Ukrainians and Russians clash at war memorial

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Several dozen Ukrainian nationalists clashed Monday with pro-Russian demonstrators as the divided former Soviet republic marked the 66th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The violence in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv -- a nationalist stronghold with limited ties to Moscow -- underscored the disputed legacy the war has left on much of Ukraine.

The predominantly pro-Russian east of Ukraine views the Communist Red Army as the saviours of Eastern Europe and celebrates Victory Day along with the rest of Russia.

But western Ukraine has historic ties to Poland and some in the region collaborated with the Nazis against the Soviets, whom they viewed as the more dangerous of the two occupation forces.

An AFP reporter said Monday's first street battles in Lviv erupted when pro-Russian demonstrators tried to place a 30-metre (100 foot) banner at the foot of the city's main monument to the Soviet forces.

More than a dozen Ukrainian nationalists tried to break through police lines and rip the banner apart, also trying to topple a bus with a group of Russian nationalists inside.

The resulting scuffles left one member of western Ukraine's Svoboda (Freedom) movement hospitalised, with several others also injured in the violence, an AFP correspondent said.

Other members of Svoboda desecrated a wreath laid at the war memorial by Russian officials, prompting a stiff rebuke from Moscow's consul general in Lviv.

"Russia and the entire civilised world are commemorating victory day, and here, people are dancing on graves," Russian news agencies quoted Consul General Oleg Astakhov as saying.

"This is an affront to those who rest here and who gave up their lives," he said.

The ethnic split in Ukraine has carried over to the republic's politics, with most in the west supporting the Orange Revolution that brought a pro-Western government to power in January 2005.

Current President Viktor Yanukovych enjoys warmer relations with Moscow and has stronger support in the east.

© 2011 AFP

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