DONETSK, Ukraine — On a day when Ukrainians celebrated their independence from the Soviet Union with parades and speeches, pro-Russia separatists in the eastern part of the country staged a grim counter-spectacle: a parade that mocked the national army and celebrated the deaths and imprisonment of its soldiers.
Leading the procession was an attractive young blond woman carrying an assault rifle, followed by several dozen captured Ukrainian soldiers, filthy, bruised and unkempt, their heads shaved, wearing fetid camouflage uniforms and looking down at their feet.
Onlookers shouted that the men should be shot, and pelted the prisoners with empty beer bottles, eggs and tomatoes as they stumbled down Artyomovsk Street, Donetsk's main thoroughfare. Behind the prisoners were two tanker trucks spraying soapy water, demonstratively cleaning the pavement where the Ukrainian soldiers had passed.
People in the crowd shouted "fascists!" and "perverts!" and separatists held back a man who tried to punch a prisoner.
The Geneva Conventions' rules for treating prisoners of war prohibit parading them in public, but the treatment of the wounded, disheveled prisoners seemed to offend few of those watching, who in any case had turned out for the promise of seeing a ghoulish spectacle.
"Shoot them!" one woman yelled.
The anti-Independence Day parade staged by the main rebel group in eastern Ukraine, the Donetsk People's Republic, was one of its most provocative public affronts to the Ukrainian government in the conflict to date. It contrasted sharply with the traditional military parade in Kiev, the national capital, where soldiers of the national army crisply saluted President Petro Poroshenko and crowds of cheering citizens Sunday.
Poroshenko plans to meet with President Vladimir Putin of Russia for peace talks in Belarus on Tuesday, yet he warned in his speech of a long struggle ahead against "insidious treachery." Both leaders face strong pressure from domestic nationalists not to make concessions.
The government in Kiev and its Western supporters say the rebels are encouraged, financed and armed by Russia, and there have been repeated sightings of military hardware and fighters passing into Ukraine from Russia. Even so, Moscow denies playing any role in the conflict.
"The events of the last months have pushed us into a real war, albeit an undeclared one," Poroshenko said in the speech commemorating Ukraine's emergence from the Soviet Union. "Over the last six months, a new Ukrainian army has been born in heavy and exhausting fighting."