Yefim Stolyarskiy, 90, wore his heavily decorated Soviet Army uniform… (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles…)
Some of the speakers' attempts to speak Russian in the warm West Hollywood auditorium were clunky, but one word was repeated over and over Saturday afternoon.
Spasibo. Thank you.
In a Plummer Park auditorium decorated in red and white balloons and flowers, hundreds gathered to honor the city's Russian-speaking military veterans of the former Soviet Union who fought with Allied forces in World War II.
Dozens of veterans, most in their 80s and 90s and wearing medal-adorned Soviet military uniforms, were cheered in the city's celebration of the 68th anniversary of Victory Day. Russia officially commemorates Victory Day, and the end of the war, on May 9.
"Here in the United States, we commonly think of the role of the U.S. military in World War II and we forget the role that you and your comrades played, the critical role that you played in bringing peace to Europe," Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) said, adding that his and his wife's family had "suffered at the hands of the Nazis."
Speeches were slow and full of pauses as a translator went from English to Russian and vice versa.
In a quiet moment before the ceremony, a white-haired man in a black uniform stood at attention before a monument in the park that honors Russian-speaking veterans of World War II. His chest covered in medals, he raised his right hand in a sharp salute before slowly walking away. Flower arrangements surrounded the monument. Black-and-white photos of young Soviet soldiers were placed at its base, and four red roses stood in an empty borscht jar.
Yefim Stolyarskiy, 90, wore his heavily decorated Soviet Army uniform proudly. As Russian singers performed on stage, Stolyarskiy — who said through a translator that he had fought in Leningrad — smiled broadly and nodded his head with the music.
"To every one of us sitting here in this room, any battle during the war could have been the last one," Stolyarskiy told the crowd.
Vladimir Barkon, also a Soviet Army veteran, acknowledged that the number of veterans at the ceremony was smaller than in years past as the men were aging. "As the years go by, we have fewer veterans in our ranks, but we don't give up," he told the audience in Russian.
Boris Blanovsky, 63, comes to the city's ceremony every year out of respect for his father, who fought with the Soviet Army. Blanovsky carried his father's medals from the war and two black-and-white photos of his father, a handsome young man in a Soviet military uniform.
On the back of one photo, his father, in neat Russian handwriting, wrote a simple message to his mother: "To my dear … from Berlin. 22 June 1945."