VA year ago, thousands lined the streets of Kyiv to watch the Independence Day military parade. At that time, the Ukrainian armed forces presented their vehicles, the air force flew just a few meters above the rooftops of the capital. This year, on the other hand, the Ukrainian military is deployed to repel the Russian attack. And Ukraine hoped for a national holiday that was as calm as possible.
Due to fears that Russia could step up its attacks on Independence Day, major events were canceled or not planned at all. There were bans on gatherings in several cities. A curfew was even imposed in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Independence Day is an important date for Ukrainians – “and therefore unfortunately also for our enemy,” said President Volodymyr Zelenskyj. On August 24, 1991, Ukraine declared state independence.
The 31st Independence Day now coincided with the date on which exactly six months ago Russia launched its full-scale offensive. President Zelenskyj addressed the Ukrainians in a nightly video message. In it he said that Ukraine was reborn six months ago and will now “fight to the end”. 31 years after gaining independence from the Soviet Union, Ukraine will push the Russian armed forces out of the country completely, the president promised. After all, after a defeat, Russian chains would be worse than fighting Russian tanks. Zelenskyi said Ukraine has proven itself as a country that does not cry, scream or fear. He still sees no basis for talks with Moscow. “We will not try to find an agreement with terrorists,” said the Ukrainian president.
Bomb alert almost all over the country
Along with his wife Olena, Zelenskyy visited Kiev’s St. Sophia Cathedral on Wednesday to take part in a prayer for the country. Present were representatives of the Orthodox Churches, members of other Christian denominations as well as Muslim and Jewish dignitaries. A statement from the President’s office said that the Ukrainian people wished strength in the difficult trials and that peace would come soon.
By Wednesday noon alone, there were several air alerts in Kyiv and large parts of the country. Areas in the south and east of the country were particularly affected. Ukrainian media reported about hits in different places, but also about successes of the Ukrainian anti-aircraft defense. Explosions were heard in Kharkiv and in the central Ukrainian cities of Zaporizhia and Dnipro on Wednesday. According to the local administrator, a civilian was killed in Bakhmut in the east of the country. This meant that the Russian attacks were less than feared on the occasion of Independence Day.
With smaller events and symbolic actions, Ukrainians showed pride in their independent nation. In Kyiv, the Ukrainian Railways presented a “Victory Train” in which seven carriages are dedicated to the territories occupied by Russia.
Congratulations on the Independence Day from Minsk caused irritation in Kyiv. Belarusian President Alexandr Lukashenko wrote that he wished Ukrainians “peaceful skies, tolerance, courage, strength and success in restoring a decent life”. Ukrainian Presidential Advisor Mykhailo Podoliak criticized these statements: “Lukashenko seriously believes that the world does not notice his involvement in the crimes in Ukraine,” Podoliak wrote on Twitter. “That’s why he cynically wishes us ‘peaceful skies’ while allowing deadly missiles to fall on us.”
Pope Francis also caused trouble in Kyiv. He once again called for peace between Russia and Ukraine – once again without naming Russia as an aggressor. Pope Francis also addressed the death of a “poor young woman who was blown up by a bomb in a car in Moscow.” The Ukrainian ambassador to the Holy See, Andriy Yurasch, criticized these words, which were apparently aimed at Darya Dugina, daughter of the radical Russian nationalist Alexander Dugin. Dugina was not an innocent victim but an active supporter of the Russian war. Nevertheless, Jurasch emphasized that Francis is still welcome in Ukraine. The Pope has said several times that he wants to travel to Ukraine, but has not yet given a date.