Separatist conflict colours Ukraine's war anniversary events

Separatist conflict colours Ukraine's war anniversary events

LVIV, Ukraine - Of all the medals on his military tunic, it is the one marking his role in the UPA Ukrainian nationalist resistance fighting Nazis, Poles and Soviets in the war that ended 70 years ago on Saturday that gives Vasyl Chelepys the most pride.

Gaunt and white-haired, he is now 92 and loses himself in memories of combat, arrest, comrades executed, a commuted death sentence and years in a Soviet labour camp in the Arctic circle.

It was a time of tangled loyalties in western Ukraine, but now, as then, he regards the main adversary as Russia, a feeling the Ukrainian government is tapping into as the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two approaches.

Chelepys is one of many Ukrainians who, with government encouragement, view the event as bitter-sweet, Russian-backed separatism in east Ukraine eclipsing any sense of past triumph over Nazi tyranny.

"It's an undeclared war. Why did they come here?," Chelepys asks of Russians fighting with Russian-speaking Ukrainians against the military, describing President Vladimir Putin's Russia as "aggressive, without logic and without morality."

With Ukrainian servicemen dying almost daily despite a ceasefire, Kiev's pro-Western government is using the anniversary to highlight Russian belligerence.

Public-service advertisements make a direct link between the patriotic valour of World War Two and the sacrifices in today's fight against separatists, a conflict that has already killed more than 6,100 people.

In one, a young soldier says he has his grandfather's wartime Soviet Order of the Red Star in a pocket over his heart before strapping on his helmet to go and join his combat unit.

Spurning what is expected to be a display of military swagger in Moscow on Saturday, Kiev plans to put the accent at home on reconciliation rather than triumphalism and victory.

But some Ukrainians fear associating the struggle in World War Two with today's struggle against Russia will deepen splits in a politically divided population and hand propaganda gifts to Moscow, which equates Kiev with treachery and fascism.

BREAK WITH PAST

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk accuses Russia, which suffered huge wartime losses, of monopolising credit for the defeat of Nazi Germany, and reminds Ukrainians of their own country's sacrifices including 8 million dead.

He has ditched the Soviet-centric title of "Great Patriotic War" in favour of "World War Two" used in most of Europe, part of a national rebirth by the pro-Western authorities following the ousting of the Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich last year.

His government says the anniversary weekend may be a pretext for attacks by separatists or Russian agents in Kiev and other cities - and is drafting in tens of thousands of extra police.

Most TV channels in Kiev on Thursday broadcast 1939 as the start of World War Two, a break with the traditional Soviet start date of 1941 when Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union despite an earlier deal to split eastern Europe between them.

In another break with the past, several newscasters wore poppies as a European symbol to remember the war dead.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, like US and European leaders, is steering clear of Moscow's May 9 spectacle and has made May 8 a day of reconciliation to try to unite Ukrainians with different views of World War Two against Russia.

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