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Ukraine soldiers hold unofficial march after Kiev cancels event

By AFP
media The five-year war in east Ukraine against Russia-backed separatists has claimed some 13,000 lives AFP

Some 20,000 people, most of them soldiers in uniform, turned out in Kiev Saturday for an unofficial march to mark Ukrainian Independence Day after the president cancelled a traditional military parade.

New leader Volodymyr Zelensky, who came to power with promises to end a five-year war in the east against Russia-backed separatists, said the money saved on the official parade would be used for soldier bonuses.

But soldiers and veterans of that conflict organised a march of their own, walking through central Kiev along with relatives and wellwishers, waving blue and yellow national flags.

The march was an emotionally charged event with some participants crying and others kneeling down by relatives of soldiers killed in the war, which has already claimed some 13,000 lives.

Some of those relatives held up pictures of the servicemen, as the crowd applauded and chanted "Thank you" and "Glory to Ukraine!".

Many marchers not in military uniform were dressed in traditional embroidered shirts, which in recent years have become a patriotic symbol.

"This march... shows the strength and spirit of our people," said Iryna Goray, holding a photo of her son, a soldier who was killed five years ago.

"We came to show our unity, it is good to see so many people from all over Ukraine, we feel we are not alone," Olena Yeschenko, a widow of an officer, said.

"The homeland defenders march is necessary," 53-year-old Oleksandr, a camouflage-clad veteran in a wheelchair, added.

During an official ceremony in Kiev's central square, Zelensky presented state honours to some thirty soldiers and expressed hope for the return of peace to the former Soviet republic.

 
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