Belarus held a giant commemoration on Saturday of the 75th anniversary of Soviet victory in World War II, including a parade and public ceremony attended by thousands — in defiance of global public health warnings about the coronavirus.
Photos of the ceremony in the capital of Minsk showed attendees sitting close together and few wearing masks, while participants in the parade marched together in close military formation.
In his official message, President Aleksander Lukashenko said the global pandemic was nothing compared to the sacrifices made during the war to defeat the Nazis.
“Belarus celebrates this significant date at a difficult time,” Lukashenko said. “However, our current difficulties are obscured by the hardships and losses that befell the heroic generation that saved the world from the Brown Plague.”
Lukashenko expressed gratitude to elderly veterans, many of whom attended the ceremony despite evidence that they are at far greater risk of dying from COVID-19.
“We are infinitely grateful to the veterans who are with us on this sacred day for all the people,” Lukashenko said. “We pay tribute to the patriotism, perseverance and hard work of the rear workers.”
“We mourn and remember all the victims of that terrible war,” he said, adding: “However, life always conquers death. Therefore, Belarusians for centuries must keep this priceless heritage of our Great Victory. Honor the holiday and protect it from slander and falsification.”
Belarus has reported more than 21,000 coronavirus infections — the most of any eastern European nation. Neighboring Ukraine has fewer than 15,000 cases despite having four times the population. Belarus has visa-free travel with neighboring Russia, which is now experiencing one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks with nearly 200,000 confirmed cases.