KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces launched a rocket attack on a Ukrainian train station on the embattled country’s Independence Day on Wednesday, killing 22 people, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said after warning for days that Moscow could attempt “something particularly cruel” this week.
The deadly attack took place in Chaplyne, a town of about 3,500 people in the central Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukrainian news agencies quoted Zelenskyy as reporting to the UN Security Council by video. The president’s office also reported that an 11-year-old child was killed by rocket fire earlier in the day in the settlement.
“Chaplyne is our pain today,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation.
At one point, Zelenskyy put the number of injured at around 50. Zelenskyy’s deputy bureau chief later said 22 people were injured in the attack, which hit five passenger carriages.
Ukraine had braced for particularly violent attacks around the national holiday which commemorates Ukraine’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Wednesday also marked the six-month mark. of the war.
A few days before Independence Day, authorities in Kyiv banned large gatherings in the capital until Thursday for fear of missile fire.
Residents of Kyiv, which has been largely spared in recent months, woke up to the sirens of air raids on Wednesday, but no immediate strikes followed. As the day progressed, Russian shelling was reported in the east, west and center of the country, with the most serious attack apparently taking place at the train station.
Outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson marked the holidays with a visit to Kyiv – his third since the start of the war – and others European leaders took the opportunity to pledge unwavering support for Ukraine, locked in a battle that was widely expected as a whirlwind conquest by Moscow, but turned into a crushing war of attrition. US President Joe Biden announced new military aid nearly $3 billion to help Ukrainian forces fight for years to come.
Over the weekend, Zelenskyy warned that Russia “might try to do something particularly mean, something particularly cruel” this week. He repeated the warnings before the station attack, saying: “Russian provocations and brutal strikes are a possibility.”
Nonetheless, a festive atmosphere prevailed during the day in Kyiv’s Maidan Square as thousands of residents posed for photos next to the burnt-out Russian tanks on display. Folk singers moved in and many revelers – unaware of the sirens – strolled around in traditionally embroidered dresses and shirts.
Others were afraid.
“I can’t sleep at night because of what I see and hear about what is happening in Ukraine,” said a retiree who gave only her first name, Tetyana, her voice trembling with emotion. “This is not a war. This is the destruction of the Ukrainian people.
In a holiday message to the country, Zelenskyy exulted at Ukraine’s success in repelling Moscow’s forces since the invasion, saying: “On February 24 we were told: you don’t stand a chance. On August 24, we say: Happy Independence Day, Ukraine!
Britain’s Johnson has urged Western allies to stand by Ukraine through the winter.
“Now is not the time to come up with flimsy negotiating proposals,” he said. “You can’t negotiate with a bear when it eats your leg or with a street thief when it pins you to the ground.”
A car bombing outside Moscow that killed the 29-year-old daughter of right-wing Russian political theorist Alexander Dugin on Saturday has also heightened fears that Russia could step up its attacks on Ukraine this week. Russian officials have blamed Ukraine for the death of Darya Dugina, a pro-Kremlin television commentator. Ukraine has denied any involvement.
The forces of Russian President Vladimir Putin have encountered surprisingly stiff Ukrainian resistance during their invasion and abandoned their efforts to storm the capital in the spring. The fighting turned into a drudgery that reduced neighborhoods to rubble and sent shockwaves through the global economy.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, speaking at a meeting of his counterparts from a Russian-Chinese-dominated security organization on Wednesday, said Moscow’s slow military action was due what he described as an effort to spare civilians.
Russian forces repeatedly targeted civilian areas in cities, including hospitals and a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of people were taking refuge.
But Shoigu said Russia was carrying out strikes with precision weapons against Ukrainian military targets, and that “everything is being done to avoid civilian casualties”.
“Without a doubt, it slows the pace of the offense, but we are doing it deliberately,” he said.
On the battlefield, Russian forces struck several towns and villages in eastern Donetsk province within 24 hours, killing one person, authorities said. A building materials hypermarket in the city of Donetsk was hit by a shell and caught fire, the mayor said. No injuries were reported immediately.
In the Dnipropetrovsk region, the Russians again shelled the towns of Nikopol and Marhanets, damaging several buildings and injuring people, authorities said. Russian troops also shelled the town of Zaporizhzhia, but no casualties were reported.
In addition, Russian rockets hit unspecified targets in the Khmelnytskyi region, about 300 kilometers (180 miles) west of Kyiv, the regional governor said. Attacks are rare.
Varenytsia reported from Pokrovsk, Ukraine. Associated Press writers Hanna Arhirova in Kyiv and Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow all of AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine