-- With flowers, flames and teary eyes, veterans, soldiers and European leaders celebrated peace in ceremonies around the continent marking the 68th anniversary of the Allied victory over the Nazis.

The events offered a moment of reflection and illustrated the importance of European unity as the continent is struggling with economic troubles and lingering tension between Russia and the West.

Graying former fighters from Russia and other Soviet republics stood proudly beneath the Soviet war memorial at Treptower Park in Berlin, honoring millions of comrades-in-arms killed in World War II.

In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin attended a ceremony beneath the Kremlin walls ahead of two days of public holiday and military parades for Victory Day, which remains a significant event on the Russian calendar and in the Russian psyche.

To the west, the presidents of France and Poland laid a wreath beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, flanked by French and Polish soldiers. The two men, whose countries were occupied by the Nazis, then re-ignited the flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, their hands side by side gripping an enormous torch.

Several countries mark Victory in Europe Day.

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  • Russian fighter jets fire fly over the Kremlin cathedrals during a rehearsal of the Victory Day parade in Moscow on May 7, 2013. Russia celebrates the 1945 Soviet victory over Nazi Germany on May 9. (ANDREY SMIRNOV/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of Unknown Soldier on the eve of the Victory Day in Moscow, Wednesday, May 8, 2013. President Vladimir Putin attended a ceremony ahead of two days of public holiday and military parades for Victory Day, which remains a significant event on the Russian calendar. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, Presidential Press Service)

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of Unknown Soldier on the eve of Victory Day celebration in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, May 8, 2013. Russia's marking the surrender of Nazi Germany in World War II on May 9th. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

  • Flowers are displayed during a ceremony in Nice, southeastern France, Wednesday, May 8, 2013, marking the 68th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)

  • A boy walks in front of a monument of the WWII open-air museum in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on May 8, 2013, prior to the Victory Day celebration. (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

  • French President Francois Hollande looks at the the coffin of 1965 Nobel Prize winner in Medicine, and WWII veteran, Francois Jacob, during a ceremony, at the Invalides in Paris, Wednesday, April 24, 2013. Jacob died Friday at the age of 92. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

  • French veteran of the American Legion, Albert De Soto Cohen is embraced during a ceremony in Nice, southeastern France, Wednesday, May 8, 2013, marking the 68th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)

  • Veterans of World War II take part in a ceremony in Nice, southeastern France, Wednesday, May 8, 2013, marking the 68th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)

  • Czech President Milos Zeman puts a new ribbon on army flag during a parade on Vitkov memorial hill in Prague on May 8, 2013 to commemorate the 68th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany during WWII. (MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Soldiers march during a parade on Vitkov memorial hill in Prague on May 8, 2013 to commemorate the 68th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany during WWII. (MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images)

  • History enthusiasts dressed as Soviet soldiers and Nazi soldiers re-enact the liberation of Bratislava on May 8, 2013 during the commemoration of the 68th anniversary of the end of World War II. (SAMUEL KUBANI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • History enthusiasts dressed as Soviet soldiers and Nazi soldiers re-enact the liberation of Bratislava on May 8, 2013 during the commemoration of the 68th anniversary of the end of World War II. (SAMUEL KUBANI/AFP/Getty Images)