On October 22, Sergei Kiriyenko, first deputy chief of staff of the Presidential Administration, addressed
a national conference of teachers, declaring that the “special military operation” in Ukraine should become a “people’s war
.” That was a direct reference to the most famous patriotic song of World War II, Sacred War
, written days after Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941.
This was in no way the first time that the Great Patriotic War was used by the Kremlin and its propagandists to frame Russia’s war against Ukraine. In fact, it all began in 2014, when state propaganda started calling Ukrainian forces fighting in Eastern Ukraine “Nazis” and “punishers” (karateli
), while the local separatists who were reinforced by Russian troops were called “volunteers” (dobrovol’tsy
) and ”people’s militia” (opolchentsy
) – all words reminding of the Soviet fight against German aggression in 1941 and thus involving a strong moral judgment.
In his war speech on the eve of the February 2022 invasion, Vladimir Putin himself suggested a set of references intended to present the war as somehow continuing the Great Patriotic War, with the final goal of “denazifying Ukraine
.” Propagandistic Telegram channels call themselves voenkory
(“war correspondents”), a word also coined in the 1940s. Finally, the mobilization announced on September 21 is also something unseen by Russians since 1941.
It seems that the main historical experience binding Russian society together has been thrown into the furnace of the current war to raise the morale of a country forced to fight against its closest neighbors. The memory of the Great Patriotic War is shared by most Russians as a unique example of human sacrifice and a great victory over the evil of Nazism won by the grandparents of the current generation. No other event in Russian history has had such a unifying effect. In contrast, the war in Ukraine has produced the deepest divide within the Russian society, with thousands openly calling it a crime and millions trying to distance themselves from the “special military operation.”