Ukraine is today celebrating the 31st anniversary of leaving the Soviet Union – but marks its Independence Day amid fears of a surge in attacks by Putin‘s forces.
Independence Day falls exactly six months after Russia launched its brutal invasion that Volodymyr Zelensky said today has made his country feel ‘reborn’.
Celebrations will be muted, with public gatherings banned in Kyiv where a sea of destroyed Kremlin tanks have been displayed to the public, and a curfew is in force in the front-line eastern city of Kharkiv.
Zelensky warned yesterday that Russia will use the anniversary to increase their savage attacks, with Zelensky warning of the possibility of ‘repugnant Russian provocations’.
And violence predictably broke out this morning as a shopping centre in Donetsk was struck by missiles, as a huge team of firefighters battled to tackle the huge blaze.
Huge plumes of black smoke billowed from the Galaktika mall, as Russia accused Ukraine of bombarding the site in the separatist region, although it is not yet clear who carried out the attack or how many casualties there were.
In an emotional speech today, Zelensky said Ukrainians now believe the war will end when they secure victory rather than negotiate peace.
He said: ‘A new nation appeared in the world on February 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 wartime leader delivered the speech in his trademark combat fatigues in front of Kyiv’s central monument to independence from the Russia-controlled Soviet Union.
‘What for us is the end of the war? We used to say: peace. Now we say: victory,’ he said.
Destroyed Russian military vehicles located on the main street Khreshchatyk are seen as part of the celebration of the Independence Day of Ukraine
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife Olena attend a ceremony at a memorial wall displaying images of Ukrainian servicemen and servicewomen killed in the invasion
A woman rides on a scooter near a destroyed Russian tank as Ukraine marks 31 years of independence
Firefighters work to extinguish a huge at the Galaktika shopping mall in Donetsk after it was struck by missiles this morning
Smoke rises above the burning shopping mall as Russia accused Ukraine of targeting the civilian site
Huge plumes of black smoke billowed from the Galaktika mall, as Russia accused Ukraine of bombarding the site in the separatist region
A man perches on top of a seized tank while drinking a coffee as Ukraine’s spoils of war are displayed in Kyiv
People take pictures with a Ukrainian flag near destroyed Russian army equipment displayed at Khreshchatyk in the centre of Kyiv
Ukrainians arrive at Khreschatyk Street to see the seized military equipment and weapons including tank and motorized artillery systems
Residents of Kyiv woke up to air raid sirens as Ukraine observed its Independence Day on Wednesday, six months since the start of the Russian invasion
Authorities in the capital banned large-scale gatherings until Thursday, fearing the national holiday might bring particularly heavy Russian missile attacks
How Ukraine established independence
Ukraine celebrates its independence day on August 24 in commemoration of the Declaration of Independence in 1991.
The country had been a major power in the Soviet Union, becoming the center of its arms industry and a major political player.
But its output was redirected to the Soviet military and little was left for the Ukrainian population, and the quality of goods remained low compared to their neighbors.
The push for independence surged with the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, and the subsequent demise of the Soviet Union.
In early 1990, over 300,000 Ukrainians linked arms in a human chain from Kyiv and Lviv as a show of unity against the Soviet bloc.
A student protest known as the Revolution of Granite took place in October 1990 to prevent a new union treaty with the USSR.
The country declared its independence in August 1991 and in December, a referendum backed the move with 90 percent approval, with majorities in every region including Crimea.
The Soviet Union then formally ceased to exist on December 26.
He continued: ‘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.
He and his wife later attended a service in Kyiv’s St. Sophia cathedral along with religious leaders from all of Ukraine’s major faiths.
Polish president Andrzej Duda echoed Zelensky’s sentiments, saying the entire territory of Ukraine including Crimea needs to be liberated.
He said at the summit yesterday: ‘Crimea is Ukraine. Just as Gdansk or Lublin are part of Poland, Crimea is and will be part of Ukraine.’
This morning, residents of Kyiv woke up to air raid sirens after the general staff had warned to take them seriously, saying: ‘Russian occupiers continue to carry out air and missile attacks on civilian objects on the territory of Ukraine. Do not ignore air raid signals.’
Zelensky told representatives of about 60 states and international organisations at a virtual summit on Crimea yesterday that Ukraine would drive Russian forces out of the peninsular by any means necessary, without consulting other countries beforehand.
A small number of residents gathered in Kyiv’s central square, where destroyed Russian tanks and mobile artillery were put on display over the weekend, and the national anthem is played every day at 7am local time.
‘I can’t sleep at night because of what I see and hear about what is being done in Ukraine,’ a retiree who identified herself only by her first name, Tetyana, said, her voice shaking with emotion.
‘This is not a war. It is the destruction of the Ukrainian people.’
But back home, ordinary Russians are becoming more and more disillusioned with Putin’s constant barbarism and the unrelenting Kremlin war machine.
A survey by the Rosmir polling centre found only 65 per cent watch Kremlin-run stations, down from 86 per cent at the outbreak of the war, the Moscow Times reported.
Channel-1, Rossiya-1 and NT TV all tow the party line, issuing dire threats to the West and Ukraine as part of Putin’s propaganda to shore up support for his war.
Opinion polls show only 55 per cent of Russians are in favour of the invasion, compared to 66 per cent a few months ago.
Moscow restaurants numbers are at a five-month low and the cinema sector has warned it will collapse without government support as sanctions continue to bite.
It is not only Russians who are tiring of the war, with EU support for Ukraine now waning because of the cost of living crisis.
UK diplomats have been pleading with European leaders to not cut aid to Kyiv, travelling across the continent to make their case for the besieged nation, The Telegraph reported.
The captured Russian armoured car ‘Tiger’ is now being used by Ukrainian police to transport the streets of Kyiv, showing a Ukrainian flag
There are fears Russia will use the anniversary to increase their savage attacks, with Zelensky warning of the possibility of ‘repugnant Russian provocations’
Celebrations will be muted, with public gatherings banned in Kyiv where a sea of destroyed Kremlin tanks have been displayed to the public
A vendor sells blue and yellow balloons in honor of the country’s National Flag Day yesterday ahead of Independence Day
Governments are said to be wary of spending on arms and humanitarian supplies while energy bills surge at home, a source briefed on the talks said.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s top foreign diplomat, said yesterday that Vladimir Putin sees ‘the weariness of the Europeans and the reluctance of their citizens to bear the consequences of support for Ukraine’, he told AFP, adding: ‘We will have to endure, and spread the costs within the EU.’
The war has killed thousands of civilians, forced over a third of Ukraine’s 41 million people from their homes, left cities in ruins, shaken global markets, and is largely at a standstill with no immediate prospect of peace talks.
In addition to Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, 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 have said almost 9,000 military personnel have been killed in the war.
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.
Russians are becoming more and more disillusioned with Putin’s constant barbarism and the unrelenting Kremlin war machine
In Zaporizhzhia, the city is decked out in blue and yellow to mark the country’s Independence Day
International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi said the U.N. nuclear watchdog hoped to gain access to the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine within days.
Both sides have accused the other of firing missiles and artillery dangerously close to the plant, Europe’s biggest, raising fears of a nuclear catastrophe.
‘I’m continuing to consult very actively and intensively with all parties,’ Grossi said in a statement on Tuesday. ‘The mission is expected to take place within the next few days if ongoing negotiations succeed.’
Pro-Moscow forces took over the plant soon after the invasion began but it is still operated by Ukrainian technicians. The United Nations has called for the area to be demilitarised.
Russia on Tuesday accused Ukraine of attacking the plant with artillery, guided munitions and a drone, drawing a denial from Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya.
‘Nobody who is at least conscious can imagine that Ukraine would target a nuclear power plant at tremendous risk of nuclear catastrophe and on its own territory,’ Kyslytsya said at an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting in New York called by Russia.
The United States, which has sent $10.6 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, will announce a new package of about $3 billion as early as Wednesday, a U.S. official said.
Advanced U.S. 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 southern Russia near the border with Ukraine spontaneously combusted on Tuesday.
Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of Belgorod region, blamed hot weather for the fire, drawing ridicule from Ukraine.
‘In a few months we will find out whether Russian ammunition can explode because of the cold,’ Ukraine’s defence ministry said on Twitter.
‘The five main causes of sudden explosions in Russia are: winter, spring, summer, autumn and smoking.’
A car bombing outside Moscow on Saturday that killed the 29-year-old daughter of right-wing Russian political theorist Alexander Dugin heightened fears that Russia might intensify attacks on Ukraine this week.
Russian officials have blamed Ukraine for the death of Darya Dugina, a nationalist Russian TV commentator. The car bomb exploded after she had attended a patriotic festival with her father, who was widely believed to have been the intended target.
The Ukrainian government has denied any involvement.
One of the last anti-Putin politicians is detained while naked in dawn raid for ‘discrediting the army’
One of Russia’s last prominent politicians to oppose Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine was detained in a dawn raid today accused of ‘discrediting the Russian army’.
Former mayor of Yekaterinburg, Yevgeny Roizman, 60, was naked with only a towel around his waist as armed police led by a woman law enforcement official stormed his flat.
He has regularly denounced the war defying draconian laws forbidding such criticism.
The politician is close to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, now serving a nine year sentence after criticism of Putin.
Searches were underway at Roizman’s flat, a foundation he runs, and an icon museum he owns, as he was moved 1,100 miles to Moscow to face a criminal investigation.
Yevgeny Roizman was detained in a dawn raid today accused of ‘discrediting the Russian army’
His arrest came exactly six months after the start of the conflict in Ukraine and follows his lambasting of Putin for his ‘awful, monstrous, amateur war’ in Ukraine.
Roizman called it ‘the most despicable, shameful and wrongful war in the history of Russia’.
He said: ‘Even at The Last Judgement I will not give these words up.’
He warned in March: ‘The country is changing really fast. The regime is becoming fascist. Many are leaving Russia.’
He vowed to remain, even though arrest was likely as the country fell deeper into authoritarianism. ‘I’m staying,’ he said.
‘This is my country, and I will not give up a millimetre of it.
‘I cannot allow myself to be scared, and no-one will force me to say black is white.’
The former mayor was naked with only a towel around his waist as armed police led by a woman law enforcement official stormed his flat