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Ukraine veterans march to mark Independence Day

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Kiev (AFP)

Tens of thousands of people, many of them veterans in uniform, joined an unofficial march in Kiev to mark Ukraine's Independence Day on Monday, after the president refused to organise a traditional military parade.

It was the second year in a row that Volodymyr Zelensky, who came to power in 2019 on promises to end the six-year war in the east with Russian-backed separatists, decided not to hold the parade.

The president has said military hardware should be on the frontline, not on display in the capital.

Veterans of the conflict organised a march of their own, walking through the centre of the capital alongside relatives and well-wishers, waving blue and yellow national flags.

The emotionally charged event saw some participants crying and others applauding veterans of the war, which has claimed some 13,000 lives.

Some held up pictures of soldiers from their families killed in the conflict, as the crowd chanted "Thank you!" and "Glory to Ukraine!"

Many marchers not in military uniform wore traditional embroidered shirts, which in recent years have become a patriotic Ukrainian symbol.

"With this march, we are proving that not only the military but all of society values and respects Ukrainian traditions," 60-year-old Vasyl, a camouflage-clad veteran, told AFP.

The march was held despite the coronavirus pandemic, with only some of the participants wearing masks as requested by organisers.

At an official ceremony earlier in the day, Zelensky expressed hope for peace efforts underway to resolve the conflict, promising a military parade "after we return all our people and all our territories".

The day marks the anniversary of the Ukrainian parliament's declaration of independence during the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

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