The hammer and sickle and portraits of Lenin and Stalin were paraded through Russian streets to mark Defender of the Fatherland Day. Previously known as Red Army Day or Soviet Army and Navy Day, it honours the nation's military achievements and its veterans.

Defender of the Fatherland Day
A woman holds portraits of Soviet state leaders Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin during a procession to mark the Defender of the Fatherland Day in MoscowMaxim Zmeyev/Reuters

It is a national holiday in Russia and several former republics of the Soviet Union – but not in Ukraine. However, rallies celebrating the strength of Russia's military were held on Monday 23 February in Crimea and the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic.

In Donetsk, thousands of armed pro-Russian separatists staged a show of strength at a rally to mark the Soviet-era holiday at Lenin square. A youth rally was held alongside Russian warships in Sevastopol, the main port of annexed Crimea.

Defender of the Fatherland Day
Pro-Russian separatists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic attend a rally to mark Defender of the Fatherland day, a Soviet-era holiday, at Lenin square in DonetskVasily Maximov/AFP
Defender of the Fatherland Day
Sergei Aksyonov, Prime Minister of the Republic of Crimea, holds a model of AK-47 automatic rifle during the celebration of Defender of the Fatherland Day in SimferopolMax Vetrov/AFP
Defender of the Fatherland Day
People take part in celebrations for the Defender of the Fatherland Day, as Russian warships are seen in the background, in Sevastopol, CrimeaPavel Rebrov/Reuters
Defender of the Fatherland Day
Children salute onboard a Russian warship during celebrations for the Defender of the Fatherland Day in Sevastopol, CrimeaPavel Rebrov/Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin in Moscow.

Muscovites nostalgic for life under the USSR paraded with Soviet-era symbols and Donetsk People's Republic flags.

Defender of the Fatherland Day
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a wreath-laying ceremony to mark the Defender of the Fatherland Day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in MoscowSergei Karpukhin/Reuters
Defender of the Fatherland Day
Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP
Defender of the Fatherland Day
Supporters of the Russian Communist party take part in a procession to mark the Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow. The words on the model of a missile read "Privately to Obama (Rashkin)".Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters
Defender of the Fatherland Day
A Russian Communist party supporter holds the flag of the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Donetsk, as another holds a portrait of former Soviet leader Joseph StalinKirill Kudryavtsev/AFP
Defender of the Fatherland Day
Russian Navy sailors participate in a tug-of-war competition during celebrations for the Defender of the Fatherland Day in the far eastern city of VladivostokYuri Maltsev/Reuters
Defender of the Fatherland Day
Athlete and powerlifter Ivan Savkin pulls an armoured vehicle weighing about 17 tons, during celebrations for the Defender of the Fatherland Day in VladivostokYuri Maltsev/Reuters

The celebrations were held on the day Ukraine's military said it could not start withdrawing heavy weapons from the front line in the east as required under a tenuous ceasefire because pro-Russian separatists who advanced last week were still attacking its positions.

A few days earlier, in an address dedicated to Defenders of the Fatherland Day, Putin was quoted as saying: "No one should have the illusion that they can gain military superiority over Russia, put any kind of pressure on it. We will always have an adequate answer for any such adventures."