In The Midst Of War, Ukraine Marks Its Independence

Ukraine marks 23 years of independence from the former Soviet Union on Sunday, but with a war going on in the east, there seems to be little for Ukrainians to celebrate.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Ukraine is marking its 23rd Independence Day since the collapse of the Soviet Union. There are military parades going on and ceremonies - the first since 2009.

(SOUNDBITE OF CEREMONY)

WERTHEIMER: In Kiev, dozens of tanks, armored personnel carriers and heavy army trucks carrying missiles and other weapons drove past cheering crowds. President Petro Poroshenko told the crowd that a constant military threat will hang over Ukraine for the foreseeable future. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Kiev. Soraya, good morning.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Why is this military parade significant?

NELSON: Well, these vehicles and weapons systems are newly purchased or refurbished, and they are supposed to be a show of strength aimed at restoring Ukrainian faith in their military which is very much known to be poorly equipped and broke. The President Petro Poroshenko also announced $3 billion are going to be spent on re-equipping the army over the next few years to protect against that constant threat you spoke about. And it's also important to note that these vehicles and weapons systems, right after this parade, are said to be heading east to join the military operation that's going on there.

WERTHEIMER: How are the pro-Russian separatists marking the day?

NELSON: Well, they're holding their own parade. I mean, they don't recognize this Independence Day. They obviously are pro-Russian, as you mentioned. And they're going to be doing a parade that features confiscated weapon systems and vehicles as well as captured soldiers. They're going to be going down the main boulevards of Donetsk where there's also heavy shelling being reported at the moment.

WERTHEIMER: Soraya, the humanitarian situation is reported to be dire in Donetsk and more so in the other regional capital, Luhansk. That's where that controversial Russian aid convoy went on Friday night. What are you hearing?

NELSON: The latest on that convoy is that it dropped off whatever it had and then returned to Russian - some 187 trucks according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe which has sort of been serving as the independent observer team for what's going on here.

The Ukrainian military was claiming that some of those trucks were used to steal equipment from two military weapons factories in eastern Ukraine. But some of the trucks that were seen by an Associated Press reporter who was able to look in the back, he said they were empty.

WERTHEIMER: The German Chancellor was in Kiev yesterday and announced an aid package for the war-torn east. Could you tell us about that?

NELSON: Yeah. Well, it's interesting. The Ukrainian president called it the Merkel plan, sort of playing off the Marshall plan, which of course was a large investment that went into post-World War II Europe. Chancellor Merkel announced that European donors will be providing about $750 million to replace or repair schools as well as power and water networks that have been damaged in this war. And there's supposed to be another $25 million to help the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who have been displaced because of the fighting. And they can't return home.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reporting from Kiev. Thank you, Soraya.

NELSON: You're welcome, Linda.

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