Ukraine’s Independence Day celebrations were halted on Wednesday after a Russian rocket attack on a train station killed 22 people, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, warning that the Kremlin could try “something particularly cruel” during the party.
The attack took place in Chaplyne, a town of about 3,500 people in the central Dnipropetrovsk region, according to Ukrainian news agencies. Zelenskyy initially said around 50 people were injured, but his office later reduced the number to 22. Five passenger carriages were hit.
The assault came four days after a car bomb outside Moscow killed a radical commentator who was the daughter of a Russian ultranationalist, sparking calls for revenge. Ukraine has denied any involvement in the attack.
As well as being the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union, Wednesday also marked six months since the start of the war. Kyiv officials had banned large public gatherings this week and told government workers to work from home ahead of a Russian missile strike amid high tensions.
Additionally, the United States issued a security alert citing “reports that Russia is intensifying efforts to launch strikes against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and government facilities in the coming days.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Zelenskyy gave a fiery speech pledging to drive the occupiers out of his battered country as he stood among burnt-out Russian tanks in downtown Kyiv.
“Donbass is Ukraine. And we will return it, whatever the path. Crimea is Ukraine. And we will return it. Whatever the path,” Zelenskyy said, referring to the regions which have been taken over partially or entirely by the Russians. “You don’t want your soldiers to die? Liberate our lands. You don’t want your mothers to cry? Liberate our lands. These are our simple and clear terms.
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►Zelenskyy, speaking at the United Nations, called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to take “permanent control” of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, now occupied by Russia. “Russia has brought the world to the brink of a radioactive catastrophe,” he said.
►Yevgeny Roizman, the former mayor of Yekaterinburg – Russia’s fourth-largest city – was arrested on Wednesday for discrediting the country’s military, amid a crackdown on critics of Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
►Russia’s eight-year occupation of Crimea has cost Ukraine about $118 billion, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has estimated. He said Russia had turned the peninsula into a “huge military base”.
►War crimes in Ukraine could be unprecedented. So are the country’s efforts for speedy justice. USA TODAY examines the tragedies takes place in Ukraine.
►Pope Francis marked the half-anniversary of the invasion by denouncing the “madness” of war and lamenting that innocent civilians on both sides are paying a high price.
A $2.98 billion aid package for Ukraine announced by the Pentagon on Wednesday includes surface-to-air missile systems, artillery munitions and drones. Since January, the Biden administration has spent $13.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine.
The White House said the latest security assistance would allow Ukraine to continue to defend itself over the long term.
“I know that this Independence Day is bittersweet for many Ukrainians, as thousands have been killed or injured, millions have been displaced from their homes and so many more have been victims of atrocities and of Russian attacks,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “But six months of relentless attacks have only strengthened the pride of Ukrainians in themselves, in their country and in their 31 years of independence.”
Ukraine’s Finance Minister Sergei Marchenko called the grant ” important gift for our country.”
Two-time tennis champion and former world number one Victoria Azarenka, from Belarus, was barred from a pre-US Open exhibition on Wednesday raising money for humanitarian aid in Ukraine.
Belarus has been Russia’s strongest supporter since the invasion. Ukrainian player Marta Kostyuk questioned the participation of a Belarusian in the American Tennis Association’s “Tennis Plays for Peace” exhibition on Wednesday night in New York.
Wimbledon has banned Russian and Belarusian players, but the US Open allows them to play in the event which begins on Monday.
European leaders pledged support for Ukraine on its independence day, paying tribute to the sacrifices and courage of the Ukrainian people, expressing their determination to continue supplying arms and swearing at Russia for its attack on the neighboring nation.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz chided the Kremlin and predicted that Ukraine “will drive out the shadow of war because it is strong and brave, because it has friends in Europe and all over the world”. French President Emmanuel Macron, in a video message, said defending Ukraine meant “refusing that international relations be governed by violence and chaos”.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted a photo of himself on a surprise visit to Kyiv alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy: “What happens in Ukraine affects us all. That’s why I’m in Kyiv today. That is why the UK will continue to stand with our Ukrainian friends.I believe that Ukraine can and will win this war.
Celebrating the day it declared independence from the Soviet Union – August 24, 1991 – was a way for Ukraine to move away from its former status as a Soviet republic, said Kathryn David, assistant professor of studies Russian and Eastern European Studies at Vanderbilt University. .
“The war showed that Russia’s choice to carry on the Soviet legacy made it look like the USSR in the worst possible way – violent and isolated from the world,” David said, “while Ukraine is become a place defending democratic and European values.”
Contributor: Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY; The Associated Press