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September 24, 2017

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Rebels parade captured soldiers on Ukraine independence day

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine paraded dozens of captured soldiers before a jeering crowd on Sunday in mockery of the country's Independence Day celebrations.

In the capital, the Ukrainian government had sought to boost morale and send a defiant message to the rebels with an upbeat military parade to mark the country's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Speaking to a crowd of thousands in the iconic Independence Square, known locally as the Maidan, President Petro Poroshenko decried Russian "aggression" and said he was "convinced that the battle for Ukraine, for independence, will be our success."

But the message was met with ridicule in the eastern rebel stronghold of Donetsk, where around 40 or 50 captured government soldiers were paraded through Lenin Square before a volatile crowd.

Onlookers shouted "Fascists! Fascists!" while others threw garbage and empty bottles at the prisoners, who walked with heads bowed and their hands behind their backs before being placed on two buses and taken to an unknown destination.

In the background were several tanks and artillery guns said to have been captured from the Ukrainian army.

'Return to 1930s'

Ukraine and the West blame Russia for supporting the separatist insurgents still clinging on to territory after four months of fighting in the restive east.

"War has come to us from over the horizon where it was never expected," Poroshenko told the crowd in the Maidan, many of whom sported the blue and yellow national colors and traditional dress.

The president said some of the equipment rolling through Maidan, which included tanks and Grad missile systems — controversial for the indiscriminate damage they have caused in the east — would be sent straight back to the front lines after the display, the first in five years.

"In the 21st century, in the center of Europe, there is a flagrant attempt to breach the border of a sovereign state without declaring war," he said.

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