Donetsk (Ukraine) (AFP) - More than 10,000 people waving Russian flags and carrying portraits of Stalin watched tanks roll through Ukraine's de facto rebel capital Donetsk on Tuesday in celebration of the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany.
The display of military might used by the Moscow-backed insurgents in their three-year conflict against government forces violated the terms of a long-ignored 2015 peace deal.
Donetsk straddles a demarcation line in the industrial east of Ukraine from which the big guns from both sides were meant to have been withdrawn almost two years ago.
An AFP reporter counted 45 pieces of heavy military equipment -- ranging from a lone World War II-era tank to its modern versions used in the current war as well as rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns -- rumble through the city's main street.
Donetsk separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko led a march of about 1,000 fighters who held up a long banner painted the black and orange colours of Russia's patriotic Saint George's ribbon.
Others carried portraits of warlords killed since Europe's only war broke out in April 2014 and claimed more than 10,000 lives.
Zakharchenko told the crowd that May 9 "is the holiest day for us all".
- 'Immortal regiment' -
The other side of the frontline saw Ukrainian authorities join European nations in marking the end of World War II on May 8, 1945.
The decision was meant to underscore Ukraine's split from Russia and its embrace of the West after the 2014 pro-EU revolution.
"We will no longer celebrate this holiday along the Russian scenario," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told a group of soldiers.
But Kiev police said 3,000 people carrying photographs of relatives who fought in what the Soviet Union called "The Great Patriotic War" still marched through the Ukrainian capital on Tuesday.
Participants of the so-called Immortal Regiment march that was first staged in Russia in 2012 were confronted by a small group of nationalists who pelted them with several smoke bombs before being restrained by police.
"This march is being staged in Kiev so that it can be shown on Kremlin TV," right-wing protester Oleksandra Podkopayeva told AFP
Ukrainian media reported that a small fight broke out between the Kiev marchers and their nationalist foes near the Eternal Flame monument honouring fallen soldiers.
The atmosphere was calmer on Donetsk's central Lenin Square.
Entire families watched the hardware roll by and cheered. Some parents dressed up their children in military fatigues.
Lenin Square itself was adorned by a 1960s military jet trainer used during the Cold War by nations in central and eastern Europe that were under the Kremlin's thumb.
A student came to the rebel parade with a Russian Saint George's ribbon pinned to his shirt and a bouquet of flowers.
"I want to see the day when, at the end of our own war, we also get a chance to celebrate Victory Day," the 20-year-old told AFP.
"Our war is almost as long as the Great Patriotic War. It is time to finish it already."