Great Patriotic War (term)

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People in Saint Petersburg at the Immortal Regiment, carrying portraits of their ancestors who fought in the Great Patriotic War.
Veteran of the Soviet Army pays tribute on Victory Day in 2014 in Minsk under the cloak of the Soviet flag.
During the 2019 Moscow Victory Day Parade.

The Great Patriotic War (Russian: Вели́кая Оте́чественная война́, romanizedVelikya Otechestvennaya voyna)[a] is a term used in Russia and some other former republics of the Soviet Union[1] to describe the conflict fought during the period from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945 along the many fronts of the Eastern Front of World War II, primarily between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. For some legal purposes, this period may be extended to 11 May 1945 to include the end of the Prague offensive.[2]


The term Patriotic War refers to the Russian resistance to the French invasion of Russia under Napoleon I, which became known as the Patriotic War of 1812. In Russian, the term отечественная война originally referred to a war on one's own territory (otechestvo means "the fatherland"), as opposed to a campaign abroad (заграничная война),[3] and later was reinterpreted as a war for the fatherland, i.e. a defensive war for one's homeland. Sometimes the Patriotic War of 1812 was also referred to as the Great Patriotic War (Великая отечественная война); the phrase first appeared in 1844[4] and became popular on the eve of the centenary of the Patriotic War of 1812.[5]

After 1914, the phrase was applied to World War I.[6] It was the name of a special war-time appendix to the magazine Theater and Life (Театр и жизнь) in Saint Petersburg, and referred to the Eastern Front of World War I, where Russia fought against the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.[6] The phrases Second Patriotic War (Вторая отечественная война) and Great World Patriotic War (Великая всемирная отечественная война) were also used during World War I in Russia.[6]

The term Great Patriotic War re-appeared in the official newspaper of the CPSU, Pravda, on 23 June 1941, just a day after Germany invaded the Soviet Union. It was found in the title of "The Great Patriotic War of the Soviet People" (Velikaya Otechestvennaya Voyna Sovetskogo Naroda), a long article by Yemelyan Yaroslavsky, a member of Pravda editors' collegium. The phrase was intended to motivate the population to defend the Soviet fatherland and to expel the invader, and a reference to the Patriotic War of 1812 was seen as a great morale booster.[6] During the Soviet period, historians engaged in huge distortions to make history fit with Communist ideology, with Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov and Prince Pyotr Bagration transformed into peasant generals, Alexander I alternatively ignored or vilified, and the war becoming a massive "People's War" fought by the ordinary people of Russia with almost no involvement on the part of the government.[7] The invasion by Germany was called the Great Patriotic War by the Soviet government to evoke comparisons with the victory by Tsar Alexander I over Napoleon's invading army.[8]

The term Отечественная война (Patriotic War or Fatherland War) was officially recognized by establishment of the Order of the Patriotic War on 20 May 1942, awarded for heroic deeds.


2021 Moscow Victory Day Parade. Military parades and Soviet military symbolism play an important role in the 9 May celebrations across Russia.

The term is not generally used outside the former Soviet Union, and the closest term is the Eastern Front of World War II (1941–1945). Neither term covers the initial phase of World War II in Eastern Europe, during which the USSR, then still in a non-aggression pact with Germany, invaded eastern Poland (1939), the Baltic states (1940), Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina (1940) and Finland (1939–1940).[2][9] The term also does not cover the Soviet–Japanese War (1945).[2]

In Russia and some other post-Soviet countries, the term is given great significance; it is accepted as a representation of the most important part of World War II. Until 2014, Uzbekistan was the only nation in the Commonwealth of Independent States that had not recognized the term, referring to it as World War II on the state holiday – the Day of Remembrance and Honour.[10]

On 9 April 2015, the Ukrainian parliament replaced the term Great Patriotic War (1941–1945) (Velyka vitchyzniana viina) in the country's law with the "Second World War (1939–1945)" (Druha svitova viina),[11] as part of a set of decommunization laws. Also in 2015, Ukraine's "Victory Day over Nazism in World War II" was established as a national holiday in accordance with the law of "On Perpetuation of Victory over Nazism in World War II 1939–1945". The new holiday was celebrated on May 9 and replaced the Soviet-Russian Victory Day, which is celebrated on May 9. These laws were adopted by the Ukrainian parliament within the package of laws on decommunization.[12] In 2023 Ukraine abolished the 2015 9 May "Victory Day over Nazism" holiday and replaced it with the new public holiday "Day of Remembrance and Victory over Nazism in World War II 1939 – 1945" which is celebrated on 8 May annually.[13]

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  1. ^ Additional translations in languages of the former Soviet Union:
    • Azerbaijani: Böyük Vətən müharibəsi
    • Belarusian: Вялікая Айчынная вайна, romanizedVyalikaya Aychynnaya vayna
    • Estonian: Suur Isamaasõda
    • Armenian: Հայրենական Մեծ պատերազմ, romanizedHayrenakan Mec paterazm
    • Georgian: დიდი სამამულო ომი, romanized: didi samamulo omi
    • Kazakh: Ulı Otan soğısı
    • Kyrgyz: Улуу Ата Мекендик согуш, romanizedUluu Ata Mekendik soğuş
    • Lithuanian: Didysis Tėvynės karas
    • Latvian: Lielais Tēvijas karš
    • Romanian: Marele Război pentru apărarea Patriei (Moldovan Cyrillic: Мареле Рэзбой пентру апэраря Патрией)
    • Tajik: Ҷанги Бузурги Ватанӣ, romanizedJangi Buzurgi Vataní
    • Turkmen: Beýik Watançylyk urşy
    • Tatar: Бөек Ватан сугышы, romanized: Böyek Watan suğışı
    • Ukrainian: Велика Вітчизняна війна, romanizedVelyka Vitchyzniana viina
    • Uzbek: Улуғ Ватан уруши, romanized: Uluğ Vatan uruşi


  1. ^ Україна, Віталій Червоненко ВВС (9 April 2015). Рада ухвалила "декомунізаційний пакет". BBC News Україна (in Ukrainian). Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Федеральный закон № 5-ФЗ от 12 января 1995, "О ветеранах" (in Russian)
  3. ^ For example, one of the books published shortly after the war was titled Письма русского офицера о Польше, Австрийских владениях, Пруссии и Франции, с подробным описанием похода Россиян противу Французов в 1805 и 1806 году, также отечественной и заграничной войны с 1812 по 1815 год..." (Fyodor Glinka, Moscow, 1815–1816; the title was translated as "Letters of a Russian Officer on Poland, the Austrian Domains, Prussia and France; with a detailed description of the Russian campaign against the French in 1805 and 1806, and also the Fatherland and foreign war from 1812 to 1815..." in: A. Herzen, Letters from France and Italy, 1847–1851, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995, p. 272).
  4. ^ It can be found in Vissarion Belinsky's essay "Russian literature in 1843" first printed in magazine Otechestvennye Zapiski, vol. 32 (1844), see page 34 of section 5 "Critics" (each section has its own pagination).
  5. ^ For example, several books had the phrase in their titles, as: П. Ниве, Великая Отечественная война. 1812 годъ, М., 1912; И. Савостинъ, Великая Отечественная война. Къ 100-лѣтнему юбилею. 1812–1912 г., М., 1911; П. М. Андріановъ, Великая Отечественная война. (1812) По поводу 100-лѣтняго юбилея, Спб., 1912.
  6. ^ a b c d The dictionary of modern citations and catch phrases, by Konstantin Dushenko, 2006. (in Russian)
  7. ^ Lieven 2010, pp. 9–10.
  8. ^ Stahel 2010, p. 337.
  9. ^ Davies, Norman (2006). "Phase 1, 1939–1941: the era of the Nazi-Soviet pact". Europe at War 1939–1945: No Simple Victory. London: Macmillan. pp. 153–155. ISBN 9780333692851. OCLC 70401618.
  10. ^ Saidazimova, Gulnoza (8 April 2008). "World War II – 60 Years After: For Some Central Asians, 'Great Patriotic War' is More Controversial Than Ever". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
  11. ^ Ukraine Purges Symbols of Its Communist Past, Newsweek, (10 April 2015)
  12. ^ "Про увічнення Перемоги у Великій Вітчизняній війні 1941–1945 років". Retrieved 1 February 2021.
  13. ^ "Zelenskyy signs law recognising 8 May as Day of Remembrance and Victory over Nazism". Ukrainska Pravda. Retrieved 12 June 2023.
    "Victory Day Celebration On May 9 Canceled In Ukraine". Ukrainian News Agency. 30 May 2023. Retrieved 30 May 2023.
    "Rada sets Day of Remembrance and Victory over Nazism on May 8". Ukrinform. 30 May 2023. Retrieved 30 May 2023.


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