Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko laid flowers on the pedestal of the statue and honoured with a minute of silence the memory of soldiers who died in the battles near Rzhev in 1942–1943. The heads of the two states also addressed the veterans and participants in the unveiling ceremony.
After that the presidents of Russia and Belarus planted two fir-trees as part of the Memory Garden international event and visited a pavilion of the Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945.
The initiative to build the memorial came from Great Patriotic War veterans. In 2017, they wrote to the Committee of the Union State of Russia and Belarus and to scouts of the Russian Military Historical Society (RMHS) asking them to perpetuate the memory of their wartime comrades on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Victory.
Sculptor Andrei Korobtsov and architect Konstantin Fomin won the contract following an open international competition for best architectural and artistic design for the project. It involved a 25-metere bronze statue of a Soviet soldier to be installed in the centre of the memorial complex standing on a ten-metre high mound. A wide road leads to the mound, with broken walls on both sides carrying documentary images of Red Army soldiers and commanders and thousands of names of the servicemen who perished near Rzhev.
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Remarks at the unveiling of the Rzhev Memorial to the Soviet Soldier
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Dear veterans, Mr Lukashenko, friends.
Today we are paying tribute to everybody who fought here, on the battlefields near Rzhev, who selflessly defended our Fatherland and gave their lives for the Great Victory.
Not so long ago, the battles near Rzhev were hardly ever mentioned in official history sources. Direct participants only offered few scarce words about those events. It was too hard to remember that terrible Rzhev Meat Grinder, as it is sometimes called. Fierce, exhausting and agonised fighting continued in this area for months. Soldiers fought for every single grove, elevation, for every square metre of land.
It is impossible to think about the Red Army’s losses in those battles without pain. More than 1.3 million people were killed, injured or went missing. It is a horrifying, unthinkable number.
The significance of that long and bloody battle for the Victory of the Soviet people over Nazism is huge. The Soviet Army finally made it clear that the enemy will not be able to turn around and advance the attack on Moscow again; nor will it be able to break and subjugate the people who stood up for their Motherland’s defence. Every time a soldier fell, another one rose up behind him. The unbelievable intensity of that battle exhausted the enemy, crushed and slowly destroyed the giant military machine of the Third Reich.
Step by step, day after day, the battles near Rzhev brought closer the triumphant outcome of the Battle of Stalingrad and the long-awaited breaking of the Leningrad Siege, the liberation of Byelorussia, Ukraine and Baltic countries – and the final and critical change in the course of the entire Second World War.
We will always remember the high price the Soviet people paid for the Victory, the brunt borne and repelled by the Red Army where representatives of all Soviet republics and ethnicities fought side by side. More than 8.5 million Red Army soldiers never returned home; they perished in battle, in captivity or died in hospitals – and this statistic is not yet final.
The Rzhev Memorial is another symbol of our common memory, the symbol of our worship for the great and selfless heroic deed of the hero soldier, the liberator soldier, the winner soldier, the soldier who saved Europe and the entire world from Nazism. Time has no grip over this deed and it cannot and must not be forgotten or erased or besmirched by lies and falsifications. We will not let this happen.
Lives destroyed by the war will always remain with us like an open wound. Like now, the valour and stamina of our fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers as well as their endless love and loyalty to their Motherland will serve as an essential moral guidance for us. We have to be worthy of this highest moral standard in our deeds and activities today and protect and preserve the historical truth like a living thread that unites generations both in Russia and abroad.
My warmest thanks to the search teams who return names to the fallen soldiers and a piece of family history to their families and descendants. These searches must continue here, on this long-suffering land.
I would like to thank everyone who took part in establishing this memorial, the organisations of the Union State of Russia and Belarus as well as our people who gave donations for the creation of the memorial, the Russian Military and Historical Society and, of course, our talented designers. They all have done a wonderful job.
Everyone who fought near Rzhev passed through inhuman ordeals, fought to the bitter end for more than a year and did everything they could for Victory. Our sacred duty is to respect and remember every hero. It was a matter of honour and conscience to immortalise their heroic deeds.
My deepest gratitude to all the soldiers and commanders.
Glory to the heroes of Rzhev, the soldiers of the Great Patriotic War and eternal memory to the fallen.
President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko: Mr Putin,
Veterans, compatriots and friends.
War always brings blood, horror and death. In its inhumane and violent reality, there are frontiers defending which means unbelievable sacrifice. Rzhev was one such frontier because the capital of our Motherland and our entire great country was behind it. The soil here was on fire; stones were melting and armour was crumbling. But Soviet soldiers did not surrender. They fought hand to hand against the enemy. When they ran out of bullets, they bled to death on the snow in the bitter cold but stood to the last man.
Hundreds of thousands of heroes perished near Rzhev and for every single one of them, it was the last foot of home land – the same that the Brest Fortress, the Neva Bridgehead near Leningrad, the Buinichi Field near Mogilev and Mamayev Kurgan in Stalingrad was for other warriors.
Today we are unveiling a memorial to the soldiers that represented all peoples of the Soviet Union. We are repaying our filial duty, a duty of blessed memory.
As long as we build memorials, as long as we visit them, we will not fight again and will be able to prevent another horrible tragedy. As soon as we forget the road to these sacred places, we will certainly have to start fighting. This is the significance of our actions on these blessed occasions.
I would like to join the President of Russia in expressing gratitude to the creators of this monumental memorial. I also want to thank the Russian leadership, the Standing Committee of the Union State and the Tver Region Government, the Russian Military History Society, the creative team and every member of the public who contributed to building this memorial.
Unveiling this memorial as well as the festivities in the Russian capital last week, the memorial rally at the Brest Fortress and the Victory Day parade in Minsk on May 9 once again demonstrated that these Victory, memory and glory belong to both of our countries and we will continue to cherish them. They are the connection between the times and the generations, the invisible line that connects the hearts of all the peoples who fought in that horrible war, especially Belarusians and Russians.
With deep gratitude, we bow to the courage and tenacity of everybody who gave their lives for the freedom of the present and future generations.
I am confident that the Soviet Soldier Memorial near Rzhev will always be a symbol of unbreakable friendship between Russia and Belarus, and a place of our common pride and admiration for the heroism of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers.
We will not let anybody disparage the Great Victory, distort the truth about those events and rehabilitate Nazism. Otherwise, the same tragedy may happen again. Belarus and Russia sacrificed millions of their people for the peace on this planet and we are absolutely united in this aspiration.
Dear veterans of the Great Patriotic War,
You demonstrated an example of unparalleled courage, patriotism, love for freedom and moral strength to the entire world. We bow down before your immortal heroism, valour, bravery and loyalty to the Fatherland.
On this glorious day, allow me to wish all Belarusians and Russians good health, longevity and prosperity. Most importantly, I wish that the sky over your heads remains peaceful, which is why we always gather to mark this celebration.
Lest we forget our fallen heroes!