Ukraine president Poroshenko rallies thousands against Russia in 'battle for Ukraine'

Ukraine president Poroshenko rallies thousands against Russia in 'battle for Ukraine'
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the supreme command staff sing the national anthem during a military parade marking the 23rd anniversary of Ukraine's independence in the center of Kiev on Aug 24, 2014.

KIEV - Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko on Sunday 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," Mr 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."

Mr Poroshenko pledged to allocate 40 billion hryvnias (S$3.73 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 is a demonstration of the unity and independence of Ukraine," said Mr Oleksandr Kaplya, a Ukrainian flag peeking out of his shirt pocket. "We want to show the world that we are one."

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.

"In wartime there were always parades... We need this to lift our military morale," said Mr Roman Kovalchuk, who had travelled to the capital with his wife and friends from southern Ukraine for the occasion.

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