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Zelenskiy rallies Ukrainians on Independence Day, 18 months after invasion

Kyiv, Ukraine
Reuters

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed his nation’s spirit and defiance in holding out against Russian forces in a rallying speech on Thursday marking Ukraine’s Independence Day.

The anniversary was celebrated quietly, and fell exactly 18 months after Moscow’s full-scale invasion on 24th February, 2022 which has killed tens of thousands of people, forced millions from their homes and devastated towns across Ukraine. 

People react as they visit the tombs of their relatives, Ukrainian servicemen who were killed in a fight against Russian troops, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, during the Independence Day in Lviv, Ukraine, on 24th August, 2023

People visit the graves of their relatives, Ukrainian servicemen who were killed in a fight against Russian troops, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, during the Independence Day in Lviv, Ukraine on 24th August, 2023. PICTURE: Reuters/Roman Baluk

In a video address filmed in front of government buildings in central Kyiv, Zelenskiy thanked Ukrainians – from soldiers to utilities workers and journalists – for their contribution to the country’s defence and urged them to reflect on how were contributing to Ukraine’s independence.

“In a big war, there are no small deeds,” he said. “No unnecessary ones, no unimportant ones.”

“And everyone is important in this fight. Because this is a fight for something that is important to everyone. An independent Ukraine,” he said.

Fighting did not stop on Thursday. Local Ukrainian officials said at least one person was killed and 16 people were wounded in Russian attacks. Moscow said air defence systems shot down three Ukrainian drones over Russian regions. 

A counter-offensive to regain Russian-occupied territory is now in its third month and moving at a slower pace than some Western and Ukrainian officials had expected, but Zelenskiy vowed on Wednesday to regain all occupied territory. 



Exhaustion but hope
In his address, Zelenskiy focused much more on current events than the 1991 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union.

Russia’s invasion last year galvanised Ukrainians and inspired waves of volunteers to join the military, donate to the army, or help the cause in other ways. 

On Thursday, Ukrainians celebrating in downtown Kyiv – where the charred husks of Russian fighting machines stood on display along the central Khreshchatyk Street – expressed exhaustion but hope that they would prevail.

“They wanted to take Kyiv in three days, and now their tanks are here,” said Svitlana, a 71-year-old nurse, referring to Russia’s purported plans to quickly take the Ukrainian capital.

Like many others crossing the boulevards and streets of the capital, she wore a traditional embroidered shirt.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomes Commander in Chief of the Ukrainian armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi during a celebration ceremony of the Independence Day of Ukraine, amid Russia's invasion of the country, in central Kyiv, Ukraine, on 24th August, 2023

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomes Commander in Chief of the Ukrainian armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi during a celebration ceremony of the Independence Day of Ukraine, amid Russia’s invasion of the country, in central Kyiv, Ukraine, on 24th August, 2023. PICTURE: Reuters/Gleb Garanich

Oleksandr, a 41-year-old Kyiv resident walking along Khreshchatyk Street, said he and others “have learned to appreciate the simple moments” of wartime life in Ukraine.

“I hope that we won’t lose our drive…because all that’s going on is exhausting,” he said, standing near a blown-out Russian army vehicle.

“But we have to preserve our dynamic and bring this situation to a logical conclusion,” he said.

– With reporting by YURII KHOMENKO and STEFANIIA BERN

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