December 19, 2014
Defiant Ukraine celebrates national day as war rumbles on
Armoured vehicles and soldiers paraded in Kiev today in a defiant national day display of military power that Ukrainian President Petro Poroskenko said was being mobilised for an historic war of independence from Russia.
Soldiers, some due to head directly to the front where government forces are fighting pro-Russian separatists, staged a marchpast on Kiev's Independence Square followed by a parade of armoured vehicles armed with anti-tank weapons and trucks towing missile systems.
In a ceremony combining patriotism, solemnity and deep emotion, Poroshenko declared that Ukraine's war against pro-Russian separatists, who it says are armed by Moscow, would likely enter history as 'the 2014 patriotic war'.
In a clear reference to Russia's role, he said the country was fighting "a war against external aggression, for Ukraine, for its freedom, for its people, for independence."
"It is clear that in the foreseeable future, unfortunately, a constant military threat will hang over Ukraine. And we need to learn not only to live with this, but also to be always prepared to defend the independence of our country."
Organisers of the festivities in Kiev said the 1,500 service personnel taking part included about 120 men who had already seen action on the eastern front in areas near the rebel-strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Kiev's Independence Square - known locally as the 'Maidan' and which was the crucible of street protests that toppled a Moscow-backed leader and precipitated the separatist rebellions in the east - was bedecked with the blue-and-yellow flag of Ukraine.
Many of the thousands of people who turned out in sunshine for celebrations wore traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirts and blouses or wrapped the national flag around their shoulders.
Children, with face-paint decorations of the Ukrainian emblem and waving the national flag, were borne on their fathers' shoulders.
WAR IN THE EAST
Meanwhile, fighting continued in the east. Early today, artillery shells rained down on central Donetsk, a remaining stronghold of pro-Russian rebels, hitting the territory of one of the city's biggest hospitals. The separatists accused Kiev of deliberately targeting civilians, something Ukrainian leaders deny.
Rebels laid out destroyed Ukrainian military hardware in the city's central square in preparation for their own celebrations meant to counter Kiev's festivities.
Ukraine declared its independence from a collapsing Soviet Union on August 25, 1991, but many Ukrainians believe Moscow has never truly let it function as a sovereign state, and is now trying to restore its control.
Russia denies helping the rebellion, or trying to intervene in Ukraine's internal affairs.