Thousands of Kyiv residents thronged the Ukrainian capital's central Khreshchatik street on Saturday as decorated World War II veterans marched solemnly to mark the anniversary of their victory over the Nazis. 'Thank you, thank you!' people shouted to the veterans, many of whom walked slowly and with difficulty, at times supported by their children and grandchildren. Training planes flew overhead and orchestras played as Ukraine recalled the war that ended 53 years ago. As many as 27 million Soviets have died in the war, millions of them in Ukraine.
'The people of free and independent Ukraine, with deep gratitude and sorrow, are bowing to those who brought this day closer and the memory of those who did not return from this cruel war,' Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk said in an order marking Victory Day.
The veterans' parade - its ranks dwindling with every passing year - was followed by a sports event. The army brought field kitchens to distribute free food. President Leonid Kuchma and other Ukrainian leaders laid a wreath at the Tomb of Unknown Soldier in Kyiv. Other ceremonies, including fireworks in the evening, were scheduled across the country.
In a radio address to the nation, Kuchma praised Ukraine's policy of neutrality, pledging 'not to allow a postman with a death notice to come to any home.'
'Our country has made the safeguarding and strengthening of peace one of its key goals, and we are following this course in our internal and foreign policy consistently and without deviation,' Kuchma said.
Ukrainian Communists and other hard-liners, including the Officers' Union and its visiting Russian leader Stanislav Terekhov, marked the day by laying wreaths at a monument to Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik leader of the 1917 revolution.
Hundreds of them later marched down Khreshchatik, waving red banners of the bygone Soviet Union and holding portraits of dictator Josef Stalin and an assortment of placards.
'Kuchma, get out of Ukraine! Long live the Soviet Union,' chanted the hard-liners.
Several placards denounced the current board meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Kyiv, while activists shouted through loudspeakers that the EBRD was out to enslave Ukraine. 'Bankers, remember October 1917!' one placard warned.
'Get back to Moscow!' some onlookers shouted back. 'Who invited you here?'
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