Russia marked its annual Victory Day celebration on Friday with an unusually large display of military might on Red Square amid rising tensions over Ukraine that have led to a renewed surge in patriotic feeling.
"It is a holiday when an overwhelming force of patriotism triumphs, when all of us feel particularly acutely what it means to be loyal to the Motherland and how important it is to defend its interests," Russian President Vladimir Putin said, addressing crowds on Red Square, as thousands of troops filed past him to the tunes of patriotic songs.
Putin made no reference to the situation in Ukraine when he opened Friday's parade, focusing instead on the historic importance of the victory over fascism, but this year's parade was larger than it has been in recent years.
Some 150 military vehicles and about 70 combat aircraft took part in the show, an event that gives Moscow the opportunity to show off its military hardware to the world while remembering the victims of World War II and those who defeated Nazi Germany.
The BBC reported that the parade lasted 59 minutes compared to its usual running time of 45 minutes and that there were 50 more military vehicles involved in the procession this year over last.
"The iron will of the Soviet people, their fearlessness and stamina saved Europe from slavery. It was our country which chased the Nazis to their lair, achieved their full and final destruction, won at the cost of millions of victims and terrible hardships," Putin said. "We will always guard this sacred and unfading truth and will not allow the betrayal and obliteration of heroes, of all who, not caring about themselves, preserved peace on the planet."
In Ukraine, there were reports of crowds gathering in Donetsk and in annexed Crimea to mark the occasion. There were also unconfirmed reports of clashes — and deaths — between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces in the eastern port city of Mariupol.
In a separate development, a fire briefly broke out in the vicinity of a main broadcasting tower in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on Friday, disrupting some television services. Kiev's mayor's office said the fire appears to have been the result of a shorting circuit rather than a deliberate act of sabotage, the Interfax news agency reported. That was disputed by Ukraine's security services, who said the fire was an act of sabotage.
Activists in the Russian-speaking east of Ukraine are set to defy this weekend a call by Putin to delay planned referendums on autonomy.
Contributing: Associated Press