Photos showing portraits of World War II veterans lying in garbage cans and on sidewalks are sparking outrage in Russia, days after the country held lavish celebrations to mark 70 years since the victory over Nazi Germany.
Along with a spectacular Victory Day military parade on Moscow's Red Square -- the biggest to date -- hundreds of thousands of people marched in the city holding portraits of their relatives who fought in the war.
The procession was led by President Vladimir Putin, who carried a portrait of his father.
Moscow authorities said 500,000 people took part in the march of the "Immortal Regiment," with about 12 million reportedly taking part in similar marches nationwide and abroad.
Processions were held in a string of cities outside Russia, including Berlin, Almaty in Kazakhstan, Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, Vienna, Malta, Sevastopol in annexed Crimea, and Luhansk and Donetsk in the separatist-held parts of eastern Ukraine.
But the pictures of the discarded portraits, which are making the rounds online, have cast a long shadow on the event and raised questions about whether all participants were genuine descendants of World War II heroes.
"If people carried portraits of their dead relatives, would they have thrown them out afterward?" journalist and political analyst Andrei Malgin wrote on LiveJournal.
Malgin posted two photos: one of veterans' portraits dumped in a concrete urn along with cigarette butts and empty beer bottles, the other of dozens of portraits lying in a heap on the sidewalk.
The photos have been widely circulated and sparked speculation that authorities either hired participants or pressured employees in state-run companies into joining the rally, a practice long denounced by government critics.
"They could at least have paid the participants on the condition that they return the portraits, to avoid such a disgrace," read one comment under Malgin's post.
"What a pity for people who went out sincerely, with all their heart, to honor the memory of their relatives that such clowns marched by their side," wrote another viewer.
Ironically, the march of the Immortal Regiment, which has been held for several years in some Russian cities, is the brainchild of journalists at TV-2 -- a highly regarded, independent television channel in the Siberian city of Tomsk.
Local authorities shut down the channel on January 1.