Victory Day, commemorating the Red Army’s triumph over Nazi Germany, offers an opportunity for Russia’s present-day leadership to demonstrate the country’s resurgent military might. For many World War II veterans, meanwhile, the day is a time for reflection – to take pride in their accomplishments and to appreciate their good fortune in having survived.
Freelance photographer Jonathan Alpeyrie has spent the past few years working on a documentary project, photographing Soviet veterans and recording their stories. There is a growing sense of urgency to his mission, as the number of World War II vets is fast dwindling. Some of the subjects of this photo essay, for example, have died recently.
Being part of the winning side in war did not guarantee veterans a lasting peace. Many of the veterans who agreed to be photographed by Alpeyrie ended up emigrating and resettling in New York City.
One of Alpeyrie’s subjects, Mrav Hokobian, endured the horrors of World War II only to experience another conflict during the twilight of his life. Hakobian lost a hand in 1942 amid hand-to-hand combat in Stalingrad. Fifty years later he was living in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave when the region turned into the epicenter of a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In an ironic twist that punctuated Hakobian’s experience with warfare, he recalls that he lost amid the displacement of the Karabakh conflict a medal awarded him for his service in Stalingrad.
Jonathan Alpeyrie is a freelance photojournalist based in New York.