Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday emerged from a Moscow church and told journalists he had lit a candle in memory of those who died defending separatist eastern Ukraine.
"Who did I light a candle for? For those who were injured and those who gave their lives defending people in Novorossiya," Putin said, shown on Russian television.
He used a politically loaded term for the region under separatist control, meaning New Russia. It refers to parts of present-day Ukraine that were conquered by the tsars.
Putin first used the term in April, after annexing Crimea from Ukraine, sparking outrage in Kiev and the West. The term is used by rebels to refer to both Donetsk and the neighbouring separatist region of Lugansk.
Putin is a Russian Orthodox believer and often uses church visits to make more personal statements to connect with the nation's citizens, nearly 70 per cent of whom describe themselves as Russian Orthodox Christians.
The priest of the church that Putin visited on Wednesday on Moscow's Sparrow Hills comes from Odessa in Ukraine but was forced to leave because of persecution, the state ITAR-TASS news agency reported.