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Putin praises Russian troops at huge rally in Moscow in rare public appearance

Vladimir Putin
Posted at 11:13 AM, Mar 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-18 11:13:24-04

President Vladimir Putin appeared at a huge patriotic rally Friday at a Moscow stadium on the eighth anniversary of the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

Putin, speaking to a crowd of more than 200,000 in and around Luzhniki Stadium, praised the Russian military for its actions in Ukraine.

"Shoulder to shoulder, they help and support each other," Putin said in a rare public appearance. "We have not had unity like this for a long time."

Putin also said Russia's invasion was necessary to prevent "genocide," a claim that global leaders have rejected as false.

Before Putin spoke, bands played patriotic Soviet songs about national identity, and speakers praised Putin as fighting "Nazism" in Ukraine, an accusation that has been flatly rejected by leaders across the world.

Some people, including presenters at the event, wore T-shirts or jackets with a "Z" — a symbol seen on Russian tanks and military vehicles in Ukraine and embraced by supporters of the war.

Meanwhile, Russian forces continued to pound the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and launched a barrage of missiles on the outskirts of the western city of Lviv.

Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said Friday on Telegram that several missiles hit a facility used to repair military aircraft and damaged a bus repair facility, though no casualties were immediately reported.

The plant had suspended work ahead of the attack, the mayor said.

Putin's comments also came two days after Ukraine said Russian missiles destroyed a theater where more than a thousand people were sheltering in the southern city of Mariupol. Rescue workers are still searching for survivors at the site; no casualty numbers from the attack have been released.