Ukraine marked its 14th anniversary of independence on Wednesday, foregoing the traditional military parade for the first time to underline what the new leadership wants to celebrate as a peaceful holiday.
Thousands of Ukrainians gathered in Kiev's main Independence Square, decorated with orange flags, as folk groups performed.
President Viktor Yushchenko attended public prayers at the St. Sofia Cathedral in Kiev. Clerics from some 20 confessions took part, including Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, who fueled a dispute with the dominant Russian Orthodox Church by moving his church's headquarters from western Ukraine to Kiev last weekend.
Yushchenko was expected to address the crowd in Independence Square later Wednesday.
The western-leaning reformer came to power last year amid mass street protests dubbed the Orange Revolution.
"I'm proud that I live in an independent state," said Ruslan Prylipko, a 38-year-old businessman. "With Yushchenko in power, I feel closer to Europe, to the civilized world."
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, reports the AP.
US military analysts are concerned about the appearance of a new Russian sniper rifle known as T-5000