Defiant Ukraine marks Independence Day
Kyiv – Ukrainians marked 31 years since they broke free from the Russia-dominated Soviet Union on Wednesday in what is certain to be a day of defiance against the Kremlin’s six-month-old war to subdue the country once again.
Ukraine’s Independence Day falls six months after Russia’s February 24 invasion and will be observed with subdued celebrations under the threat of attack from land, air, and sea.
Public gatherings are banned in the capital Kyiv and a curfew is in force in the front-line eastern city of Kharkiv, which has weathered months of shelling.
The government laid out the hulks of burnt-out Russian tanks and armoured vehicles like war trophies in central Kyiv in a show of defiance.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned of the possibility of “repugnant Russian provocations”.
“We are fighting against the most terrible threat to our statehood and also at a time when we have achieved the greatest level of national unity,” Zelenskiy said in a Tuesday evening address.
Zelenskiy told representatives of about 60 countries and international organisations attending a virtual summit on Crimea on Tuesday that Ukraine will drive Russian forces out of the peninsular by any means necessary, without consulting other countries beforehand.
The war has killed thousands of civilians, forced over a third of Ukraine’s 41 million people from their homes, left cities in ruins and shaken global markets. It is largely at a standstill with no immediate prospect of peace talks.
In addition to Crimea, which Russia annexed eight years ago, Russian forces have expanded control to areas of the south including the Black Sea and Sea of Azov coasts, and chunks of the eastern Donbas region comprising the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk.
Ukraine’s armed forces said almost 9 000 military personnel have been killed in the war.
Russia has not publicised its losses, but American intelligence estimates 15 000 killed in what Moscow calls a “special military operation” to “denazify” Ukraine.
Kyiv says the invasion is an unprovoked act of imperial aggression.
Ukraine broke free of the Soviet Union in August 1991 after a failed putsch in Moscow and an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians voted in a referendum to declare independence.