vodka, has always been integral to Russian society with it being a royal monopoly for most of its history, aiding the Tsars of Russia with the plentiful money they would make from producing the liquid and taxing it.

During Soviet times, attempts to remove this cultural icon from people’s lives proved unsuccessful, especially evident under Brezhnev, where much anti-alcohol propaganda was produced. After years of campaigning, very little change in the rate of consumption of alcohol was seen.

Even when the product was banned for some time, the people of the Soviet Union just created moonshine in their basement, hurting the already weak Soviet economy who, like the Tsars of the past, relied on the tax money made on the product, leading to the legalization of alcohol under Gorbachev.

To this day, vodka remains a symbol of Russia. When we look at the history of Russia, it’s no wonder that towns like Moscow ran out of vodka after such a significant event. Who wouldn’t need a drink after so many years of terror?

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