Ukraine’s Independence Day: Opposed Observances

Rebels Parade Prisoners to Declare That Ukraine Is Nazi-Inspired

Ukraine’s government marked the country’s twenty-third anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union yesterday with a military parade and a vow by President Petro Poroshenko to sustain Ukraine’s war against Russian-sponsored separatists in the southeast. In Donetsk, the separatists paraded bruised and dirty Ukrainian soldiers, their hands bound behind them. Bystanders threw eggs at the prisoners, accusing them and Ukraine’s government of being Nazi-inspired.

In Kyiv, Poroshenko pledged to boost Ukraine’s military spending  by $3 billion in the next three years, saying “It is clear that in the foreseeable future there will unfortunately, always, be the threat of war.” He said: “We not only have to learn to live with that, we must always be prepared to defend our independence.”

Referring to the assertions by the Russian government and its proxy forces that Ukraine suppresses its ethnic Russians and their language and culture, Poroshenko said that language must never be used as an excuse to divide Ukraine.

In Donetsk, the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” separatist fighters, some carrying rifles with bayonets fixed, marched a group of Ukrainian soldiers through the city’s Lenin Square as thousands of onlookers threw tomatoes, eggs and water bottles at them, shouting “Fascists!,”  “Nazis!” and “On your knees!”

Soviet-era songs extolling the World War II victory of the Red Army over the Nazis blared from speakers. The spectacle mimicked a 1944 march by the Soviet Union of some 60,000 German prisoners of war through the streets of Moscow. As in the Moscow parade, the Donetsk separatists underscored their humiliation of their marching prisoners by driving street-cleaning vehicles behind them to symbolically wash the city clean of their presence.

The Donetsk People’s Republic’s recently appointed military commander, Alexander Zakharchenko, declared that Ukraine’s government had planned that “on the Independence Day of Ukraine, they would have a parade. Indeed, they did march in Donetsk, although it wasn’t a parade.”

Human Rights Watch condemned the parade of captured soldiers as a violation of humanitarian law and possibly a war crime. Geneva Convention rules of war prohibit the parading of prisoners.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he did not see any abuse toward the paraded Ukrainian soldiers. “Let the lawyers decide what is considered degrading towards prisoners of war,” he told reporters in Moscow. “I saw pictures of the parade and I did not see anything that even remotely reminded me of abuse.”

The separatist militants also put several fire-blackened, shrapnel-shredded Ukrainian military vehicles on display in Donetsk’s main square, where supporters posed for photos in front of one of the destroyed tanks. One onlooker grabbed a Ukrainian flag from the wreckage of one tank and threw it to the ground. Several others trampled on it, wiping their feet and spitting.

Irena Chalupa covers Ukraine and Eastern Europe for the Atlantic Council.

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Image: Pro-Russian separatist rebels force-march Ukrainian prisoners-of-war along the main street of Donetsk on Aug. 24, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov