MINSK – The eastern European nation of Belarus held a full-fledged military parade Saturday to mark Victory Day, shrugging off safety concerns during the coronavirus pandemic that led Russia to curtail its own long-planned 75th anniversary observances.
Tens of thousands of spectators lined the parade route as some 3,000 soldiers and 185 military vehicles passed by in the capital, Minsk.
Some elderly veterans watching from a stand wore masks, but few face coverings or other protective measures were seen in the throng of viewers along the street.
Belarus’ authoritarian president has dismissed the coronavirus as a “psychosis,” despite the number of confirmed cases in the country substantially exceeding those in neighboring Ukraine and Poland, which have populations about four times as large as Belarus.
President Alexander Lukashenko opened the parade, saying the suffering of Belarus during World War II “is incomparable with any difficulties of the present day.”
Belarus was proportionately the hardest-hit of the Soviet republics during the war. An estimated 1.6 million civilians and 600,000 soldiers died, or about 25% of the population. As much as 85% of Minsk was leveled in bombing raids.
The World Health Organization had called on Belarus to cancel Victory Day events, but Lukashenko said he felt morally obliged to veterans and the country to mark Nazi Germany's defeat. On Saturday, he called observing Victory Day a “sacred action.”
Spectator Anatoly Kudryanok, who did not wear a mask, said he agreed with the president's position.