Ukraine was “reborn” when Russia invaded six months ago, President Vladimir Zelensky said Wednesday, marking his country’s 31st year of independence from the Moscow-controlled Soviet Union, vowing to completely knock out Russian troops.

After days of warnings that Moscow could use the anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence Day to launch new missile strikes on major cities, Kiev was unusually quiet, while the second-largest city of Kharkiv was under curfew after months of shelling.

The anniversary fell exactly six months after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine.

In an emotional speech to his compatriots, Zelensky said that the attack had revived the spirit of the nation.

“On February 24, at 4 o’clock in the morning, a new people appeared in the world. Not born, but reborn. A nation that did not cry, scream or be afraid. The one that didn’t run away. Didn’t give up. And I didn’t forget,” he said.

The 44-year-old leader, speaking in front of Kiev’s central independence monument in his signature combat uniform, promised to return occupied areas of eastern Ukraine, as well as the Crimean peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

“What is the end of the war for us? We said: peace. Now we say victory,” he said a few days after his government displayed the wreckage of burned-out Russian tanks and armored vehicles in central Kyiv as a sign of defiance.

Russia’s military effort in Ukraine has not made much progress in recent months after its troops were pushed back from Kiev in the first weeks of the war.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told a meeting of defense ministers in Uzbekistan that Russia has deliberately slowed down what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine to avoid civilian casualties.

WARNINGS
On Tuesday evening, Zelensky warned about the possibility of “disgusting Russian provocations”.

“We are fighting against the worst threat to our statehood, and also at a time when we have reached the highest level of national unity,” Zelensky said.

The Ukrainian military urged people to take seriously warnings about airstrikes.

“The Russian occupiers continue to carry out air and missile strikes on civilian objects on the territory of Ukraine. Do not ignore air raid signals,” the General Staff said in a statement on Wednesday.

Zelensky told representatives of about 60 countries and international organizations participating in a virtual summit in Crimea on Tuesday that Ukraine will oust Russian troops from the peninsula by any means necessary without prior consultation with other countries.

As a result of the war, thousands of civilians were killed, more than a third of Ukraine’s 41 million inhabitants were forced to leave their homes, cities were left in ruins and the world economy was shaken. It is largely at an impasse with no immediate prospects for peace talks.

In addition to Crimea, Russian forces have seized areas in the south, including the coasts of the Black and Azov seas and chunks of eastern Donbass, which includes Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

Nearly 9,000 Ukrainian soldiers died during the war, the Ukrainian military said this week.

Russia has not disclosed its casualties, but US intelligence estimates say 15,000 were killed in what Moscow describes as an operation prompted by threats to its security. Kyiv believes that the invasion is an unprovoked act of imperial aggression.

Officials appointed by Moscow to territories under its control were also killed. The latest was the mayor of the town of Mikhaylovka in the Russian-controlled part of Zaporozhye Oblast, who an official of the Russian-backed administration said was killed in a car bomb explosion. On August 6, the deputy head of the city in the neighboring Kherson region was shot dead in his home.

Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union in August 1991 after a failed putsch in Moscow. The vast majority of Ukrainians voted for independence in the referendum that December.

“INTENSIVE” NEGOTIATIONS AT THE FACTORY
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, said the UN nuclear body hopes to gain access to the Russian-occupied Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine within days if talks are successful.

Both sides have accused each other of firing missiles and artillery at dangerously close proximity to the plant, Europe’s largest, sparking fears of a nuclear disaster.

Pro-Moscow forces seized the plant shortly after the invasion began, but Ukrainian engineers are still operating it. The UN called for the demilitarization of the area.

Pope Francis called for “concrete steps” to end the conflict and prevent a nuclear disaster at the plant.

Ukraine’s allies offered more military support on Wednesday.

Norway said it, along with Britain, would supply micro-drones to aid in reconnaissance and target identification.

The United States, which has sent $10.6 billion in security aid to Ukraine, will announce a new package of about $3 billion as early as Wednesday, an American official said.

Advanced US missile systems have apparently helped Ukraine strike deep behind the front lines in recent months, destroying ammunition depots and command posts.

In the latest mysterious fire at a Russian military facility, Russian officials said ammunition stored in southern Russia near the border with Ukraine spontaneously combusted on Tuesday.

The governor of the Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Hladkov, blamed the hot weather for the fire, which drew ridicule from the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine on Twitter.

“The five main causes of sudden explosions in Russia are: winter, spring, summer, autumn and smoking,” the report says.

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