Ukraine veterans mark V-Day in downbeat mood

Decorated World War II veterans in Kiev celebrated the anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in muted fashion on Friday, a sharp contrast to patriotic fervour in Moscow.

"The day has been spoiled today. We can't celebrate the victory like we do each year because of the political situation and we will certainly have to fight again in our own country," said veteran Vasyl Kupchenko, resplendent in his sharp blue suit.

This year, like every year, Ukrainians gathered to mark what is known here and in Russia as Victory Day in what they call the "Great Patriotic War" against Nazi Germany.

But unlike past years, authorities stepped up security and banned public demonstrations for fear of "provocation" from pro-Moscow elements amid worries of an invasion by some 40,000 Russian troops on the border.

A low-key ceremony attended by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, several former presidents and a few dozen veterans stood in marked contrast to a display of military might and patriotic sentiment in Moscow and Russian-annexed Crimea.

Despite fears of large-scale provocation, the only reported suspicious incident was a fire overnight at Kiev's television centre that some authorities put down to an act of sabotage.

Yatsenyuk ordered checkpoints to be set up around the capital and the head of Kiev's city council banned large-scale public gatherings or parades.

Clutching flowers handed to them by well-wishers, the group of Ukrainian veterans shuffled off into a public park, some carrying pictures of friends lost at the front, now yellowed with age.

"As former soldiers, who have suffered in war, we are especially affected by the current situation in Ukraine and the loss of Crimea," annexed in March by Russia, said Vasyl Kluy.

Another veteran, breast shining with medals, told AFP with bitterness in his voice that "it is impossible today to celebrate the 1945 victory over Nazi Germany", because the authorities scrapped the traditional parade for fear of violence.

"We haven't had a military march because there are battles in our country and I find that very sad," said the veteran, baring his golden teeth.

But the elderly man, who fought against Hitler's Nazis, rejected the term "fascist" as used by both sides to describe each other in the spiralling conflict in eastern Ukraine that threatens to escalate into civil war.

"We have armed groups but not fascists. It's not fascism in our country, but anarchy," said the man, who did not wish to be named.

"Those fighting in Ukraine are waging war for money. They are prepared to kill for money but that is nothing like the war against fascism," added Kupchenko, leaning pensively on his cane.