Possible Russian attack: Ukraine quietly marks Independence Day

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Wednesday marked two days of significance in Ukraine — the country’s Independence Day and exactly six months to the day since Russia opened its war in the former Soviet republic.

Ukrainian officials and other leaders have expressed concern about heightened Russian attacks this week, given Ukraine’s day of independence on Wednesday, and Ukrainian forces have stepped up readiness to face whatever might come.

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In the six months since Russia launched its attack on Ukraine, about 5,600 civilians in Ukraine have been killed, according to U.N. figures. Almost another 8,000 have been injured. UNICEF says that almost 1,000 children have been killed or injured since the start of the war on Feb. 24.

Many Ukrainians were keeping a low profile on Wednesday as they braced for a possibly upscaled Russian attack.RELATEDUkrainian diplomat: Reform impossible with Russia on U.N. Security Council

Officials set curfews and banned mass gatherings for Independence Day, fearing those could be targets. President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine has been “reborn” over the last six months.ADVERTISEMENT

Ukraine declared its independence from the collapsed Soviet Union on Aug. 24, 1991, and drafted its current constitution five years later. Almost 80% of the country’s population identifies as Ukrainian — while about 17% identify as Russian.A Ukrainian flag is seen on Maidan Nezhalezhnosti Square in Kyiv, Ukraine, on June 13. On Wednesday, the country celebrated its 31st anniversary since declaring independence from the Soviet Union. File Photo by Oleg Petrasyuk/EPA-EFE

Zelensky has vowed to “liberate” all of Ukraine’s territories that are occupied by Russia without “any concession or compromise.”RELATEDFirst Russian superyacht auctioned in wake of Ukraine invasion

“We don’t care what army you have, we only care about our land. We will fight for it until the end,” he said according to CNN.

“Every new day is a new reason not to give up,” he added, according to The New York Times. “Because, having gone through so much, we have no right not to reach the end. What is the end of the war for us? We used to say, ‘Peace.’ Now we say, ‘Victory.'”

Valerii Zaluzhnyi, commander of the Ukrainian armed forces, said the country’s freedom rests on the willingness of citizens to fight against Russian aggression.RELATEDUkraine ambassador says Russia not taking nuclear safety issue seriously

“Independence is possible only when there are people ready to fight for it,” he said according to CNN. “Independence is a responsibility that rests on your shoulders. You lead into battle and you know that not everyone will return from it.”ADVERTISEMENT

Britain’s defense ministry said on Wednesday that Russia’s offensive moves in the Donbas have made only minimal progress recently. It also noted that Russian forces were believed to be preparing for a major Ukrainian counterattack.

“Operationally, Russia is suffering from shortages of munitions, vehicles and personnel,” the ministry said in a tweet. “Morale is poor in many parts of its military and its army is significantly degraded. Its diplomatic power has been diminished and its long-term economic outlook is bleak.”

Russia has struggled at times to protect the leaders it’s put into place in Ukrainian territories it now occupies. On Tuesday, the Moscow-installed leader of the town of Mykhailivka Ivan Sushko was killed in a car bomb explosion.

Mykhailivka is located in southeastern Ukraine in the contested Zaporizhzhia region, where Europe’s largest nuclear power plant is located. For several days, leaders and experts have been concerned about the plant’s safety given the Russian fighting nearby.

U.S. President Joe Biden offered congratulations for Ukrainian independence and said the United States “is committed to supporting the people of Ukraine as they continue the fight to defend their sovereignty.” Biden also said about $3 billion in new U.S. aid has been authorized for Ukraine.

“On behalf of all Americans, I congratulate the people of Ukraine on their Independence Day,” Biden said in a statement Wednesday. “Over the past six months, Ukrainians have inspired the world with their extraordinary courage and dedication to freedom.”

“I know this independence day is bittersweet for many Ukrainians as thousands have been killed or wounded,” he added. “But six months of relentless attacks have only strengthened Ukrainians’ pride in themselves, in their country, and in their thirty-one years of independence.

“Today and every day, we stand with the Ukrainian people to proclaim that the darkness that drives autocracy is no match for the flame of liberty that lights the souls of free people everywhere.”