Donetsk
Armed pro-Russian separatists escort Ukrainian prisoners of war through DonetskMaxim Shemetov/Reuters

Pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk have marched dozens of captured soldiers through the streets in a provocative gesture timed to coincide with Independence Day celebrations taking place in Kiev.

The men, many in military clothing and with hands tied behind their backs, were marched at bayonet-point through hostile streets as crowds called them fascists and threw bottles.

Through a loudspeaker it was alleged that they were "people who were sent to kill us" and some called for the men to be shot.

The prisoners were guarded by pro-Russian rebels with fixed bayonets.

Captured Ukrainian soldiers are marched through Donetsk by pro-Russian rebels. (Reuters Maxim Shemetov)
Captured Ukrainian soldiers are marched through Donetsk by pro-Russian rebels. (Reuters Maxim Shemetov)

Once the men had passed by, tanks sprayed the road with soapy water in order to "cleanse" them – the same stunt used by Stalin when parading German PoWs in World War II. Captured vehicles were also paraded.

Feelings are running particularly high in Donetsk which has been the scene of some of the heaviest fighting over recent months. At least 2,000 people are believed to have died since pro-Russian forces took up arms in a bid to gain independence from Kiev.

The scenes in Donetsk were in stark contrast to ones 370 miles west in Kiev, where the Independence Day parades were taking place in front of Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, who called for unity and resolve. He promised a $3bn (£1.8bn, €2.3) investment in military hardware over the next two years.

Poroshenko
Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko and the supreme command staff marking Independence Day in KievSergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

"The events of the last months have for us turned into a real war, albeit an undeclared one," said Poroshenko. "The world seems to be back in the thirties of the last century, on the eve of the World War Two.

Next week will mark 75 years since that war began. The centenary of the First World was than a month ago. Other wars must not be allowed."

Speaking of the parading of prisoners in Donetsk – which is against Article 13 of the Geneva Convention – a defence ministry spokesman said: "The organisers of this disgusting event cannot be considered human."

The parades to celebrate the country's independence from Russia are the first since 2009 when former President Viktor Yanukovych abolished them, and come a day after German chancellor Angela Merkel visited Kiev to meet Poroshenko.

On Tuesday, Russian president Vladimir Putin is due to meet Poroshenko, for talks on the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, where fierce fighting continues around Donetsk.

Earlier in the day, shells hit the grounds of one of Donetsk's biggest hospitals. Kiev denies targeting civilian buildings.