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The war in Ukraine is playing a special role in France's Bastille Day parade

Alphajets of the Patrouille de France fly over the Champs-Elysees avenue during the Bastille Day parade on Thursday in Paris. France is celebrating its national holiday with thousands of French troops marching down the Champs-Elysees avenue alongside allies from Eastern Europe.
Christophe Ena
/
AP
Alphajets of the Patrouille de France fly over the Champs-Elysees avenue during the Bastille Day parade on Thursday in Paris. France is celebrating its national holiday with thousands of French troops marching down the Champs-Elysees avenue alongside allies from Eastern Europe.

Updated July 14, 2022 at 10:42 AM ET

PARIS — The war in Ukraine has even shaken up Bastille Day, a powerful political, historical and symbolic event in France.

France celebrated its national holiday Thursday with thousands of French troops marching down the Champs-Elysees avenue alongside allies from Eastern Europe. The traditional parade also featured warplanes, military vehicles and a drone in a performance showing off France's might and its military efforts to support Ukraine.

The opening of this year's Bastille Day parade was designed to demonstrate France's commitment to NATO and to European allies touched most closely by the war in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine 20 weeks ago.

Troops from Eastern Europe lead the Bastille Day parade on Thursday on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
Christophe Ena / AP
/
AP
Troops from Eastern Europe lead the Bastille Day parade on Thursday on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

Troops from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary were assigned the front position, bearing their national flags. Multinational troops deployed in Romania after the invasion marched after them.

Higher-than-usual temperatures baking Paris this week didn't deter crowds from gathering to watch the parade, surrounded by tight security along the Champs-Elysees.

Students of the elite French engineering school Polytechnique march during the Bastille Day parade on Thursday in Paris.
Michel Euler / AP
/
AP
Students of the elite French engineering school Polytechnique march during the Bastille Day parade on Thursday in Paris.

A group of young people from France's universal national service program stood up and applauded as the parade got underway, visibly thrilled to be watching the event in person. A fighter jet flyover wowed the crowd, especially the opening formation that trailed red, white and blue smoke over the Arc de Triomphe.

On the eve of Bastille Day, French President Emmanuel Macron hailed Ukraine's unexpected ability to stand up to Russia's aggression. He called for a review of France's military organization to make it more nimble in the face of changing threats, as well as for a "rethink" of France's military presence in Africa.

French President Emmanuel Macron reviews the troops during the annual Bastille Day military parade on Thursday.
Sarah Meyssonnier / AP
/
AP
French President Emmanuel Macron reviews the troops during the annual Bastille Day military parade on Thursday.

"Each and every one of us was struck by the Ukrainian nation's moral strength that allowed it to hold on despite an initially unfavorable balance of power," Macron told French military brass Wednesday night.

"I've asked the minister, the joint chief of staff and the general delegate for armaments to review the pertinence of our organizations, our structures and even the way we look at things ... to sometimes be able to make decisions faster, to coordinate better and with efficiency, and to adapt to the evolutions of conflicts," the president said.

Troops from Eastern Europe lead the Bastille Day parade on Thursday in Paris.
Christophe Ena / AP
/
AP
Troops from Eastern Europe lead the Bastille Day parade on Thursday in Paris.

Macron and other dignitaries presided over Thursday's event in which more than 6,000 people and 200 horses of France's Republican Guard took part, along with 65 planes, 25 helicopters and 181 vehicles.

A Reaper, a sophisticated American combat drone, swooped over the parade for the first time. Such a drone embodies the modernization of France's military equipment, and was used in Niger and elsewhere in Africa's Sahel region as part of France's military operation to defeat jihadists. Drones are also a powerful symbol of the Ukraine war, where they're being used more intensively than any other war to date.

The motto of this year's Bastille events, "Share the Flame," is a reference to France hosting the Olympic Games in 2024. High-profile Olympic and Paralympic athletes were invited to attend. The spectacle closes with a nighttime fireworks show set off from the Eiffel Tower.

A military drone takes part of the Bastille Day parade on Thursday in Paris.
Christophe Ena / AP
/
AP
A military drone takes part of the Bastille Day parade on Thursday in Paris.

Bastille Day marks the July 14, 1789, storming of the Bastille prison by angry Paris crowds that helped spark the French Revolution and by extension, a spirit of national unity, thanks to broad rights granted to citizens in the ensuing years.

Celebrations are held in towns across France and beyond, with parties from New Orleans to Australia and beyond.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press