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Rebels parade captured soldiers

Pro-Russian insurgents on Sunday paraded captured Ukrainian soldiers through the streets of the rebel stronghold Donetsk as bystanders shouted abusive slurs and tossed eggs, bottles, and tomatoes at them.

The display came as President Petro Poroshenko vowed to raise defence spending to defeat the rebels during an ostentatious procession of tanks and weaponry through downtown Kyiv, meant to mark Ukraine's 23rd anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union.

The developments underscore the increasing divisions in Ukraine as it gears up for what could be many more months of conflict. While support and mobilization for Kyiv's campaign against the separatists has only grown in many parts of the country, resentments fester in much of the east, where civilian casualties and shelling have become a part of daily life.

Several thousand onlookers had gathered in the main square of Donetsk and shouted obscenities at the dozens of captives, some in Ukrainian military garb and some in tattered civilian clothing, that were forced to march past them. They were flanked by armed rebels bearing bayoneted rifles.

One visibly agitated man yelled atrocities as he held an infant in one arm. A woman shouted "Hang the fascists from a tree!" Other women rushed at the prisoners, trying to kick and slap them, and were restrained by rebel fighters.

Two water trucks followed the prisoners and hosed down the road, an image meant to evoke historical parallels with an event in Moscow in 1944, when Red Army soldiers paraded tens of thousands of German prisoners of war through the streets.

"Kyiv 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," top rebel commander Alexander Zakharchenko said. "Soldiers of the armed forces of Kyiv walked along the main streets of Donetsk. What Poroshenko planned has taken place."

The rebels also placed several fire-blackened, shrapnel-shredded Ukrainian military vehicles in Donetsk's main square. Russian nationalist songs blasted from speakers as supporters posed for photos in front of a destroyed tank. The crowd appeared on edge, as dozens of fighters gathered in formation but quickly dispersed when artillery fire sounded in the distance.

The Canadian Press

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