Russian rocket fire killed 22 civilians and set fire to a passenger train in eastern Ukraine as the country celebrated Independence Day under heavy fire, officials in Kyiv said.

President Volodymyr Zelensky warned of the risk of “heinous Russian provocations” ahead of the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence from Soviet rule on Wednesday, and public celebrations were cancelled.

The holiday also coincided with six months since Russian troops invaded Ukraine, starting Europe’s most destructive conflict since World War II.

In a video message to the United Nations Security Council, Zelensky said the missiles hit the train in the town of Chaplyna, about 145 km (90 miles) west of Russian-occupied Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

“Chaplin is our pain today. At this point, 22 people have died,” he said in a video message later in the evening, adding that Ukraine will hold Russia accountable for everything it has done.

Later, Zelensky’s aide Kirill Tymoshenko said that Russian troops shot at Chaplin twice.

A boy was killed in the first attack when a rocket hit his home, and 21 people died later when rockets hit a train station and set fire to five train cars, the statement said.

Russia’s Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment. Russia denies striking civilians.

“Russia’s missile attack on a railway station filled with civilians in Ukraine corresponds to the pattern of atrocities. Together with partners from around the world, we will continue to support Ukraine and seek to bring Russian officials to justice,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Twitter.

On the holiday of Ukraine, the Russian military evaded Kiev and launched an artillery attack on frontline cities such as Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Nikopol and Dnipro, said the adviser to the President of Ukraine, Oleksiy Orestovich.

“Mass shelling of Ukraine on Independence Day,” added Mikhail Padalyak, a colleague and adviser to the president, on Twitter.

NO PUBLIC CELEBRATIONS

Separately, Kyiv has passed on information to international judicial authorities about Russian plans, described by UN representatives on Tuesday, to try captured Ukrainian fighters of the Azov regiment in Mariupol, officials said.

The port city was captured by Russian forces in April after weeks of intense shelling when they surrounded Ukrainian troops at the Azovstal steel plant.

Presidential adviser Orestovich said Zelensky made it clear that Kyiv would “never, ever” consider peace talks with Moscow if the courts move forward.

A spokesman for US Secretary of State Ned Price said the illegal process would amount to “a travesty of justice”.

DREADFUL INDEPENDENCE DAY

Ukraine declared independence from the collapse of the Soviet Union in August 1991, and its population overwhelmingly voted for independence in a referendum in December of that year.

The celebration of the holiday on August 24 was canceled, but many Ukrainians celebrated the holiday by wearing embroidered national costumes.

Air raid sirens sounded in the capital Kyiv at least seven times during the day, but there were no attacks.

Zelensky and his wife, Elena Zelenska, joined religious leaders at a service in the 11th-century Kiev Cathedral.

Hagia Sophia and laid flowers at the memorial to the fallen soldiers.

The 44-year-old leader said that Ukraine will return the Russian-occupied areas of eastern Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.

MISSILE STRIKES FAR FROM THE FRONT LINE

Ukrainian forces shot down a Russian drone in the Vinnytsia region, while several Russian missiles fell in the Khmelnytsky region, regional authorities said – both west of Kiev and hundreds of kilometers from the front line.

There were no reports of damage or casualties and Reuters could not verify the information.

Russia has repeatedly denied that its forces target civilian objects.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told a meeting in Uzbekistan that Moscow had deliberately slowed down what it called its “special military operation” in Ukraine to avoid civilian casualties.

At a meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday, Russian Ambassador Vasyl Nebenzia reiterated the justification for Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, saying that a “special operation” is necessary to “denazify and demilitarize” the country to eliminate “obvious” threats to Russia’s security.

Moscow’s position was rejected by Ukraine and the West as a groundless pretext for an imperialist war of aggression.

INCREASING WESTERN SUPPORT

US President Joe Biden announced the allocation of nearly $3 billion in arms and equipment for Ukraine as part of Washington’s “largest tranche of security assistance” to date. Under Biden, the United States allocated more than $13.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine.

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

Ukraine’s top military intelligence official, Kirill Budanov, said on Wednesday that Russia’s offensive is slowing due to low morale and physical fatigue in its ranks and Moscow’s “depleted” resource base.

Russian troops have seized areas in the south of the country, including the coasts of the Black and Azov seas and large parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions that make up the eastern Donbass.

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 staple food grains and driving up energy prices.

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