Despite Russian strikes, Ukrainians celebrate a nation’s ‘rebirth’

KYIV, Ukraine – Under the sirens of air strikes, Ukrainians celebrated their Independence Day with a show of defiance against the Russian invasion on Wednesday, despite the uncertain course of events. of a war that lasted half a year and brought terror to almost every corner of the nation.

In Kyiv, mass gatherings are banned, drones fly Ukrainian flags above the city and a concert recorded for the holiday in a bomb shelter, reflecting fears that Russia will conduct Dramatic attacks on civilian centers to spoil the occasion, commemorating the 1991 partition of Ukraine. from the Soviet Union.

The biggest attack occurred not in Kyiv but in a small town in eastern Ukraine, where a train station was hit by rockets that crushed passenger cars and set them on fire. At least 22 civilians were killed and 50 injured, with the number expected to rise.

“This is how we live every day,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said after the attack.

But in Kyiv, Ukraine’s leaders gave speeches aimed at rallying foreign supporters as much as their own citizens at home and the tens of thousands of troops gathered in the trenches and towns of Ukraine. matrix.

In a cleverly produced address, pre-recorded for security reasons, Mr. Zelensky stood before a pillar Burned and wrecked Russian tanks on a central boulevard in the capital and declared Ukraine as a country “reborn” in conflict. Ukraine has a new sense of cultural and political identity, he said, which is now completely separate from Russia.

“Every new day is a new reason not to give up,” Mr. Zelensky said. “Because, having been through so much, we have no right not to go to the end. What is the outcome of the war for us? We used to say, ‘Peace.’ Now we say, ‘Victory.’

But victory – or even a pause in fighting – seems a distant prospect for Ukraine or Russia. As Europe prepares for a tough winter with high energy prices, driven in part by EU sanctions and Russia’s gas supply cuts, Ukrainian officials are under increasing pressure to show showed European supporters that they could recapture the territory and turn the war in their favor.

The European nations that promised to supply arms, equipment and ammunition have mostly turned those supplies over to Ukraine. But pledges of new aid, in terms of equipment or cash, slowed dramatically over the summer as countries re-examined their stores and tried to deal with problems like inflation.

The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it has sent nearly 3 billion dollars in weapons and equipment previously approved by Congress, the largest US military aid package for Ukrainian forces. Outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met Mr Zelensky in Kyiv on Wednesday, saying his country would “continue to stand with our Ukrainian friends”.

But even though Ukraine’s Western supporters have pledged billions of dollars in aid to the country, Mr. Zelensky on Wednesday chastised them, as he has periodically, for wavering before new shipments. “Lethargy, inactivity and slowness are shameful,” he said. Speaking via video to the United Nations Security Council, he called on its members to hold Russia accountable for its aggression.

To build the future, it is necessary to leave in the dustbin of history what has always prevented humanity from living in peace. “Specifically Russia’s aggression and colonial ambitions towards Ukraine.”

U.S. officials said Ukraine used Western-supplied weapons to disrupt Russian supply lines, while describing the slowdown in Russian shelling. However, the front lines have changed only in small increments over the past few weeks, and Russia has fortified its positions south to defend against Ukrainian attacks.

Ukrainian officials say their strategy includes both overt military strikes and covert operations designed to sow chaos. In Crimea, the peninsula occupied by Russia in 2014, Ukrainian forces and partisan fighters were responsible for the explosions at ammunition depots and airfieldsaccording to a senior Ukrainian official.

Russia, although it retains the edge in weapons and controls about 20% of Ukraine’s territory, has struggled to make more progress.

Both countries face serious human resource problems.

The commander of the Ukrainian Army, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, earlier this week acknowledged that about 9,000 soldiers have been killed in the fighting, but on Wednesday he adopted a defiant tone.

“What does independence feel like?” General Zaluzhnyi said On Facebook. “Those who are fighting for it know what it tastes like. It’s the taste of the earth eating into your skin. The taste of blood and death saturates the air. The salty taste of tears. “

Western analysts believe that Russia may have lost as many as 20,000 soldiers, but the Kremlin has kept the number of casualties a secret. It was also stifling criticism inside Russia about the war.

On Wednesday, masked and camouflaged police officers stormed the home of Yevgeny Roizman, a prominent former mayor of Yekaterinburg and perhaps the biggest anti-war critic still standing in Russia. Authorities said he was detained for “discrediting” the Russian Army, and faces three years in prison under the censorship law signed by President Vladimir V. Putin in March.

“I say this everywhere and will say it now,” Mr Roizman told reporters outside his apartment. Referring to his own arrest, he said: “We know all there is to know about our country. This is nothing new.”

Russian state media have not made any prominent mentions that the “special military operation”, as it calls the war, has now been going on for six months. Russian Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu said that Moscow intends to slow down the military operation in Ukraine to reduce civilian casualties.

“We are doing this on purpose, even though Moscow has not fulfilled its previous commitments to protect civilians or reduce the attack,” he said.

And by evening, two rockets hit the station in Chaplyne, eastern Ukraine; cluster bombs were used in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine, injuring 2 civilians; and rockets were hit near the town of Poltava, in central Ukraine, officials said.

But the airstrikes match Russia’s long-range fire on Ukraine in recent weeks and are not the reinforcement the country has prepared for. Curfews are already in effect in many cities and towns, including some in the eastern Donbas region, where fields of wilted sunflowers, highways covered in debris and distant artillery fire play a role. role as the gateway to the front lines of the war.

For some residents of the region, where the Russian military has made small, slow achievements in recent weeks, Wednesday is just another day in the calendar.

A man named Antolii, who refused to give his last name continuously for weeks on end, stayed here for weeks, especially at night. His town, Paraskoviivka, has been without water for a month and without electricity for two weeks. It is about 5 miles from the Russian positions.

Nina Fedorivna, a woman from a nearby town, said plainly: “We’re constantly under shelling here around the clock, so it wouldn’t be new if we were shelled on Independence Day.”

Anton Troianovski contribution reports from Berlin, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Natalia Yermak from Paraskoviivka, Ukraine, and Alan Yuhas from New York.

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