Russian rockets hit Ukrainian town on Independence Day, 22 dead

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KYIV: At least 22 people died and dozens were injured on Wednesday when Russian rocket fire hit a Ukrainian town and set a passenger train on fire, officials said, as the country marked 31 years since its independence from the regime Soviet dominated by Moscow.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had warned on Tuesday of the risk of “repugnant Russian provocations” on Independence Day, which coincidentally was also six months since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, sparking the most devastating conflict in Europe since World War II.

In a video address to the United Nations Security Council, Zelenskiy said the rockets hit a train in the small town of Chaplyne, about 145 km (90 miles) west of Russian-occupied Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine. Four cars were on fire, he said.

“Chaplyne is our pain today. To date, there are 22 dead,” he said in a video address later that evening, adding that Ukraine would hold Russia to account for everything it had done.

“We will undoubtedly expel the invaders from our land. There will be no trace of this evil left in our free Ukraine,” he said.

Zelenskiy’s assistant, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, later said Russian forces bombed Chaplyne twice. A boy was killed in the first attack when his house was hit by a missile and 21 people died later when rockets hit the station and set fire to five passenger train carriages, he said in a press release.

The Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

NO PUBLIC CELEBRATIONS

August 24 public holiday celebrations were called off, but many Ukrainians marked the occasion by wearing embroidered shirts typical of the national dress.

After days of warnings that Moscow could use Independence Day to fire more missiles at major urban centers, the second-largest city of Kharkiv was under curfew, following months of frequent shelling.

Air raid sirens sounded at least seven times in the capital Kyiv during the day, although no attacks took place.

In a moving speech to his compatriots earlier today, Zelenskiy said Ukraine was “reborn” when Russia invaded and would eventually drive out Russian forces altogether.

“A new nation appeared in the world at 4 a.m. on February 24. It was not born, but reborn. A nation that did not cry, scream or fear. One that did not flee. Didn’t give up. And didn’t forget,” he said, speaking outside Kyiv’s main independence monument in his signature combat gear.

Zelenskiy and his wife, Olena Zelenska, joined religious leaders for a service in Kyiv’s 11th-century St. Sophia Cathedral and laid flowers in front of a memorial to fallen soldiers.

The 44-year-old leader said Ukraine would take back Russian-occupied areas in eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.

“We are not going to sit at the negotiating table out of fear, with a gun to our head. For us, the most terrible iron is not missiles, planes and tanks, but chains” , did he declare.

In its evening update, Ukraine’s army high command said Russian air and missile strikes on military and civilian targets continued until Wednesday. “Today has been full of air raid sirens,” he said in a note without giving further details.

MISSILES ATTACH AWAY FROM THE FRONT LINES

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

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

Russia has repeatedly denied that its forces were targeting civilian targets. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told a meeting in Uzbekistan that Moscow had deliberately slowed down what it calls 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 justification for its actions in Ukraine, saying a “special operation” was needed to “denazify and demilitarize” the country. countries in order to eliminate “obvious” threats to Russian security.

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

INCREASED WESTERN SUPPORT

US President Joe Biden has announced nearly $3 billion for arms and equipment purchases from Ukraine as part of “the largest tranche of security assistance from Washington to date”. Under Biden, the United States has committed more than $13.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine.

During a surprise visit to Kyiv on Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also pledged $63.5 million in additional military support, including 2,000 drones.

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

Russia has made little progress in recent months after its troops were pushed back from Kyiv in the first weeks of the war.

Ukraine’s top military intelligence official Kyrylo Budanov said on Wednesday that the Russian offensive was slowing down due to moral and physical fatigue in its ranks and Moscow’s “depleted” resource base.

On the eastern frontlines of the Ukrainian resistance and in devastated towns, some with deserted streets under curfew, fighters and civilians marked the holiday with words of resolve and the promise of victory.

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

Russian forces have seized areas in the south, including the Black Sea and Sea of ​​Azov coasts, as well as large swathes of Lugansk and Donetsk provinces that include the eastern Donbass 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 driving up prices Energy.

(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Max Hunder, Andrea Shalal, Olzhas Auyezov, John Chalmers, Rami Ayyub, Valentyn Ogirenko and Reuters bureaus; Writing by Mark Heinrich and Cynthia Osterman and David Ljunggren; Editing by Gareth Jones, Hugh Lawson and Grant McCool)

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