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VE Day: A locked down Europe commemorates as best it can

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Four-year-old Emilia lays down flowers at Berlin's Soviet War memorial during commemorations to mark the 75th anniversary of Victory Day on May 8, 2020.
Four-year-old Emilia lays down flowers at Berlin's Soviet War memorial during commemorations to mark the 75th anniversary of Victory Day on May 8, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
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Countries across Europe are marking the 75th anniversary of the Nazi regime's surrender as best they can while most of the Old Continent remains under lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the UK, commemorations started with a military flypast over London shortly after 11:00 CEST.

A nationwide two-minute silence to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice was then held at 12:00 CEST, led by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.

The Queen will deliver a televised speech at 22:00 CEST — the exact time her father addressed the nation 75 years ago.

'A day of liberation' for Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel laid a wreath to mark the occasion at the Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Tyranny.

Berlin's Brandenburg Gate is also expected to be illuminated. The German capital has turned the commemoration into a public holiday sparking a debate in the country as to whether Victory Day should become an annual federal public holiday.

Hannibal Hanschke via AP
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and several other German top officials including President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (C) at the Neue Wache Memorial in Berlin, May 8, 2020.Hannibal Hanschke via AP1Hannibal Hanschke

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a speech that on May 8, 1945, the country was alone.

"Germany had suffered military defeat, political and economic ruin, and moral collapse. We had made enemies of the entire world," he said.

He added that the country is now "forced to commemorate alone" because of the pandemic, but we are not alone!"

"We live in vigorous and well-established democracy, in a country that has been reunified for 30 years, at the heart of a peaceful and united Europe. We are a trusted member of the international community and reap the fruits of cooperation and partnership around the world.

"It has taken three generations for us to admit wholeheartedly: 8 May 1945 was indeed a day of liberation.

"Seventy-five years after the end of the war, we Germans have much to be thankful for. But none of the positive achievements since that data are safe in perpetuity. May 8 was not the end of the liberation — preserving freedom and democracy is the never-ending task that has been bequeathed upon us," he stressed.

'Turning point for our continent'

In France, President Emmanuel Macron laid a wreath in front of the statue of General Charles de Gaulle in Paris before attending a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe. The ceremony, also attended by former leaders Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, has been closed to the public because of the pandemic.

AP Photo/Francois Mori, Pool
French President Emmanuel Macron, center right, lays a wreath of flowers at the statue of General Charles de Gaulle during VE Day ceremonies Friday May 8, 2020 in Paris.AP Photo/Francois Mori, PoolFrancois Mori

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter that May 8 not only "marks a decisive moment in the history of humanity" but also "represents the turning point for the fate of our continent".

"Grateful that we have our European union today," she wrote, adding "#NeverAgain".

The bloc's ancestor, the European Coal and Steel Community, was created in 1950 as a means to tie European countries economically and politically and thus secure lasting peace. The six founding countries were Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Russian military parade postponed

In Russia, the traditional Victory Day military parade, which was to be held on May 9 has been postponed to later this year due to the pandemic. The event was to be attended by Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Zinaida Korneva, a 97-year-old veteran hoping to replicate the fundraising prowess achieved in the UK by Captain Tom Moore, has taken to YouTube to talk about her trials as a Red Army soldier in the Stalingrad region.

Money she collects will be donated to the families of doctors fighting COVID-19 in St Petersburg.