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Last Updated: Monday, 9 May, 2005, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
Britain remembers Soviet war dead
British standard bearers at the Soviet war memorial
Delegates held a two-minute silence at the memorial
The Duke of Kent has laid a wreath at the Soviet War Memorial in London to commemorate those who died from the former USSR during World War II.

Embassy staff and war survivors from several ex-Soviet republics also laid tributes at the Imperial War Museum for the 60th anniversary of Russian VE Day.

The duke was joined by newly-appointed Defence Secretary John Reid and a group of British war veterans.

It is estimated 27 million people from Soviet republics died during the war.

The wreath-laying ceremony was attended by delegates from Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and the Russian Federation.

In those countries 9 May - rather than 8 May - marks the end of the conflict they called the Great Patriotic War.

Dr John Reid (L) talks with veterans
Dr John Reid (L) met British veterans from the Arctic convoy

Addressing the ceremony, Dr Reid praised the "sacrifices" and "heroic efforts" of the Soviet people in defeating Nazism.

He described the fight against fascism as the "highest of all human attainments - the preparedness of people to lay down their lives for others when they believe in a cause that is worthy and just".

Philip Matthews, chairman of the Soviet Memorial Trust Fund, said the heroism and sacrifices of the former USSR should never be forgotten.

Some of the survivors who attended the ceremony were keen to share their stories of wartime hardship.

Kira Ivanova, who survived the siege of Leningrad, said the ceremony was "very moving" and brought back memories of the war.

"The siege was desperately hard - my grandmother, my two aunts and my uncle died of hunger."

We couldn't have done it alone - we might have had to try but it would have been a different outcome
Frank Russell

She said of 45 boys at her school, 44 died in the war.

And she recalled the feeling of "overwhelming joy" when she heard the war was over.

Some British veterans were keen to pay tribute to their Soviet counterparts.

Frank Russell, 81, from Barking, east London, a Normandy veteran who served with the Royal Tank Regiment, said he believed Britain could not have won the war without the Soviets.

"Just think of the size of the Russian army and the trouble they still had with the German army.

"We couldn't have done it alone - we might have had to try but it would have been a different outcome."

Harry Keeble, 85, from Dagenham, Essex, who served with the Army Medical Corps, said Russians often come to the memorial on this day.

"It's a chance to remember the people left behind," he said.


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