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Opinion: Victory party in the midst of war

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been celebrating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, as is customary on May 9. In Ukraine, he's being compared with Hitler. Never has a more absurd Victory Day taken place.

World War II ended 69 years ago today, when the Soviet Union along with Western allies vanquished Adolf Hitler's Germany. Then - and in the decades thereafter - Russia and Ukraine celebrated Victory Day on May 9 together.

Today, many Russians and Ukrainians see each other as enemies. Millions of Ukrainians are asking themselves if there will be war with Russia. It's a proposal that is both absurd and yet realistic. Many Ukrainians compare Russian President Vladimir Putin with Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler - a comparison that's also absurd, and yet makes one reflect. Especially on a day like today.

Today Putin realized his personal dream, which is apparently shared by many of his countrymen: the renewed enlargement of the Russian empire. Not even two months after Russian annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula, the Kremlin head celebrated in Sebastopol like a victorious general. There were warships, fighter jets and Soviet marching music.

Crimea is Russian, the victor Putin, was the message. It's oriented toward Ukraine, but also toward the West: Hey look, you can't do anything about it. Putin apparently thinks provocation is fun.

Splintering of eastern Ukraine looms

But what makes Russians happy is the Ukrainians' worst nightmare. They consider the Russian festive mood to be like an absurd party during times of the plague. Ukraine could be experiencing its last days as a unified state - after Crimea, parts of the east could splinter off as well. Pro-Russian separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk are preparing a "referendum" for May 11. Kyiv can't stop it.

On Victory Day this year in Ukraine, people died again. In fighting between separatists and Ukrainian security forces in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, more than 20 people lost their lives in a hail of bullets, according to official sources. This hasn't happened since World War II, either.

War is back

Many Ukrainians are experiencing this Victory Day with mixed feelings. Most of them are remembering fallen or wounded grandfathers, as they did before. But what's new is that watching Russians celebrate is making more than a few sad, and some even furious. They don't want to have it in their heads that Russians are apparently ready to turn their weapons against former Ukrainian brothers in arms. One is hard-pressed to interpret otherwise the permission granted by the Russian parliament to intervene militarily in Ukraine.

This has shocked many Ukrainians. "I never thought that I myself could go through what my forebears went through in World War II," is a typical sentence heard in Ukrainian kitchens and cafes.

Whether it actually comes to a massive troop deployment between Russia and Ukraine is still unclear. But people have already died. War has returned to Ukraine. And this time, it's come from the East.

Roman Goncharenko is Ukrainian by birth and an editor at DW's Europe desk.

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