Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the crowd in Moscow's Red Square

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russian forces in Ukraine were fighting for the future of their motherland, in his annual address marking victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two.

Despite rumours he would make a major announcement his speech stuck largely to defending Russia’s invasion.

He tied the war in Ukraine to victory in 1945, blaming the West and Nato for rejecting security demands.

Almost 10 weeks into the invasion, civilian casualties continue to mount.

Some 60 civilians are feared dead in the eastern town of Bilohorivka, after a Russian attack on a school where people were trying to escape bombardment.

Flanked by military top brass, Russia’s leader spoke of Ukrainians as fascists, repeating his false claim that the democratic government in Kyiv was run by neo-Nazis.

Defending the motherland had always been sacred, he said, referring to the eastern region which is now the main focus of Russia’s assault: “Today you are fighting for our people in Donbas, for the security of Russia, our homeland.”

He also made unfounded allegations against Nato and Ukraine and described the invasion as a pre-emptive rebuff: “They were preparing a punishing operation in Donbas to intrude on our historic lands. In Kyiv they were saying they might get nuclear weapons and Nato started exploring the lands close to us, and that became an obvious threat to us and our borders.”

There had been speculation that Russia’s president may be considering a change of military strategy, either a full declaration of war, rather than the current so-called special military operation, or a mobilisation of Russian men to boost the armed forces.

Instead, he said he was signing a decree for families of the dead and wounded in Ukraine to receive special support.