Military hardware in Kyiv's downtown on 24 August 2016. Photo: Olena Makarenko
In the morning of August 24, Ukraine started celebrations of the 25th anniversary of its Independence by a military parade in the center of Kyiv. Reportedly, this parade is the largest in the whole history of independent Ukraine. Around 4,000 soldiers and 200 units of military hardware took part. However, the event elicited a mixed response from Ukrainian society. Over the third year in a row, Ukrainians discuss whether there should be a parade while there is de-facto war in the Donbas, and what format the events on the Independence Day should have.
At the parade, President Petro Poroshenko emphasized that Ukraine chose the path of democracy, freedom and European integration and that this is irreversible. He said that the army has undergone fundamental changes. Over 2014-2016, almost 300,000 went to the front in Donbas – first, volunteers, then those that were mobilized, then contract soldiers. A professional army of contract soldiers is the Army’s priority now, Poroshenko stressed. Each month at least 6 thousand contract soldiers join the armed forces. 46 thousand joined the army from January 2016, and at least 20 thousand are awaited till the end of the year. As of today, 75% of the Ukrainian army is made up of contract soldiers, and 80,000 of men and women make up the reserve (full transcript of the speech is available at his official website).
After Poroshenko’s words, the ceremony of disposal of battle flags and the march of the military men started. The parade was attended by the military marines, airborne troops, the forces of the special operations and fighters from the National Guard, border patrols, police and military cadets.
Representatives of the armies of Poland and Lithuania, which are the part of the joint Ukrainin-Polish-Lithuanian brigade, were present among the participants.
The honored veterans of the war in the Donbas were also present at the parade.
The hardware came next. The Ukrainian armored personnel carrier “Dozor-B” and BMP-2 were among the new items.
The others have been in service for many years. Let’s take a look at them.
Not everybody was happy with the parade
For the residents of Ukraine’ capital, the parade started a few days before the Independence Day. Rehearsals took place day and night, transport routes were changed, the city center was blocked.
The parade was preceded by heated discussions about whether it should be held in the first place.
Its opponents argued that the military hardware should be at the frontline and not in Kyiv’s downtown. Probably these arguments stem from the sad experience of the military parade of 2014, the first one from the start of the war in the Donbas. Then, Head of the General Staff Viktor Muzhenko attended the parade in Kyiv. However, while he received awards and the hardware drove across the center street of Kyiv, Ukrainian soldiers, a large part of whom were part of volunteer battalions, died in the so-called “Ilovaisk boiler” organized by Russian soldiers. The hardware and military command were needed there more than in Kyiv.
Now, it is fair to say that the hardware presented at this year parade can’t go to Donbas. According to the Minsk Agreements, it is not allowed.
Other arguments against the parade were its high cost (around UAH 10 mn, or $770,000), the contribution it would make toward hiding military losses and mistakes, the roads it would spoil, and last but not least – the way it resembles the Soviet traditions of conducting parades.
The supporters of the parade, in their turn, emphasized how important it was to raise the confidence and spirit of ordinary Ukrainians who are in need of victories, to show unity and the positive changes between Ukraine as it was two years ago and how it is now.
It seems that the last argument was the most convincing one. Vitaliy Deineha, a prominent military volunteer working to supply Ukraine’s underfunded army, wrote his impressions about the parade afterward:
“I had a strange feeling at the parade. Tens of people who came to our office, or with whom we met at the frontline, were walking or driving across the central street of the country, were awarded with received military colors and stars of heroes. There were a lot of those whom we know and those who know us. The feeling of family. Like all the normal people were gathered in one place and our country moved towards a bright future, where there are no indifferent eyes and ‘somebody else’s sorrow,’ where everybody is for one and one is for everybody,” wrote Deynega at his facebook page.