Ukraine says Russian ‘shackles’ worse than missiles 6 months after invasion

Ukraine was “reborn” when Russia invaded six months ago, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Wednesday, the 31st anniversary of Ukrainian independence from the Moscow-dominated Soviet Union, as he vowed to drive Russian forces out completely.

After days of warnings that Moscow could use Ukraine’s Independence Day to fire more missiles into major urban centres, the second-biggest city Kharkiv was under curfew, following months of frequent bombardment.

The anniversary came exactly six months after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine. Public celebrations on Wednesday were cancelled, but many people marked the day by wearing embroidered shirts typical of the national dress.

Air raid sirens blared at least seven times in the capital Kyiv during the day though no attacks transpired.

Zelenskyy and his wife joined religious leaders for a service in Kyiv’s 11th-century St. Sophia cathedral and laid flowers at a memorial to fallen soldiers.

In an emotional speech to his compatriots, Zelenskyy said Russia’s assault had revived the nation’s spirit.

“A new nation appeared in the world on Feb. 24 at 4 in the morning. It was not born, but reborn. A nation that did not cry, scream or take fright. One that did not flee. Did not give up. And did not forget,” he said.

The 44-year-old leader, speaking in front of Kyiv’s central monument to independence in his trademark combat fatigues, vowed to recapture Russian-occupied areas of eastern Ukraine as well as the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.

“We will not sit down at the negotiating table out of fear, with a gun pointed at our heads. For us, the most terrible iron is not missiles, aircraft and tanks, but shackles. Not trenches, but fetters,” he said.

In its evening update, Ukraine’s army high command said Russian air and missile strikes on military and civilian targets alike continued through Wednesday. “Today was rich with air raid sirens,” it said in a note without giving further details.

Ukrainian forces shot down a Russian drone in the Vinnytsia region while multiple Russian missiles landed in the Khmelnytskyi area, regional authorities said – both west of Kyiv and hundreds of kilometres from front lines.

No damage or casualties were reported, and Reuters could not verify the accounts.

On Tuesday evening, Zelenskyy warned of the possibility of “repugnant Russian provocations” and on Wednesday, Ukraine’s military urged people to take air raid warnings seriously.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told a meeting of defence ministers in Uzbekistan that Moscow had deliberately slowed down what it refers to as its “special military operation” in Ukraine to avoid civilian casualties.

At a UN Security Council session on Wednesday, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia reiterated Moscow’s rationale for its actions in Ukraine, saying a “special operation” was needed to “denazify and demilitarise” the country to remove “obvious” security threats to Russia.

Moscow’s stance has been dismissed by Ukraine and the West as a baseless pretext for an imperialist war of conquest.

Increasing Western support
US President Joe Biden announced nearly $3 billion for weapons and equipment for Ukraine in Washington’s “biggest tranche of security assistance to date”.

On a surprise visit to Kyiv on Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also promised a further $63.5 million worth of military support, including 2,000 drones and loitering munitions to enable the Ukrainian military to better track and target invading Russian forces.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Ukrainians they were an inspiration to the world. “You can count on NATO’s support. For as long as it takes,” he said in a video message.

Russia has made few advances in recent months after its troops were repelled from Kyiv in the early weeks of the war.

Ukraine’s top military intelligence official, Kyrylo Budanov, said on Wednesday Russia’s offensive was slowing because of moral and physical fatigue in its ranks and Moscow’s “exhausted” resource base.

On the eastern frontlines of Ukrainian resistance and in shattered cities, some with deserted streets under curfew, combatants and civilians marked Ukraine’s independence day with words of resolve and the promise of victory.

Ukraine declared independence from the disintegrating Soviet Union in August 1991, and its population voted overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum that December.

Mysterious explosion
Russian forces have seized areas of the south including on the Black Sea and Sea of Azov coasts and large tracts of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces that comprise the eastern Donbas region.

The war has killed thousands of civilians, forced more than a third of Ukraine’s 41 million people from their homes, left cities in ruins, and shaken the global economy, creating shortages of essential food grains and pushing up energy prices.

Advanced US missile systems appear to have helped Ukraine strike deep behind the front lines in recent months, taking out ammunition dumps and command posts.

In the latest mysterious fire at a Russian military facility, Russian officials said ammunition stored in the south near the border with Ukraine spontaneously combusted on Tuesday.

Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of Belgorod region, blamed hot weather for the fire, drawing mockery from Ukraine’s defence ministry on Twitter.

“The five main causes of sudden explosions in Russia are: winter, spring, summer, autumn and smoking,” it said.

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