Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has announced that he will cancel the country’s tradition of holding a military parade on Independence Day on August 24. Instead, the money will be spent on bonuses to Ukrainian soldiers.

In a July 9 video message published on social media, Zelensky termed the traditional parade “grandiose and clearly not inexpensive.”

“It seems to me that, this year, instead of a parade it’s better to allocate that money for our heroes,” he said.

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Zelensky said that the Ukrainian government would spend Hr 300 million ($11.7 million) on bonuses for Ukrainian servicepeople, both those serving in Donbas and those farther from the frontline.

Zelensky said that Independence Day celebrations will take place, but in a “new format.” 

Before his election as the president of Ukraine in April, Zelensky established himself as a television producer of entertainment shows and a comedic actor. 

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The Independence Day military parade has not always been a tradition in Ukraine. It was held for the first time in 1994 under the presidency of Leonid Kuchma. In the following years, parades were held irregularly or without military equipment. When ex-President Viktor Yanukovych came to power, he canceled the parades entirely. 

It was ex-President Petro Poroshenko who turned the Independence Day parade into a massive annual show. After Russia invaded the eastern Donbas region in 2014, the parade took on a new meaning. It became an occasion to showcase the country’s military power, to commemorate soldiers killed in action, to give awards to heroes, and for the president to address the nation with a patriotic speech. 

Over the past five years, Ukraine’s allies have sent high-level officials to attend the parade and soldiers from allied countries have marched along with Ukrainian servicepeople.

Last year’s Independence Day saw a record number of 4,500 troops marching down Kyiv’s central Khreshchatyk Street. For the first time, servicewomen also took part in the parade. 

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Around 250 military vehicles drove down the avenue, including Javelin missile system received from the United States earlier that year. 

However, the cost of the grand military show has always been concealed. In 2014, the last time Ukraine’s defense ministry reported on the parade’s cost, it amounted to Hr 80 million. 

Zelensky’s announcement comes just days after the United States held a parade featuring military vehicles in Washington, DC to mark American Independence Day.

That celebration was criticized as a show of military force more common in authoritarian states.

On July 2, Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, wrote on Twitter that the sight of tanks being towed into Washington reminded him of “parades I used to attend in the Soviet Union. Not the right look for the 4th.”

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