Defender of the Fatherland Day

Peter Mitchell, Deputy Dean for International Affairs at the Faculty of Foreign Languages of Tomsk State University will tell you about life in our University

On 23 February we in Russia celebrate Defender of the Fatherland Day, in honor of those who devoted and continue to devote themselves to the defense of the country. Only last May did we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the bloodiest war in the history of humankind. In the days of current ‘localized’ warfare, “smart bombs”, drones and the almost bizarre expectations in some countries that casualties can entirely avoided in armed conflict, we ought not to forget that the Second World War touched the entire peoples of a multitude of countries in ways that are sometimes hard to imagine. Here in Russia it was a war that involved everyone, man or woman, old or young, whether fighting at the Front or working in support of the troops far behind the lines.

Last week I took a group of students on a visit to the TSU Museum of History where the reality for staff and students of that generation was displayed vividly. Of the more than 1000 staff and students who left to fight on the Front, more than 200 did not return. Perhaps most poignant of all was the soldier who was killed near Berlin only a month before the war’s end. The university itself was placed on a war footing, many buildings being converted into makeshift military hospitals, and those academic staff who did remain worked to save the country.

And in the midst of that most terrible of times, the University did not lose sight of its cardinal mission – the essence of being a classical research university, educating the next generation and engaging in research to better the lives of the people. The war was won and the University resumed its work, continuing to play a significant role in the development of the country, surviving the break-up of the Soviet Union and chaos of the 1990s, to emerge even stronger in the 21st Century as a powerful force for the creation and dissemination of knowledge, while educating future leaders.

Yet in these more prosperous and happier times, we shall never forget the sacrifice of that generation who fought and prevailed in the face of the greatest threat to humanity ever known. They understood that they were doing it not only for themselves, but for us.