KIEV - Ukrainian activists, playing on speculation about President Vladimir Putin’s health, erected a mock tombstone to the Russian leader depicting him as the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler outside the Russian embassy in Kiev on Sunday.

The protest was carried out by the Automaidan group, which organised anti-government car processions on Kiev’s Maidan Square during the pro-Europe protests that forced Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych from power in 2014. On Sunday, around a dozen vehicles flying Ukrainian and Automaidan flags pulled up outside the embassy building in the southwest of the city. Watched by a handful of police guarding the mission, as well as a small group of journalists and bystanders, the activists proceeded to pour liquid cement on the pavement and then fix in place a black marble headstone.

The plaque read “Khu*lo V.V. 12.03.2015”, referring to Putin by his first name and patronymic Vladimir Vladimirovich, prefaced by an obscenity, with the supposed date of death last Thursday.

“Don’t let us down,” the plaque, which was stamped with a swastika, urged Putin, who was depicted with a Hitler-style toothbrush moustache.

Unveiling the headstone to laughter a po-faced Sergiy Khadzhynov declared: “This is the day many Ukrainians have been waiting for”.

He then led the gathering in the nationalist call “Glory to Ukraine. Glory to the heroes”, a frequent refrain at the Maidan protests.

The remains of a Grad rocket - a weapon widely used by both Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces in the east of the country - was placed on the ground in front of the tombstone, together with a bunch of carnations and a bottle of red liquid symbolising blood.

Putin has become a hate figure for many Ukrainians since Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula last year and gave backing to the eastern separatists in the wake of Yanukovych’s ouster.

“It was kind of a joke because there a lot of rumours recently about whether Putin was alive or not,” Khadzhynov, 41, told AFP, referring to the speculation sparked by Putin’s mysterious absence from public view over the past week.

Khadzhynov said Ukrainians had Putin to thank for one thing. “Due to Putin, Ukraine is united. Ukrainians understand we are one nation and have to fight for our freedom.”