Over 2,000 Narva residents gathered in the Dark Garden May 9 to read somber poems and lay flowers for the World War II dead. But as the years pass, Victory Day is becoming less funereal.
At the meeting in the appropriately named garden dedicated to the 57th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II and the graves of 22,000 who died during the war, mixed feelings were palpable.
Gennadi Kintsler, chairman of the Narva Veterans Association, opened the commemoration.
"This gathering is both mournful and festive," said Kintsler.
A war was won, said many of those gathered, but many lives were lost.
"Great sorrow and great joy shape Victory Day. We grieve over those who died and feel happy that fascism was defeated in May 1945," said Yuri Popov, Russia's consul general in Narva.
Both speakers expressed a joint opinion that May 9 should be a state holiday in Estonia as it is in Russia.
German troops left Narva on April 26, 1944, following attacks from the Soviet 2nd Army. The fighting left massive casualties on both sides.
The 20th Waffen SS Division, which consisted mostly of Estonians trying to stop the Russians at Sinimae, some 20 kilometers from Narva, also suffered under the attack.
On May 8, a group of 50 Estonian veterans who fought for the Germans during the war gathered at Sinimae to commemorate their fallen comrades.
"We came to remember the brutal fighting that took place here many years ago," said Aleksander, an Estonian who served in the German army. "For us the end of the war is represented by May 8, not May 9."
Wilhelm Keitel, chief commander of the German military forces, signed the surrender agreement in a Berlin suburb on the evening of May 8, 1945, but an allied victory wasn't declared until the following day.
The county government allowed the former SS soldiers to carry out the commemoration provided that they did not display any Nazi symbols.
The Red Army lost 512 soldiers from the 260th Marines Battalion as it tried to take the Merikula road and railway station near Sinimae, and most of them were buried on the vast battlefield.
On May 8, the remains of 45 marines found last year were reburied in a mass grave in Sinimae.
"There were 517 marines, but only five of those survived," said Aleksander Bugrov, head of the local history club. "None of them had any identification during the battle, and it is impossible to identify anyone. Other soldiers remains scattered around Merikula should also be reburied."
In Tallinn, the May 9 celebrations took over the square in front of the National Library, where a bronze soldier statue, a monument to World War II victims, stands with its head bent.
This year's gathering in Tallinn was more active compared with 2001, and groups of pensioners even sang old songs under the accompaniment of an accordion.
The Russian Embassy was again in the center of the Victory Day celebration, handing a one-time, 500 kroon ($30) allowance to about 150 veterans living in Tallinn.
Konstantin Provalov, Russia's ambassador to Estonia, said the Europeans owed a lot to the Red Army veterans, and the allowance was just a symbolic way to show the Russian government's thanks.