Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has likened Russia’s 2014 seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula to "kids being stolen and issued a new birth certificate," as the country marked 28 years of independence on August 24.
In a speech before thousands of flag-waving Ukrainians, Zelenskiy also vowed that areas of eastern Ukraine under Russia-backed separatist control would be governed again by Kyiv.
"One day we will be together because the voice of native blood will prevail," Zelenskiy told the crowd at the festivities that included a raising of Ukraine's flag and the singing of its national anthem.
Zelenskiy, a comic with little formal political experience, was elected president of Ukraine in April amid public frustration with government corruption and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, where more than 13,000 have died since April 2014.
Russia began backing separatist forces there shortly after illegally annexing Crimea in March 2014. Despite evidence to the contrary, Russia denies any role in the conflict.
This year’s Independence Day in Kyiv is for the first time not being accompanied by a traditional military parade.
Zelenskiy said in July that, instead of holding a parade, Kyiv would allocate the equivalent of nearly $12 million for bonuses to military servicemen.
"Usually, on August 24, on Independence Day, we have a military parade. It's pompous and definitely not cheap. It seems to me that this year, instead of holding a parade, it is better to give this money to our heroes...," he was quoted as saying by the Ukrainian news agency Unian.
Though there was no formal parade, military personnel did march through Kyiv, many with their battalions, in what was billed as a March of Dignity.
Ukraine adopted its declaration of independence on August 24, 1991, in the waning days of the Soviet Union.