KIEV, Ukraine — Thousands of aging Red Army veterans and their supporters clashed Saturday in downtown Kiev with partisans who fought the Soviets and Nazis during World War II and now want pensions and official recognition as veterans.
Hundreds of nationalists from western Ukraine gathered in the capital to demand formal recognition for the partisans, a move that would also entitle them to social and financial benefits.
"They died for Ukraine, and we must recognize it and honor them as heroes," said protester Vasil Kokoyda, 55.
Thousands of Red Army veterans and their supporters, waving red flags and chanting "Get out!" and "Shame!" marched in counter-protest as Soviet war songs played over loudspeakers. Some Red Army supporters grabbed the flags of the nationalists and set them on fire.
"How can we recognize them? … They killed our soldiers, shot them in the back," said 80-year-old veteran Svetlana Yarova.
Riot police separated the groups on the capital's main artery, pulling away participants. There did not appear to be any serious injuries.
Orest Vaskul, who heads the Kiev branch of the nationalists, criticized the Ukrainian government for failing to prevent the skirmishes.
"We are glad that we did it, despite the hostile rally of rivals who blocked our march," he said.
A day before, the aging partisans celebrated the 63rd anniversary of the founding of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, whose aim was to create an independent Ukraine.
A governmental commission on Friday recommended that parliament approve social benefits for partisans.
Vaskul said they "need official recognition, not benefits."
Ukraine was overrun by the German army before the Soviets drove the Germans out. An estimated 7 million Ukrainians died, and 2.4 million people were sent to Nazi concentration camps.
The insurgents who battled the Soviet army said they fought to liberate Ukraine.
"We just struggled against invaders for a free, independent Ukraine," said Oleksiy Polishchuk, who wore his military insurgent uniform. "I came to Kiev to demand just honors."
Last year's election of President Viktor Yushchenko, who won strong support in western Ukraine, raised hopes among the partisans that they would win recognition. Red Army veterans, who far outnumber them, say such a move would be a mockery of the Red Army dead.