Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukraine Drops Parade, Honors Gongadze on National Holiday

ReutersUkrainians listening to Yushchenko's speech in central Kiev on Wednesday.
KIEV -- Ukraine celebrated its 14th anniversary of independence on Wednesday, foregoing the traditional military parade for the first time for what the new leadership wants to celebrate as a peaceful holiday.

Tens of thousands of Ukrainians gathered in Kiev's Independence Square, decorated with orange flags, as folk groups performed.

President Viktor Yushchenko attended public prayers at St. Sofia Cathedral. Clerics from some 20 faiths took part.

The crowd chanted "Yushchenko!" as the Ukrainian leader approached the podium on Independence Square, shaking hands on his way.

He called Ukraine's independence the nation's "greatest creation," stressing that freedom was "the alpha and omega of democracy."

"A journalist who criticizes the authorities doesn't risk his freedom or life anymore," he said, referring obliquely to Heorhiy Gongadze, a journalist whose September 2000 abduction and killing fueled popular anger against the regime of former President Leonid Kuchma.

Yushchenko reiterated his intention to continue a "tough attack" against corruption that is " slowly receding."

Later, Yushchenko awarded Gongadze posthumously with the state award of the Hero of Ukraine. Yushchenko said that the journalist had died "for our freedom and our independence." Yushchenko came to power last year amid large street protests dubbed the Orange Revolution.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said earlier this month that there would be no military parade this year. "There is so much aggression in our life that we should mark the Independence Day with concerts and happiness" instead of a show of force, she said.