Thousands of Russian soldiers, sailors and airmen thronged Red Square on Saturday for military parades and theatrical performances marking the 53rd anniversary of the World War II victory over the Nazis.

President Boris Yeltsin told the 5,000 military members that they were still needed to guarantee Russia's integrity and prevent a recurrence of world war. An estimated 27 million Soviet citizens died in World War II."Our army is living through difficult times, but I know for a fact that people will serve in it so that nothing will threaten our calm and peaceful life," Yeltsin said.

The president congratulated the thousands of World War II veterans who watched proudly as troops marched past the reviewing stand, shouting "Hurrah!" on cue.

Victory Day, one of Russia's most important holidays, was celebrated in Soviet times with a massive show of military might. The big Red Square parade was suspended after the Soviet collapse in 1991 and was revived in 1996, but without the display of military hardware.

In Ukraine, decorated World War II veterans marched solemnly in Kiev, many walking slowly and with difficulty, at times supported by their children and grandchildren.

Communists and hard-liners in Russia and Ukraine celebrated Victory Day separately, waving Soviet-era red flags and holding up portraits of dictator Josef Stalin.