WW2 Red Army veteran campaigns for help from Russia

Thu May 6, 2010 11:12am EDT
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By Patrick Lannin

RIGA (Reuters Life!) - For World War Two Red Army veteran Nikolai Ponomarenko the 65th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany on May 9 will be a bittersweet affair.

Proud of the role the Soviet Union played, Ponomarenko, 85, has for 17 years waged another kind of battle: to persuade Russia to look after men made invalids by the war, but who have been caught on the wrong side of history.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, men who had been ordinary soldiers in the Red Army and who became citizens of the ex-Soviet state of Latvia or took no citizenship at all no longer qualified for the special benefits and help which Russia, the legal successor to the Soviet Union, gives its veterans.

At the same time, the Latvian state had no sympathy for men who fought on the side of what it sees now as Soviet occupiers.

"These men have been abandoned to their fate. They returned as invalids from the war and for them to get nothing is complete nonsense," Ponomarenko told Reuters, his voice getting louder with anger.

"Russia is the legal successor of the Soviet Union and how can these be people be abandoned?"

When he began his campaign, there were about 1,000 such men. In the Soviet period, they received benefits, but that stopped when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

The men have all kinds of injuries, including a man made blind by a head wound and a man who lost his legs. He said that now the number has dwindled to about 600 or 800.   Continued...