- Title: UKRAINE: Russian navy in Ukraine celebrates new lease of life on Victory Day
- Date: 10th May 2010
- Summary: CHILDREN WITH FLAGS NEAR MONUMENT TO RUSSIAN NAVY ADMIRAL NAKHIMOV
- Embargoed: 25th May 2010 13:00
- Location: Ukraine
- Country: Ukraine
- Topics: History,Defence / Military
- Reuters ID: LVA4WTOMDMK1SK2U4O9SM69GQ0W2
- Story Text: World War II Veterans joined sailors of the Ukrainian and Russian navies in the Crimean port of Sevastopol on Sunday (May 9) for a Victory Day celebration that marked a new lease of life for Russia's Black Sea fleet.
Thousands of balloon-waving Russian-speaking Ukrainians, their ranks swelled by Russian holidaymakers, turned out in bright sunshine for a festival to mark 65 years since the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany.
It climaxed with the big guns of the Russian fleet booming a salute across Sevastopol Bay. Veterans wearing medals marched slowly in the bright sunshine, hemmed in by pennant-waving crowds.
About 850 sailors took part in the parade in which Ukrainian and Russian sailors marched together in keeping with tradition.
All were aware that the occasion not only marked the end of World War II but also the extension of the Russian Black Sea fleet's stay in Ukraine until 2042 -- a move which has split Ukrainian public opinion.
The concession to Russia by President Viktor Yanukovich in exchange for cheaper gas has opened up a debate about Ukraine's independence and the dangers of a too-close relationship with its old Soviet master.
It has also invigorated a political opposition which is now threatening disturbances in the capital Kiev next week.
But here in Sevastopol, a predominantly Russian-speaking port, whose citizens show little patience with the policies of the capital, the emphasis on Sunday was on the city's Russian past and the role it played in the Soviet war victory.
Founded in 1784 by Empress Catherine the Great, Sevastopol has been home to Russia's Black Sea fleet since then. The whole Crimean region remained part of Russia until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine, then in the Soviet Union, in the 1950s.
Even after Ukraine gained independence in 1991, Russia's navy stayed on -- an anomaly from the Soviet past -- supported by a local population which is strongly Russian-leaning in outlook.
On Sunday, two of the fleet's complement, a frigate "Smetlivy" and an anti-submarine vessel "Kerch" lay at anchor in Sevastopol Bay alongside Ukrainian naval ships.
"Sevastopol is frankly speaking a Russian city. Perhaps on at one time it seemed that Russia had dumped us, but now I am really pleased we are getting closer," said Marina, 39, a manager of a private company.
Vuyacheslav Ditkov, a 60-year-old pensioner, agreed: "It's hard to imagine Sevastopol without Black Sea fleet. It is impossible. Sevastopol was founded as a Black Sea naval base. I think it has become like a tradition."
But even in Sevastopol there were signs of dissent.
"We know that Russia is fighting wars in the Caucasus and every military official will tell you that before you destroy the enemy you should destroy his military bases. Because the military base is in Sevastopol then the enemy would attack Sevastopol without thinking which nations live here, who belongs to military and who are civilians," said Bohdan Moroz, chairman of the Congress of Ukrainians of Sevastopol.
The atmosphere was heavily redolent of the Soviet past. On Sevastopol's Nakhimov square a huge screen projected black and white footage from 1940s newsreel of the Soviet victory.
Military brass bands around the city on several occasions struck up with the old Soviet national anthem and red flags, bearing the hammer and sickle emblem of the Soviet Union, fluttered along the parade route taken by naval veterans.
Ukraine suffered huge wartime losses, estimated at 8 million dead or more. Wartime alliances there were confusing, leaving Kiev's attitude towards the war more nuanced than Russia's.
Nationalists in western Ukraine flocked to join nationalist insurgent armies after being victimised first under Polish rule after World War One and then by the NKVD secret police when the Soviet Union seized the region under the 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact.
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