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Ukrainians have celebrated 31 years of independence of the Soviet Union, and also marked six months since Russia invaded the country, in an ongoing conflict that has killed tens of thousands, devastated Ukraine’s economy and turned Russia into a virtual pariah state .
Ukrainians were warned to remain vigilant on August 24 as they marked the date in 1991, when the legislature issued a declaration of independence from the USSR Just over three months later, more 90% of Ukrainians approved a referendum formalizing the declaration.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, meanwhile, accused Russia of launching a missile strike which hit the Chaplyne railway station in the southern Dnipropetrovsk region, killing at least 22 people and injuring more than 50.
“Chaplyne is our pain today. Right now there are 22 dead, including five burned in a train car,” he said in his nightly video address. “Search and rescue operations at the station will continue. We will certainly hold the occupiers accountable for all they have done. And we will certainly drive the invaders from our land.”
Live briefing: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
RFE/RL Live briefing gives you all the latest developments on the ongoing invasion of Russia, how Kyiv is fighting back, Western military aid, the global response and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL’s coverage of the war, click here.
Earlier, acknowledging the heavy toll since the February 24 invasion, Zelenskiy vowed his country would be ‘reborn’ fight Russian troops “until the end”.
“During these six months, we changed history, changed the world and changed ourselves… We began to respect each other. We understood that despite all the help and support, no one but us would fight for our independence. And we united,” Zelenskiy said in a registered address broadcast to the nation.
The commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces said this week that around 9,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in six months of fighting.
Kyiv and several other major cities have banned public celebrations amid warnings that Russia would use the opportunity to strike at civilian and government infrastructure.
In the Ukrainian capital, authorities staged an exhibition of destroyed and captured Russian military vehicles and tanks on Kyiv’s famous Khreshchatyk Street, as a reminder of Moscow’s failed attempt to seize the capital.
The invasion led to unprecedented Western sanctions that hit the Russian economy and isolated Moscow internationally. The invasion also elicited large amounts of Western aid, support and weaponry, bolstering Ukrainian defences.
The United States, the largest arms supplier, announced another $3 billion in new military aid, a mammoth package that brings US aid to nearly $12 billion since February 24.
“On behalf of all Americans, I congratulate the people of Ukraine on their Independence Day,” President Joe Biden said. said in a press release announcing the package. “The United States of America is committed to supporting the people of Ukraine as they continue the fight to defend their sovereignty.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who flew into Kyiv unannounced to mark the occasion, pledged continued British support. London has also been a major supplier of arms and aid to Ukraine.
What is happening in Ukraine concerns us all. That’s why I’m in Kyiv today,” he said. said in a post on Twitter. “I believe Ukraine can and will win this war.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg paid tribute “to all those who lost their lives or were injured and to all Ukrainian men and women who are fighting for their country, their freedom and their loved ones”.
“You can continue to count on NATO support for as long as it takes,” he said.
Russia cited Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO as one of the pretexts for the invasion.
In 2014, after months of street protests that led to the ousting of the country’s pro-Russian resident, Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and backed Russian-speaking separatists who seized parts of eastern Donetsk regions. and Luhansk.
Since February 24, Russia has tightened its grip on the southern and eastern territories of Ukraine, although more recently, according to Western military officials, the conflict has become a stalemate.
In his speech, Zelenskiy promised that Ukrainians would fight “until the end” and would not stop until the whole country was united.
“Every new day is a new reason not to give up. Because having been through so much, we have no right not to come to the end. What is the end of the war for us “We used to say: peace. Now we say: victory,” he said.
Pope Francis, speaking at his weekly general audience on August 24, called for “concrete steps” to end the “madness” and called for action to avert the risk of a “nuclear catastrophe”. at the Zaporizhzhya power plant.
Recent fighting around the Zaporizhzhya power plant – Europe’s largest nuclear power plant – has raised fears of a catastrophic incident.
Breaking the anniversary mood, Russia continued to shell civilian targets across Ukraine, where air raid sirens sounded intermittently.
“Air and missile strikes by the Russian occupiers against civilian targets on the territory of Ukraine continue,” the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said in a statement. “Do not ignore overhead warning signals.”
Russian forces also attacked Ukrainian positions near Bakhmut and Kodema in the Donetsk region, as well as towards the settlements of Pisky and Nevelske, the statement said.
Russian air defenses shot down an unknown number of Ukrainian drones near the Crimean city of Sevastopol on August 23, Moscow-appointed Sevastopol Governor Mikhail Razvozhayev said.
Reports cannot be independently confirmed.