Day 9 - Moscow: Victory Day and a night with the Wolves
Victory Day in Russia is huge. Commemorating the day that Nazi Germany fell to Russian troops and the end of a war that claimed 26.6 million Russian lives, it is a 2-day national holiday with parades, memorial services and celebrations across the country.
The pride that the Russian people feel for their part in defeating Hitler and the Nazi regime cannot be overemphasised. More Russian lives were sacrificed in the war than from any other country, and judging by the number of old photos of dead relatives on display in shop, house and car windows as well as on banners or just clutched in a hand, no family escaped unscathed.
Commemorative St Georges ribbons in orange and black were tied everywhere. More than any other event, political creed or conflict that has happened since, this day seems to encapsulate the Russian sense of identity.
Moscow always holds a large parade for Victory Day, but this year was special. Marking the 70th anniversary, it was seen as the last time that a significant number of war veterans would be alive to take part.
Invitations went out to the heads of all natiojs to attend the parade. Sadly, President Putin's annexation of the Crimea and support of Ukrainian rebels has meant that almost all 'western' leaders declined, sending lesser officials in their stead. Xi Jinping of China was the guest of honour as a result, further cementing Chino-Russian relations.
Large viewing gantries were set up for officals and dignitaries in Red Square, which was closed to the public. A local English language paper, the Moscow Times, gave the lowdown: 200 military vehicles would process through Moscow to the square, culminating in a flyby of 150 aircraft. The new Armata main battle tank would be the star of the road and the 'Concordski' supersonic passenger jet the star of the sky.
We were up at 7.30am to find a good viewing spot along the parade route. It seemed though that half of Moscow had the same idea, and the other half showed up 15 minutes later too. It's fair to say that there was a buzz in the air. Those St Georges ribbons were tied to wrists and pinned to lapels, children were dressed in uniforms and a passing steam train whistled a
slaute to the crowds. Soldiers lined the road to keep people back, but had a secondary job helping children to the front to get better viewing points, and then firmly but gently chasing them back into the fold as they played tig during the wait.
First on the scene were the helicopters, then the tanks blasted past. Fighter jets flew overhead in formation, then aerial tanker planes, nozzles extended behind with other jets lining up a perfect connection just as they passed Red Square. The vehilces kept on coming; armoured personnel carriers, massive self ppropelled guns, missile launchers, and on lorries, three of the old T34 tanks that pushed German forces all the way back to Berlin. Any soldier waving to the crowd as they sped past was given a rapturous greeting by the crowd.
The finale was a formation of planes in a big '70', and six fighters trailing red blue and white smoke to paint the Russian flag across the Moscow sky. It really was something to see.
I've been asked several times by locals since then what I thought of the parade. My solemn thumbs-up has always been returned with a nod and a
beaming smile. You can't help but feel that the pereception of a lack of appreciation by the west of Russian sacrifice has contributed to the current level of distrust and suspicion. It's just another reminder that the vices of our leaders shouldn't be a measure of the character of the people.
All in all we had been on our feet for a while after the early wakeup, so we went back to the hotel for a nap, knowing that our party plans for the evening were a bit full-on.
Unrelated to anything else, I've attached a pic of a bizarre sight we passed on a pavement; a small kitten sat on a post, lording it over half a dozen seemingly comatose dogs lying around it. I have no explanation whatsoever for what was going on there.
Post nap, we jumped in the metro to a restaurant John had spotted on a flyer, promising a variety of Siberian food, including brown bear, elk, roe and Altay yak. It was expensive and they were all out of bear, but the stewed yak was good. With full bellies we were ready for a night with the Wolves.
Club Sexton lies on the outskirts of the city and is the spiritual homeand brainchild of Alexander Zaldastanov, the giant leader of Russia's largest biker gang, the Night Wolves.
The Night Wolves now have a membership of 5000, with factions in all of the surrounding Balkan countries. It began as a standard motorcycle club, with an emphasis on Harley Davidsons and heavy metal rock music, but has grown to own a series of nightclubs and tuneup shops. It is supported byPutin himself, and is rumoured to receive £1 or £2 million per year from the Kremlin. Fiercely patriotic and devout christians, the Night Wolves are far removed from the protection rackets and drug running associated with Americas Hells Angels. There is definitely a code.
They are not, however, pussycats. Members of the gang assisted in the annexation of Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula, and are thought to have carried out their own raids. They believe adamantly that Russia should extend to anywhere there are Russians, and will therefore likely be involved with rebel activities in Eastern Ukraine. They are fiercely anti-gay, and wear black tunics that appear to be body armour rather than crash-protection.
that aside their Moscow nightclub is probably the coolest venue on the planet, and for Victory Day, they were putting on a show.
Club Sexton is quite easy to describe if you have seen any of Mel Gibson's post - apocalyptic road movies: Zaldastanov was a big fan, so built himself his own Mad Max city.
There is a tank at the front gate. Once inside, having been greeted with a glower and a nod by Brock Lesner's twin and dodged out of the way of an arriving pack of growling Harleys, you enter a world of metal, smoke and fire.
A huge black wolf made of shards of tyre rubber and lit up red faces you across the yard, which opens up on either side to make a massive open air misshapen oval. Look closer at any wall or fixture and you recognise the welded bones of trucks and bikes; cogs, axles, driveshafts and engine blocks are all part of the very structure, not just decorating it. There are two open air bars to the left and right, with two more inside together with a restaurant and the main dancefloor.
Dominating front and centre of
the yard there is a gigantic stage with haphazard steel gantries above and yet another tank, a spitfire and two artillery guns either side. Part of the stage itself is the trailer of an oil tanker, split in two lengthways to be 'opened' for a show or closed to give space. A whole lamb was roasting over hot coals to one side.
The show started with Russian wartime anthems, and turned to electronic violin, opera music (!), then drums, flames, smoke, more drums, more fire. A ramp was quickly pulled out in front of the stage and two stunts riders started trick jumping 70 feet in the air. More smoke, more flames, a 30ft wide wolf's maw hanging over the stage opened and a massive metal hand emerged, fingers mechanised to drum in time with the beat. They threw in a town's budget in fireworks to finish.
Once over, the space made for the ramp was cleared and dozens more bikes roared in to park and join the party. We all tried to avoid catching the eye of a Wolf at first, but never felt anything other than safe. Indeed some kids had been taken along to see
Later in the night I made friends with Sasha from the Serbian faction, who asked me what I thought of Russian women. "Very beautiful", I replied. "Ah yes" he said sadly, "but unless you speak Russian they do not want to know".
The DJ played popular and old skool house remixes, Dave F went nuts for Rhythm Is A Dancer, I fell in love with a podium dancer and John should everyone there how to bust a move, Birmingham style. We stayed till 3am.
Some day, some night.
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