Zelenskiy vows tough response for any Independence Day attack
Kyiv – As Ukraine prepared to mark both its independence from Soviet-rule in 1991 and the six months since Russian troops invaded, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy pledged that any Russian attacks in or around the date will provoke a powerful response.
Zelenskiy, who has led his country’s resistance since Russian troops poured over the border on February 24, also said Ukraine will restore its rule over the Crimea region – annexed by Russia eight years ago in a precursor to this year’s invasion.
Despite his defiance, there was concern among Ukrainian and allied Western officials that Russia was preparing to attack the capital Kyiv once again.
The United States said it believed Russia will target civilian and government infrastructure in the next few days.
American citizens were told to leave Ukraine “now” by their own means if it was safe to do so, the U.S. Embassy said.
On the battlefields, Russian forces carried out artillery and rocket strikes in the Zaporizhzhia region in south-eastern Ukraine, where fighting has taken place near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Ukraine’s military said.
Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for strikes on the plant.
Zelenskiy warned that Moscow might try “something particularly ugly” in the run-up to Wednesday’s Independence Day.
Asked at a news conference with visiting Polish President Andrzej Duda about the possibility of a Russian missile strike on the Ukraine capital, Zelenskiy said there was a daily threat of attacks although the number of them could increase.
Ukraine’s response would be the same for any city that comes under attack from Russia, he said.
“They will receive a response, a powerful response,” Zelenskiy said. “I want to say that each day … this response will grow, it will get stronger and stronger.”
Kyiv has only rarely been hit by Russian missiles since Ukraine repelled a ground offensive to seize the capital in March.
The mood in Kyiv was calm on Tuesday, with many people still walking the streets, but signs of increased threat could be felt.
An adviser to Zelenskiy told the BBC many civilians were trying to leave Kyiv for fear of a sudden Russian attack.
Authorities told Ukrainians to work from home where possible from Tuesday to Thursday, also urging people to take air raid warnings seriously and seek shelter when sirens sound.
The Kyiv city administration banned large public gatherings until Thursday, fearing that a crowd of celebrating residents could become a target for a Russian missile strike.
Russia sent its troops over the border in what it calls a “special military operation” saying it wanted to demilitarise its neighbour and protect Russian-speaking communities.
Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Moscow of waging an unjustified, imperial-style war of aggression.
Six months on from the Russian invasion, which has caused thousands of deaths, forced over a third of Ukraine’s 41 million people from their homes and destroyed whole cities, the conflict is largely locked in a stalemate.