BEIJING, May 8 (Xinhua) -- China will hold its first exhibition on a Soviet air squadron that helped China drive out invading Japanese troops during World War II (WWII) in Moscow on Saturday when President Xi Jinping is scheduled to attend celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War, Russia's name for WWII.
Although less known than the "Flying Tigers", as its U.S. equivalent the American Volunteer Group (AVG) is known, the Soviet air squadron was the first international force to join China's Anti-fascist War, said Luo Chaojun, deputy curator of the Nanjing Anti-Japanese Aviation Martyr Memorial Hall, which organized the exhibition.
The Soviet squadron joined the war in China in 1937, years before the AVG participated in its first air battle over China in December 1941.
Luo said historical documents showed more than 2,000 Russian pilots and 1,000 aircraft joined the volunteer force to China, and more than 200 pilots sacrificed their lives.
Wu Xianglie, a TV documentary director from south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is in Russia shooting a documentary about the squadron.
He is cooperating with his Russian counterparts to tell the stories of a pilot and a military counsel who died in Guilin City, where they were fighting Japanese troops.
They both share the family name Babushkin. Ivan Mikhailovich Babushkin, the military counsel, died in 1940 and was buried in Guilin. Wu is working to find more details about the pilot Babushkin .
"We will shoot the military parade in Red Square in Moscow and interview the descendants of the two Babushkins," said Wu, who left for Russia on Tuesday.
"We hope the documentary, 'Looking for Babushkins,' will resurrect the history of how China and the Soviet Union fought the fascists together," he said.
REMEMBERING RUSSIA'S "FLYING TIGERS"
On a rainy Friday in Nanjing, Chen Shuangjie, a student from Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, placed a photo of Nezhdanov, the first pilot from the Soviet Union air squadron to sacrifice his life in China, by his name on a memorial tablet at the Nanjing Anti-Japanese Aviation Martyr Memorial Hall.
A huge memorial tablet inscribed with the names of 236 Russian martyrs sits in the museum.
Nezhdanov died at the age of 24 in the battle against the Japanese in Nanjing on Nov.22, 1937, according to the Nanjing municipal archives administration on Tuesday.
"We happen to know Nezhdanov from media today, and we come here to show our gratitude to the Russians in his hometown thousands of miles away," said Chen.
"I feel sad that it was 78 years later that Nezhdanov's fellow townsmen found out where he was buried," said Wang Shuning, another student from the university's school of civil aviation.
With the help of more than 100 volunteers, the Nanjing municipal archives administration received a list of martyrs killed in the air battles in Nanjing, which was released by the Soviet Union's consulate general in Shanghai in 1989.
"According to the list, six pilots sacrificed their lives between November and December of 1937 in Nanjing, including Nezhdanov," said Wang Han, deputy head of the municipal archives administration.
Two Chinese students studying in Russia discovered Nezhdanov's life story and four photos at the humanities and history museum in his home city of Irbit on Thursday. His photos were published on local newspapers on Friday.
Vasile Konstantinovich, the curator of the museum, was surprised to know China has been looking for Nezhdanov for decades and was grateful the Chinese brought latest information about Nezhdanov to his hometown.
"Making clear the historical facts is the best gift to commemorate the anti-fascist war," said Jing Shenghong, a history professor at Nanjing Normal University.
DIGGING FOR UNTOLD STORIES
Compared to the "Flying Tigers" led by U.S. General Claire Lee Chennault, who are commemorated in several museums across China, the Soviet Union air squadron is not well known among the Chinese public.
"When the Soviet Union sent pilots to China, they had not yet declared war against the German and Japanese fascists," said Gao Xiaoxing, a professor with the Nanjing Naval Command Academy.
"They joined the war in China secretly and many of them used pseudonyms," he said.
The tombs of the Soviet Union air squad in the central city of Wuhan, where 15 pilots' names are inscribed, contain little information aside from their names and ages.
"They helped China fight the Japanese invaders. We should be grateful and keep them in mind," said Wu Xianglie, who has traveled across China over the past year to find the stories behind their bravery.
The Wuhan municipal government will add nine new names to the tombs of the Soviet Union air squad because the Russian Defense Ministry recently sent a list of pilots killed in Wuhan, according to Li Hua, an employee at the Hubei Provincial government's foreign affairs office.
A commemoration ceremony is expected to be held at the tomb in August to mark the 70th anniversary of victory of anti-Japanese war, said Li.
Four major air battles were fought in Wuhan in 1938 and more than 100 Russian pilots died, about 10,000 residents have paid tribute at the Russian martyrs' tomb at Liberation Park each year.
"Even in the most difficult years, when the Sino-Soviet relationship soured, the mourning never stopped," said Xiao Jianqiao, head of the park's administration office.
Wuhan became the command center against the Japanese troops after then-capital Nanjing was lost. Together with the Chinese air force, the Soviet air squadron destroyed 52 Japanese fighter jets and more than 70 Japanese vessels on the Yangtze River in 1938, said Zhang Song, an assistant researcher with the Wuhan municipal archives administration.
"The Soviet air squadron's contribution to the victory in the Chinese anti-fascist war has never been inferior to the American 'Flying Tigers,'" said Han Yongli, a professor with Wuhan University.
"They defeated the strong as the weak and destroyed the illusions of invincibility of the Japanese forces, which encouraged Chinese to battle against the invaders," he said.