Ukraine rebels parade captured soldiers
Dozens of soldiers paraded before a jeering crowd in eastern Donetsk, as Kiev celebrated Independence Day.
Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine have paraded dozens of captured Ukrainian soldiers before a jeering crowd, in mockery of Independence Day celebrations in the capital.
Thousands gathered in Donetsk’s main square on Sunday as separatists paraded captured government soldiers through the city’s central Lenin Square, as onlookers hurled garbage and empty bottles at them.
To shouts of “fascists!” and “hang them from a tree!” between 40 and 50 bruised and filthy Ukrainian soldiers were forced to march, hands bound, surrounded by the rebels.
Two water trucks followed the captives, hosing down the road in a move apparently meant to cleanse the pavement where the Ukrainian soldiers had passed.
In a stark display of the growing divisions between the east and west, the top rebel commander, Alexander Zakharchenko, sent a mocking message to the Ukrainian government.
“Kiev said that on the 24th, on the Independence Day of Ukraine, they would have a parade. Indeed, they did march in Donetsk, although it wasn’t a parade.”
Human Rights Watch slammed the provacation, saying it was a “humiliating and degrading treatment” of prisoners and was therefore in breach of the Geneva Convention.
In Kiev, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko addressed a highly militarised independence rally and vowed to defeat the rebels.
Promising to safeguard Ukraine’s border with Russia by sharply raising defence spending, Poroshenko warned that Ukraine had too often been caught by surprise from eastern invasions.
The embattled leader said he would raise military spending by $3bn for the coming three years, an effective 50 percent increase from current budget targets.
“We must always be prepared to defend our independence,” he said.
Ukrainian military leaders have pleaded for extra resources as they face a potentially protracted fight against the separatists.
In recent weeks, Kiev’s troops have scored heavy gains in territory and encircled the east’s regional capitals of Luhansk and Donetsk.
However a spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security Council told journalists on Sunday that 722 members of Ukraine’s armed forces had died in the fighting, with five killed and eight wounded in the past day alone.
The United Nations estimates that more than 2,000 civilians have been killed in the fighting since April, a toll that rises almost daily.
Since the hostilities started, an estimated 300,000 of Donetsk’s population of 1 million have fled the fighting, and many of those who remain have gone weeks without electricity or running water, and have spent recent days staked out in bomb shelters.