Russia-backed separatists who control the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk have held a Victory Day parade despite a ban on that type of celebration in Ukraine as well as on the tanks and other heavy weapons featured in the parade.
The display on May 9 of such heavy weaponry, which has been used by the Russia-backed separatists during their four-year conflict with government forces, violates the terms of a 2015 peace deal that has been little honored by either side, AFP reported.
The peace deal called for both sides to withdraw mortars, rockets, and other large-caliber arms from demarcation lines, one of which runs through the outskirts of Donetsk.
An AFP reporter counted 45 pieces of heavy military equipment, including tanks, artillery systems, and multiple rocket launchers.
Many were painted with the Soviet Union's red star and a black-and-orange-striped St. George's ribbon, a hallmark of World War II victory celebrations that Ukraine banned after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 as a symbol of what Kyiv sees as Russian aggression and expansionism.
The Russian news agency Interfax also reported that the parade featured several dozen military vehicles, including T-72 tanks, howitzers, self-propelled artillery systems, rocket launchers, and restored World War II vehicles.
"All the equipment taking part in the parade was acquired as trophies," Oleksandr Voronin, a separatist military chief, told AFP, claiming it was seized from the Ukrainian Army and then restored.
At the opening of the event commemorating the victory over Nazi Germany, which was attended by around 35,000 people, separatist leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko asserted that the region's people "have to defend their land with weapons" and protect "the Russian world" from Ukrainian nationalists.
Local residents came to the parade with St. George's ribbons pinned on their clothes and carrying red flags and bouquets. Some brought children dressed in stylized World War II uniforms.
While the massive Soviet-style parades have been revived under President Vladimir Putin in Russia, they have been banned in areas of Ukraine controlled by Kyiv since the conflict with Russia-backed separatists broke out in April 2014.
In Kyiv on May 9, about 10,000 people marched through central streets carrying portraits of the more than 10,300 people killed during the conflict with separatists.
Kyiv police detained 14 participants for wearing banned symbols "of the communist totalitarian regime," including the St. George's ribbon. They face a fine.
"Stalin's Soviet Union in the first two years of World War II was an ally of Hitler's Germany," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a speech at the commemoration ceremony.
Today, Putin's Russia is ready to bring the world "to the brink of World War III," he said. "They are here, not far from us -- and this requires our special vigilance and responsibility," he said.