Russian aerobatic teams paint Moscow skies in Victory Day flyover

Victory Day holds deep symbolic importance across the former Soviet empire, marking the loss of over 20 million Soviet lives in World War II.

Moscow skies were filled with colorful trails of smoke on Thursday as the country’s elite aerobatic teams performed a dramatic flyover above Red Square to mark Victory Day, Russia’s most sacrosanct holiday celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.

The Russian Knights and Strizhi (Swifts) aerobatic teams flew in tight formations, trailing red, white, and blue smoke to paint the Russian tricolour across the Moscow skyline. The breathtaking display was the climax of an annual grand military parade through the heart of the city commemorating the Soviet Union’s victory over Hitler’s forces on May 9, 1945.

Victory Day holds deep symbolic importance across the former Soviet empire, marking the loss of over 20 million Soviet lives in World War II. The day has taken on renewed significance for the Kremlin amid Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.

In a nationally televised speech, President Vladimir Putin drew parallels between the war against Nazi Germany and Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, which the Kremlin has sought to frame as a necessary step to “de-Nazify” its pro-Western neighbour.

“Today, civilization is once again being defended in the Donbas,” he said, referring to the region of eastern Ukraine where fierce battles have raged.

Russia’s newest nuclear-capable weapons were showcased as thousands of soldiers marched across Red Square with tanks, missile launchers, and other armoured vehicles rumbling across the cobblestones.

The Victory Day aerobatic display was a highlight, as the pilots executed outstanding maneuvers leaving trails of red, blue and white smoke arcing through the sky. Watching the flyover were Russian World War II veterans, now in their 80s and 90s, wrapped and seated in the shade of the Moscow Kremlin walls.

For the Kremlin, the holiday offers a potent rallying symbol for its stated goal of fighting against what it portrays as modern-day “Nazism” in Ukraine. Ukrainian leaders and their Western allies have denounced Russia’s invasion as an imperialist attempt to conquer Ukraine and deny its right to exist as an independent state.

In the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, air raid sirens blared across the city during planned Victory Day celebrations in a symbolic display of defiance against Russia’s attacks. Despite the sound of air raid sirens, Kyiv still held public events celebrating Ukraine’s 1945 victory over fascism.

The duelling displays underscored how, 78 years after the Nazi defeat, Europe once again faces dividing lines over the horrific legacy of World War II and the use and abuse of its imagery in the present day.