In Finland, the invasion of Ukraine revives the memory of the “Winter War”

Finnish soldiers on skis, October 1, 1939.


On February 28, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Helsinki, Olga Dibrova, thanked Finland for sending weapons to her country with a tweet: “Dear Finnish friends, you went through the ‘winter war’, you understand Ukrainians more than anyone. » No need to say more. Since February 24 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, few Finns have not thought of those 105 days, nearly eighty-three years ago, which would transform the image of the country in the eyes of its inhabitants and the rest of the world.

The “Winter War” “it is the most important story of our national identity”, says writer Sofi Oksanen. His grandfather took part in it, between 1939 and 1940, before taking part in the “Continuation War”, from 1941 to 1944. He did not speak of it to his children or his grandchildren. However, the memory of his brother, killed at his side, haunted him all his life. “The traumas of war have been passed on to future generations and today many relive them when we watch Ukrainians fight,” testifies the writer.

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The similarities are obvious. In 1940, Joseph Stalin, like Vladimir Putin today, already refuses to speak of a war: his troops carry out an operation of “liberation” of the Finns against “the fascists”, victorious of the “reds” during the civil war of 1918 , one year after Finland’s independence. Stalin counts on the divisions within the population to win an express victory. He is wrong: the Soviet offensive will cement national unity.

The Red Army is bogged down

The war was started on a pretext: the bombardment of the Russian village of Mainila, on the border, on November 26, 1939. The attack was attributed to Finland, but it was in fact a staging orchestrated by Moscow. . On November 30, 1939, Helsinki and fifteen Finnish cities were bombarded, while Red Army tanks entered the east.

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Like the first days of the war in Ukraine, nothing goes as planned. On paper, however, the USSR has the advantage, with a million mobilized men. Opposite, Finland has 300,000 poorly equipped men. But the Soviet soldiers, originating from distant regions (the Ukraine, in particular), evolve in unknown territory. Temperatures plunge to -40°C. In the middle of the Finnish forests, the mechanized units advance slowly. The tanks are running out of gas and food is lacking.

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