The parade was intense but brief, led by the more energetic members of the Ukrainian Communist Party. The marchers appeared, waved their flags and banners, played uplifting music, and then were gone. Real veterans of the war were too old to march, though some of their children and grandchildren marched in their places, holding faded pictures of their warrior forebears in uniform.
That was the highlight of Ukraine's celebration of the victory over Nazi Germany. There were no tanks. No missiles. No soldiers.
This is how it should be in 2013.
I don't dispute the importance of the war—my grandfather spent four years fighting in it. But the end of the war in Europe does not define Ukraine in the 21st century. Its independence is much more worthy of celebration.
Russian television showed a different scenario. Banners of hammers and sickles, red stars, and CCCP were everywhere. Gigantic missiles were towed down the streets. Soldiers goosestepped and shouted slogans in unison—exactly what you see in Nazi film clips. It was the modern incarnation of a Soviet love-fest, masturbation on a national scale.
Yes, the victory was significant. Yes, the Soviet people fought bravely and suffered mightily. But Russia keeps looking backwards, like a middle-aged man looking at pictures of football victories in his high-school yearbook.
I don't think Ukraine is looking forward yet, but today's muted celebration of a major Soviet holiday is a sign it might not be looking backwards. And that's something big in itself.