Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has decried Russian “aggression” as Kiev staged a symbolic Independence Day parade while battling pro-Moscow rebels in the east of the country.
Army cadets and military hardware crossed Kiev’s Maidan, or Independence Square, as thousands rallied in an emotional show of strength aimed at boosting morale in the strife-torn nation.
Crowds of Ukrainians, many sporting the national colours of blue and yellow, sang the ex-Soviets state’s anthem as the flag was raised.
“I am convinced that the battle for Ukraine, for independence, will be our success,” Poroshenko told the crowds in a speech ahead of the parade.
“War has come to us from over the horizon where it was never expected,” he said, referring to Russia.
“In the 21st century, in the centre of Europe, there is a flagrant attempt to breach the border of a sovereign state without declaring war,” he said. “It is as if the world has returned to the 1930s, the eve of World War II.”
Poroshenko pledged to allocate 40 billion hryvnias ($A3.25 billion) to its cash-strapped army over the next three years in what he called “only the modest beginning” in the rebirth of the Ukrainian military.
The money will be used to purchase warplanes, warships and helicopters, he said.
Crowds, many people wearing traditional embroidered shirts or flower wreaths, densely packed the Maidan and surrounding streets for the first time since the pro-European rallies in the winter that eventually toppled former leader Viktor Yanukovych.
It was the first military parade in Kiev in five years, and some said it helped boost the nation’s spirits as the Ukrainian army is engaged in a bloody conflict in the east of the country.
But while Kiev was gripped by patriotic fervour, fierce clashes continued to ravage the industrial east with mortar fire hitting a hospital in the main rebel hub of Donetsk.
The city of a million people before the conflict tore through it, has increasingly seen fighting in the streets. On Saturday shelling attacks killed six civilians in residential neighbourhoods, including a child.
Kiev’s conflict with the pro-Russian rebels in the separatist regions of Lugansk and Donetsk has claimed more than 2,200 lives since April, and increasingly moved into populated areas in recent weeks as the army surrounds separatist strongholds.
Poroshenko is under pressure ahead of a meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and EU officials in Minsk on Tuesday, where the two are expected to try to take a step toward resolving the bloody conflict.
Earlier this week Moscow set off alarm bells by driving in a convoy of more than 200 trucks in a unilateral aid mission to war-torn Lugansk, where people had been without power or communication for three weeks.