Ukraine celebrated its 23rd year of independence from the Soviet Union today, while the future of east Ukraine remains in dispute.
The celebrations saw a military parade in Kiev before thousands of Ukrainians dressed in the colours yellow and blue in respect of their national flag, as well as a naval procession was held in the port city of Odessa.
Speaking in the Maidan, Kiev’s independence square, president Petro Poroshenko promised to defend the country’s self-determination from pro-Russian separatists and pledged to spend $3bn to re-equip armed forces.
The fund will be used over a two-year span from 2015-17 and is intended to combat the “constant military threat” faced by the Ukrainian government.
The president waved through the Soviet-reminiscent parade of 18,000 troops – soon to be deployed to Crimea and Eastern regions – and stated: “In the 21st century, in the centre of Europe, there is a flagrant attempt to breach the border of sovereign state without declaring war. It is as if the world has returned to the 1930s, on the eve of World War II.”
In today’s celebration wreaths were also laid to pay tribute to those killed in the winter protests that saw the defeat of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych and triggered the Russian annexation of Crimea in February.
Shortly before the march started, Donetsk – one of the disputed eastern areas – was hit by shelling where the pro-Russian rebels vowed to hold their own parade and to display captured government soldiers. An announcement on a rebel social media account called for an “anti-fascist rally” in response to the government celebrations.
Agence France-Presse correspondent in Donetsk recorded two civilian deaths on Saturday. Since the escalation of violence earlier this year, over 2,000 have been killed and more than 330,000 civilians have fled their homes in the disputed regions, according to UN estimates.
The landmark day comes in the wake of global condemnation of the Russian government’s actions in Ukraine, after a Russian aid convoy entered the state on Friday. The convoy, containing 227 vehicles and branded “essential” by the Kremlin, returned to Russia after Western criticism. While US president Barack Obama called the convoy’s entrance a “dangerous escalation”, German chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged €500m in aid to rebuild Ukrainian areas damaged in conflict.
Russian president Vladimir Putin will meet Mr Poroshenko next week for the first time in two months to discuss the Ukraine crisis.
Thomas Rhys Jones