Russian President Vladimir Putin flew in to Crimea on Friday for parades marking the Soviet victory in World War Two, his first visit since annexing the peninsula from Ukraine, Reuters reported.
In east Ukraine, where pro-Moscow rebels plan a referendum on Sunday to follow Crimea in breaking from Kiev, up to eight people were reported killed in the port of Mariupol, one of the bloodiest clashes yet between Ukrainian forces and separatists.
The head of NATO, locked in its gravest confrontation with Russia since the Cold War, condemned Putin's visit to Crimea, whose annexation in March has not been recognized by the Western powers. He also renewed doubts over an assurance by the Kremlin leader that he had pulled back troops from the Ukrainian border.
The government in Kiev called Putin's visit a "provocation" that was intended deliberately to escalate the crisis.
Earlier on Friday, Putin presided over the biggest Victory Day parade in Moscow for years. The passing tanks, aircraft and intercontinental ballistic missiles were a reminder to the world - and Russian voters - of Putin's determination to revive Moscow's global power, 23 years after the Soviet collapse.
"The iron will of the Soviet people, their fearlessness and stamina saved Europe from slavery," Putin said in a speech to the military and war veterans gathered on Red Square.
In Sevastopol, where Russia's Black Sea Fleet previously had to lease its base from Ukraine, servicemen and veterans marched in a parade before Putin's arrival that also included armored vehicles and anti-aircraft missiles. Banners read "Sevastopol without Fascists" and "It's our duty to remember".
Several killed in heavy fighting in Mariupol
Meanwhile, fighting broke out Friday in Ukraine's southeastern port city of Mariupol, causing casualties, according to reports by Ukrainian and Russian media.
An online Ukrainian news website, Insider, said eight pro-Russian militants had been killed.
Russia's Interfax news agency said Ukrainian troops used large caliber weapons as they tried to take an occupied government building in the city.
Members of a crew from Britain's ITV News in the city said on Twitter that they saw heavy guns being used and smoke from burning tires rising above Mariupol.
The fighting occurred as Ukraine commemorated Victory Day celebrations marking the Soviet defeat of German forces in World War II.
Kiev held low-key ceremonies while Russia put on a display of military might in Moscow's Red Square.
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