Ukraine rebels celebrate second 'independence day'
Pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine's eastern separatist region of Donetsk on Wednesday marked the second anniversary of their self-proclaimed independence with a mass parade and calls to one day join Russia.
Leaders of the "Donetsk People's Republic" staged a self-rule referendum in parts of Ukraine's industrial east under their control that was allegedly supported by 90 percent of the voters.
The unmonitored poll was branded a "farce" by the pro-Western leadership in Kiev and treated cautiously by Russia itself.
The Kremlin said it recognised the wishes of those who wanted to split away from Ukraine but never formally recognised their independence.
Parts of Donetsk and the smaller neighbouring province of Lugansk revolted less than a month after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in March 2014.
The fighting has killed more than 9,300 people and forced Russia to deny accusations by Kiev and its Western allies of plotting and supporting the war in reprisal for the February 2014 ouster of Ukraine's Moscow-backed president.
Donetsk's "Day of the Republic" featured a parade of more than 10,000 people who waved local flags as well as those of Russia and two separatist regions of ex-Soviet Georgia whose independence is recognised by Moscow and a handful of its allies.
But one Donetsk coal miner said that many of those in attendance on Wednesday had been ordered to show up by the separatist authorities.
"We were told we would have a day off at our mine and required to attend the parade whether we wanted to or not", the 47-year-old told AFP on condition that he only be identified as Vladimir.
"No one refused. Everyone understood that they had no choice."
Some of the marchers wore t-shirts with portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin and shouted Soviet-era slogans such as "Comrades, hurray!"
"It has been two years since the referendum, but I still expect that we will one day join Russia, just as Crimea did", said a 32-year-old driver named Sergey.
"The Soviet Union needs to be restored," he added while holding a Russian flag.
© 2016 AFP