Ukraine: Objects of war become new normal in Kyiv scenery
There are sandbags around the statues and anti-tank obstacles by the side of the streets, trenches in the nearby forests and land mine warnings in the woods. Signs painted on walls point to the nearest shelter, while air raid sirens occasionally wail across the city, which still sometimes comes under missile attack. But against this backdrop of war, residents of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, are living their lives as normally as they can while Russia’s invasion of their country continues into its second year. Although many fled in the opening stages of the war, residents have gradually returned to their homes as Russian forces were pushed back from north of the city last year, and the conflict became centered mainly in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine. Also Read: 5 dead in Ukraine after Russian missile barrage Shops, restaurants and bars are open — even if customers have to wrap up their evenings early and rush home in time for the 11 p.m. curfew. Nobody pays attention to the angular steel anti-tank hedgehogs by the side of the road, or the occasional pile of sandbags.
Russia claims progress in eastern Ukraine; Kyiv craves tanks
Russia claimed Friday to have captured a village in its intense, monthslong push toward the eastern Ukraine city of Bakhmut, as military analysts cautioned that tanks that may be sent by Kyiv’s Western allies wouldn't be a magic wand in the almost 11-month war. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told a regular media briefing that the village of Klishchiivka, nine kilometers (five miles) south of Bakhmut, had been “liberated.” The claim couldn't be independently verified, and Ukrainian officials made no immediate comment on the claim. Read more: Deadly missile strike adds to Ukraine war fears in Poland Taking Klishchiivka would be only a minor breakthrough, but the Kremlin is hungry for good news from the battlefield after months of setbacks. Bakhmut, on the other hand, would be a bigger prize. It could allow Russia to disrupt Ukrainian supply lines in the east and threaten other Ukrainian-held cities in the surrounding region. The war has been largely static during the winter months, according to military analysts, except for some hot spots like Bakhmut and nearby Soledar. The Kremlin’s forces have kept up their long-distance shelling of Ukrainian targets, hitting key infrastructure and civilian areas, while probing Ukrainian defenses in the east. The Ukrainian presidential office said Friday that at least five civilians were killed over the previous 24 hours, while six others were wounded, as Russian forces shelled seven regions in the country’s south and east. Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks near a number of settlements in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the Ukrainian General Staff said in a report. Read more: Russian missiles cross into Poland during strike on Ukraine, killing 2 John Lough, an Associate Fellow in the Russia and Eurasia program at the Chatham House think tank in London, said that the Ukraine battlefield situation is “inconclusive,” with a renewed Russian push expected in the spring. The war is “quite delicately poised,” he told The Associated Press. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pleaded with Western allies to send tanks that would help punch through Russian lines, and Western countries were discussing that possibility at a meeting in Germany on Friday. The United Kingdom said last week that it would provide Challenger 2 tanks. Marina Miron, of the Defense Studies Department at King’s College London, said that tanks are useful, but lots of factors need to be taken into account. Those factors include how many tanks will be sent, what condition they are in, how Ukrainian crews will be trained, when the tanks will be delivered and how the Ukrainians keep them supplied. Sending tanks is “more of a political gesture” than something that will change the complexion of the war, Miron told the AP.
Lavrov: Ukraine must demilitarize or Russia will do it
Russia’s foreign minister on Tuesday warned anew Ukraine that it must demilitarize, threatening further military action and falsely accusing Kyiv and the West of fueling the war that started with Moscow’s invasion. Sergey Lavrov said Ukraine must remove any military threat to Russia — otherwise “the Russian army (will) solve the issue.” His comments also reflected persistent unfounded claims by the Kremlin that Ukraine and its Western allies were responsible for the 10-month war, which has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions. Russia launched the war on Feb. 24, alleging a threat to its security and a plot to bring NATO to its doorstep. Lavrov reiterated on Tuesday that the West was feeding the war in Ukraine to weaken Russia, and said that it depends on Kyiv and Washington how long the conflict will last. “As for the duration of the conflict, the ball is on the side of the (Kyiv) regime and Washington that stands behind its back,” Lavrov told the state Tass news agency. “They may stop senseless resistance at any moment.” In an apparent reaction, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that “Russia needs to face the reality.” “Neither total mobilization, nor panicky search for ammo, nor secret contracts with Iran, nor Lavrov’s threats will help,” he said. “Ukraine will demilitarize the RF (Russian Federation) to the end, oust the invaders from all occupied territories. Wait for the finale silently…” A day earlier, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told the Associated Press in an interview that his government wants a summit to end the war but that he doesn’t anticipate Russia taking part. Kuleba said Ukraine wants a “peace” summit within two months with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres acting as mediator. But he also said that Russia must face a war crimes tribunal before before his country directly talks with Moscow. Read more: Russia scrubs Mariupol's Ukraine identity, builds on death Both statements illustrate how complex and difficult any attempts to end the war could be. Ukraine has said in the past that it wouldn’t negotiate with Russia before the full withdrawal of its troops, while Moscow insists its military gains and the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula cannot be ignored. Testifying to the hardships of war, families of Ukrainian prisoners of war believed held by Russia on Tuesday said the Christmas holiday season is particularly painful and appealed for more to be done to bring their loves ones back home. Neither Ukraine nor Russia have revealed the exact numbers of POWs they hold, while hundreds have been released as part of prisoner exchanges. Iryna Latysh’s husband Yevhen was captured exactly 300 days ago, in the early days of the war, and she says Christmas isn’t the same without him. “We were decorating the Christmas tree together this time last year,” she sobbed. “We put the star together, the decorations.” U.N. human rights investigators have warned that Ukrainian POWs appear to be facing “systematic” mistreatment — including torture — both when they are captured and when they are transferred into areas controlled by Russian forces or Russia itself. Meanwhile, fierce fighting continued on Tuesday in the Russia-claimed Donetsk and Luhansk regions that recently have been the scene of the most intense clashes. Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said that Russian forces are trying to encircle the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, but without success. Heavy battles are also underway around the city of Kreminna in the Luhansk region, Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said. In the partially occupied southern Kherson region, Russian forces shelled Ukrainian-held areas 40 times on Monday, wounding one person, Ukrainian authorities said. The city of Kherson itself — which Ukraine retook last month in a major win — was targeted 11 times, said regional administrator Yaroslav Yanushevich. Since its initial advances at the start of the war 10 months ago, Russia has made few major gains, often pummeling Ukraine’s infrastructure instead and leaving millions without electricity, heating and hot water amid winter conditions. Lavrov didn’t specify how the Russian army will achieve its goals of demilitarizing and “denazifying” Ukraine — which was Russia’s stated goal when the invasion started in February. The reference to “denazification” comes from Russia’s allegations that the Ukrainian government is heavily influenced by radical nationalist and neo-Nazi groups. The claim is derided by Ukraine and the West. Lavrov warned further Western support for Ukraine could lead to direct confrontation. Read more: Russia warns increasing supply of US arms to Ukraine will aggravate war “We keep warning our adversaries in the West about the dangers of their course to escalate the Ukrainian crisis,” he said, adding that “the risk that the situation could spin out of control remains high.” “The strategic goal of the U.S. and its NATO allies is to win a victory over Russia on the battlefield to significantly weaken or even destroy our country,” he said. On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree banning oil exports to countries that support a $60-per-barrel price cap that was declared by the European Union and Group of Seven countries in a bid to reduce Moscow’s revenue during wartime. The ban takes effect in February and will run through July. The price cap is higher than what Russian oil has sold for in recent weeks, so the potential effects of Putin’s ban are uncertain.
Wartime Ukraine erasing Russian past from public spaces
On the streets of Kyiv, Fyodor Dostoevsky is on the way out. Andy Warhol is on the way in. Ukraine is accelerating efforts to erase the vestiges of Soviet and Russian influence from its public spaces by pulling down monuments and renaming hundreds of streets to honor its own artists, poets, soldiers, independence leaders and others — including heroes of this year’s war. Following Moscow’s invasion on Feb. 24 that has killed or injured untold numbers of civilians and soldiers and pummeled buildings and infrastructure, Ukraine's leaders have shifted a campaign that once focused on dismantling its Communist past into one of “de-Russification.” Streets that honored revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin or the Bolshevik Revolution were largely already gone; now Russia, not Soviet legacy, is the enemy. It’s part punishment for crimes meted out by Russia, and part affirmation of a national identity by honoring Ukrainian notables who have been mostly overlooked. Russia, through the Soviet Union, is seen by many in Ukraine as having stamped its domination of its smaller southwestern neighbor for generations, consigning its artists, poets and military heroes to relative obscurity, compared with more famous Russians. Read more: Putin in Belarus, eyeing next steps in Ukraine war If victors write history, as some say, Ukrainians are doing some rewriting of their own — even as their fate hangs in the balance. Their national identity is having what may be an unprecedented surge, in ways large and small. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has taken to wearing a black T-shirt that says: “I’m Ukrainian.” He is among the many Ukrainians who were born speaking Russian as a first language. Now, they shun it — or at least limit their use of it. Ukrainian has traditionally been spoken more in the western part of the country — a region that early on shunned Russian and Soviet imagery. Large parts of northern, eastern and central Ukraine are making that linguistic change. The eastern city of Dnipro on Friday pulled down a bust of Alexander Pushkin — like Dostoevsky, a giant of 19th century Russian literature. A strap from a crane was unceremoniously looped under the statue's chin. This month, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko announced about 30 more streets in the capital will be rechristened. Volodymyr Prokopiv, deputy head of the Kyiv City Council, said Ukraine's “de-Communization” policy since 2015 had been applied in a “soft” way so as not to offend sensitivities among the country's Russian-speaking and even pro-Moscow population. “With the war, everything changed. Now the Russian lobby is now powerless – in fact, it doesn’t exist,” Prokopiv said in an interview with The Associated Press in his office overlooking Khreschatik Street, the capital's main thoroughfare. “Renaming these streets is like erasing the propaganda that the Soviet Union imposed on Ukraine.” During the war, the Russians have also sought to stamp their culture and domination in areas they have occupied. Andrew Wilson, a professor at University College London, cautioned about "the dangers in rewriting the periods in history where Ukrainians and Russians did cooperate and build things together: I think the whole point about de-imperializing Russian culture should be to specify where we have previously been blind — often in the West.” Read more: Kyiv targeted in early morning drone attack: Authorities Wilson noted that the Ukrainians "are taking a pretty broad-brush approach.” He cited Pushkin, the 19th century Russian writer, who might understandably rankle some Ukrainians. To them, for example, the Cossacks — a Slavic people in eastern Europe — “mean freedom, whereas Pushkin depicts them as cruel, barbarous, antiquated. And in need of Russian civilization,” said Wilson, whose book "The Ukrainians” was recently published in its fifth edition. In its program, Kyiv conducted an online survey, and received 280,000 suggestions in a single day, Prokopiv said. Then, an expert group sifted through the responses, and municipal officials and street residents give a final stamp of approval. Under the “de-Communization” program, about 200 streets were renamed in Kyiv before this year. In 2022 alone, that same number of streets have been renamed and another 100 are scheduled to get renamed soon, Prokopiv said. A street named for philosopher Friedrich Engels will honor Ukrainian avant-garde poet Bohdan-Ihor Antonych. A boulevard whose name translates as “Friendship of Peoples” — an allusion to the diverse ethnicities under the USSR – will honor Mykola Mikhnovsky, an early proponent of Ukrainian independence. Another street recognizes the “Heroes of Mariupol” — fighters who held out for months against a devastating Russian campaign in that Sea of Azov port city that eventually fell. A street named for the Russian city of Volgograd is now called Roman Ratushnyi Street in honor of a 24-year-old civic and environmental activist who was killed in the war. A small street in northern Kyiv still bears Dostoevsky's name but soon will be named for Warhol, the late Pop Art visionary from the United States whose parents had family roots in Slovakia, across Ukraine's western border. Valeriy Sholomitsky, who has lived on Dostoevsky Street for nearly 40 years, said he could go either way. “We have under 20 houses here. That’s very few,” Sholomitsky said as he shoveled snow off the street in front of a fading address sign bearing the name of the Russian writer. He said Warhol was “our artist” — with heritage in eastern Europe: Now, “it will be even better,” he said. “Maybe it is right that we are changing many streets now, because we used to name them incorrectly,” he added.
Kyiv targeted in early morning drone attack: Authorities
Ukraine's capital was targeted by multiple drones in an attack early Monday, authorities reported, three days after what they described as one of Russia's biggest assaults on Kyiv since the beginning of the war. The Kyiv city administration said on its Telegram account that more than 20 Iranian-made drones were detected over the capital's air space and at least 15 of them were shot down. It added that a critical infrastructure point was hit, without giving more details. Read more: Jewish festival of lights begins in Ukraine as battles rage Kyiv region Gov. Oleksii Kuleba said on Telegram that some infrastructure facilities were damaged, as well as private houses, and at least two people were injured. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said that explosions were heard in two districts, Shevchenkivskyi and Solomianskyi. He said also on Telegram that there were no immediate casualties reported, and that the emergency services are working in the area. Although the capital seemed the main target of the latest Russian attack, the armed forces said that other places in the country were also targeted. Ukraine's air force said on Telegram that they were able to destroy 30 of at least 35 self-explosives drones that Russia launched across the country from the eastern side of the Azov Sea. Read more: Dead boy pulled from rubble of latest Russian hit on Ukraine The Ukrainian military has reported increasing success in shooting down missiles and explosive drones. Russia has been targeting energy infrastructure, including in Kyiv, as part of a strategy to try to freeze Ukrainians. On Friday, Ukraine’s capital was attacked as part of a massive strike from Russia. Dozens of missiles were launched across the country, triggering widespread power outages.
UK PM Sunak makes surprise trip to Kyiv, boosts defence aid
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised 125 anti-aircraft guns and other air-defence technology as he made an unannounced visit Saturday — his first — to Ukraine's snow-blanketed capital for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The air-defense package, which Britain valued at 50 million pounds ($60 million), comes as Russia has been pounding Ukraine's power grid and other key infrastructure from the air, causing widespread blackouts for millions of Ukrainians amid frigid weather. The package includes radar and other technology to counter the Iran-supplied exploding drones that Russia has used against Ukrainian targets. It comes on top of a delivery of more than 1,000 anti-air missiles that Britain announced earlier this month. Read more: G20: As Lavrov watches on, UK PM Sunak criticises Russia’s “barbaric” war The U.K. has been one of the staunchest Western backers of Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s invasion. Speaking alongside Zelenskyy, Sunak noted that the U.K. has given 2.3 billion pounds ($2.7 billion) in military aid and pledged: “We will do the same again next year.” “Your homes, your hospitals, your power stations are being destroyed," Sunak said in announcing the new air-defence package. “You and your people are paying a heavy price in blood.” Speaking through a translator, Zelenskyy said Russian strikes have damaged around half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. As snowflakes fell, Zelenskyy greeted Sunak at a presidential palace for their talks. He called the two countries “the strongest of allies.” Walking in the snow, they also inspected captured Russian tanks and other destroyed and rusting military hardware used by the invasion forces that are displayed in a Kyiv square. “With friends like you by our side, we are confident in our victory. Both of our nations know what it means to stand up for freedom,” the Ukrainian leader said on Twitter. Former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who stepped down in July, won wide praise in Ukraine for his backing. Sunak is keen to reassure Ukraine’s leaders that there will be no change of stance under his leadership, although when he was U.K. Treasury chief under Johnson he was considered resistant to demands for higher defense spending. “The courage of the Ukrainian people is an inspiration to the world,” Sunak said. “In years to come, we will tell our grandchildren of your story.” He pledged that Britain "will stand with you until Ukraine has won the peace and security it needs and deserves and then we will stand with you as you rebuild your great country.” Sunak also laid flowers at a memorial for the war dead, lit a candle at a memorial for victims of a deadly Soviet-era famine in Ukraine in the 1930s, and met first responders at a fire station, his office said. Sunak's visit came in the wake of a major recent battlefield success for Ukraine: the recapture of the southern city of Kherson. Read more: UK’s foreign aid may be suspended for 2 more years under PM Sunak: Reports The restoration of rail connections brought further joy Saturday to Kherson's residents, who excitedly waited for the first train from Kyiv. “This is the beginning of a new life,” said 74-year-old Ludmila Olhouskaya, who didn’t have anyone to meet off the train but went to the station to show support. “Or rather, the revival of a former one.” On the battlefield, Russian forces launched 10 airstrikes, 10 missile strikes and 42 rocket attacks on Ukraine in the last day, the General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said Saturday. In Kherson, the major southern city that Ukrainian forces recaptured more than a week ago, two Russian missiles struck an oil depot — the first time a depot was hit in the city since the Russians withdrew, according to firefighters at the scene. AP reporters said a huge fire and billowing black smoke. “There was a strong explosion,” said Valentyna Svyderska, who lives nearby. “We were scared, everyone was scared ... Because this is an army that is at war with the civilian population.” Local authorities were struggling to respond to the blaze, the firefighters said, because Russian forces took the city's fire trucks and ambulances when they retreated. Russia is pressing an offensive in the eastern Donetsk region, and Ukraine reported heavy fighting around the city of Bakhmut, the town of Avdiivka and the village of Novopavlivka. Russian forces claimed to have repelled a Ukrainian counteroffensive to take back the settlements of Pershotravneve, Kyslivka and Krokhmalne in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv province. Ukrainian forces said they killed or wounded scores of Russian soldiers during an attack on the village of Mykhailivka in the southern Kherson region, and the wounded were taken to hospitals in Crimea. The claim could not be independently verified. Ukrainian forces also reported they conducted deadly strikes on the Kinburn Spit in Ukraine’s southern Mykolaiv province, a key site for Russian electronic warfare. Russia kept up its strikes on critical infrastructure, with a rocket attack overnight causing a fire at a key industrial facility in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region, according to the region's chief. Some parts of the regional capital of Zaporizhzhia were left without heat. Read more: Deadly missile strike adds to Ukraine war fears in Poland The head of Ukraine’s biggest private energy firm told the BBC that Ukrainians who can afford it should consider leaving the country to relieve pressure on its war-damaged power system. “If they can find an alternative place to stay for another three or four months, it will be very helpful to the system,” said Maxim Timchenko, chief executive of DTEK. “If you consume less, then hospitals with injured soldiers will have a guaranteed power supply." In Poland, a funeral was held Saturday for one of the two men who died when a missile landed there this week, according to the state news agency PAP. A military honor guard and Polish and Ukrainian representatives joined the man’s family and members of the community. NATO member Poland and the head of the military alliance have both said the missile strike in an eastern farming region appeared to be unintentional and was probably launched by air defenses in neighboring Ukraine. Russia had been bombarding Ukraine at the time. The U.K. Ministry of Defense noted Saturday that Russia conducted its largest ever-debt issuance in a single day, raising $13.6 billion on Wednesday. It said debt issuance is a key mechanism to sustain defense spending.
Kyiv prepares for worst winter with no heat, water or power
The mayor of Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, is warning residents that they must prepare for the worst this winter if Russia keeps striking the country's energy infrastructure — and that means having no electricity, water or heat in the freezing cold cannot be ruled out. “We are doing everything to avoid this. But let’s be frank, our enemies are doing everything for the city to be without heat, without electricity, without water supply, in general, so we all die. And the future of the country and the future of each of us depends on how prepared we are for different situations," Mayor Vitali Klitschko told state media. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation Sunday that about 4.5 million people were without electricity. He called on Ukrainians to endure the hardships and “we must get through this winter and be even stronger in the spring than now.” Read more: Russia rejoins key deal on wartime Ukrainian grain exports Russia has focused on striking Ukraine's energy infrastructure over the last month, causing power shortages and rolling outages across the country. Kyiv was having hourly rotating blackouts Sunday in parts of the city and the surrounding region. Rolling blackouts also were planned in the Chernihiv, Cherkasy, Zhytomyr, Sumy, Kharkiv and Poltava regions, Ukraine’s state-owned energy operator, Ukrenergo, said. Kyiv plans to deploy about 1,000 heating points, but it's unclear if that would be enough for a city of 3 million people. As Russia intensifies its attacks on the capital, Ukrainian forces are pushing forward in the south. Residents of Ukraine's Russian-occupied city of Kherson received warning messages on their phones urging them to evacuate as soon as possible, Ukraine's military said Sunday. Russian soldiers warned civilians that Ukraine's army was preparing for a massive attack and told people to leave for the city's right bank immediately. Russian forces are preparing for a Ukrainian counteroffensive to seize back the southern city of Kherson, which was captured during the early days of the invasion. In September, Russia illegally annexed Kherson as well as three other regions and subsequently declared martial law in the four provinces. The Kremlin-installed administration in Kherson already has moved tens of thousands of civilians out of the city. Russia has been “occupying and evacuating” Kherson simultaneously, trying to convince Ukrainians that they're leaving when in fact they're digging in, Nataliya Humenyuk, a spokeswoman for Ukraine's Southern Forces, told state television. “There are defense units that have dug in there quite powerfully, a certain amount of equipment has been left, firing positions have been set up,” she said. Read more: As winter approaches, Ukraine struggles with power outage Russian forces are also digging in in a fiercely contested region in the east, worsening the already tough conditions for residents and the defending Ukrainian army following Moscow's illegal annexation and declaration of martial law in Donetsk province. The attacks have almost completely destroyed the power plants that serve the city of Bakhmut and the nearby town of Soledar, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, the region's Ukrainian governor, said. Shelling killed one civilian and wounded three, he reported late Saturday. “The destruction is daily, if not hourly,” Kyrylenko told state television. Moscow-backed separatists have controlled part of Donetsk for nearly eight years before Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. Protecting the separatists' self-proclaimed republic there was one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's justifications for the invasion, and his troops have spent months trying to capture the entire province. Between Saturday and Sunday, Russia's launched four missiles and 19 airstrikes hitting more than 35 villages in nine regions, from Chernihiv and Kharkiv in the northeast to Kherson and Mykolaiv in the south, according to Zelenskyy's office. The strikes killed two people and wounded six. In the Donetsk city of Bakhmut, 15,000 remaining residents were living under daily shelling and without water or power, according to local media. The city has been under attack for months, but the bombardment picked up after Russian forces experienced setbacks during Ukrainian counteroffensives in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions. The front line is now on Bakhmut's outskirts, where mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a shadowy Russian military company, are reported to be leading the charge. Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the group who has typically remained under the radar, is taking a more visible role in the war. In a statement Sunday he announced the funding and creation of “militia training centers” in Russia’s Belgorod and Kursk regions in the southwest, saying that locals were best placed to “fight against sabotage” on Russian soil. The training centers are in addition to a military technology center the group said it was opening in St. Petersburg. In Kharkiv, officials were working to identify bodies found in mass graves after the Russians withdrew, Dmytro Chubenko, a spokesperson for the regional prosecutor's office, told local media. DNA samples have been collected from 450 bodies discovered in a mass grave in the city of Izium, but the samples need to be matched with relatives and so far only 80 people have participated, he said. In one sliver of good news, the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant was reconnected to Ukraine’s power grid, local media reported Sunday. Europe’s largest nuclear plant needs electricity to maintain vital cooling systems, but it had been running on emergency diesel generators since Russian shelling severed its outside connections.
Ukraine marks Independence Day six months after start of war
Residents of Kyiv woke up to air raid sirens as Ukraine observed its Independence Day on Wednesday, which also marked exactly six months since the start of Russia's military invasion. Authorities in the capital banned large-scale gatherings until Thursday, fearing the national holiday might bring particularly heavy Russian missile attacks. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged the public to be vigilant. “Russian provocations and brutal strikes are a possibility,” Zelenskyy said in a statement. “Please strictly follow the safety rules. Please observe the curfew. Pay attention to the air sirens. Pay attention to official announcements. And remember: We must all achieve victory together.” A small number of residents gathered at Kyiv's central square, where destroyed Russian tanks and mobile artillery were put on display over the weekend, and the national anthem is played every day at 7 a.m. local time. “I can’t sleep at night because of what I see and hear about what is being done in Ukraine," a retiree who identified herself only by her first name, Tetyana, said, her voice shaking with emotion. “This is not a war. It is the destruction of the Ukrainian people," she said. Wednesday’s holiday commemorates Ukraine’s 1991 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. “Six months ago, Russia declared war on us. On February 24, all of Ukraine heard explosions and gunshots. ... On February 24, we were told: You have no chance. On August 24, we say: Happy Independence Day, Ukraine!” Zelenskyy said in an Independence Day message. A car bombing outside Moscow that killed the 29-year-old daughter of right-wing Russian political theorist Alexander Dugin on Saturday heightened fears that Russia might intensify attacks on Ukraine this week. Read:On eve of Ukraine's national day, fears Russia will pounce Russian officials have blamed Ukraine for the death of Darya Dugina, a nationalist Russian TV commentator. The car bomb exploded after she had attended a patriotic festival with her father, whom was widely believed to have been the intended target. The Ukrainian government has denied any involvement. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24. Moscow's military encountered unexpectedly stiff Ukrainian resistance, and the six months of fighting has upended life in Ukraine and sent shock waves through the world economy. As the war reached its 182nd day, there was no sign of a quick end to the conflict, which NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday described as “ a grinding war of attrition.” Russia now holds large swaths of the country’s east and south, but its gains accumulated slowly. Neither country has revealed how many troops it has lost during the six-month conflict. The United States is expected on Wednesday to announce roughly $3 billion in additional aid to train and equip Ukrainian forces to fight for years to come, U.S. officials said. The officials told The Associated Press the package would fund contracts for as many as three types of drones and other weapons, ammunition and equipment that may not see the battlefront for a year or two. The new funding is largely aimed at helping Ukraine secure its medium- to long-term defense posture, according to officials familiar with the matter. Earlier shipments focused on Ukraine’s more immediate needs for weapons and ammunition and involved materiel the Pentagon already had in stock that could be shipped quickly. Several officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the aid package before a public announcement. On the forefront of the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine, the conflict ground on. Russian forces struck several towns and villages in Donetsk province over 24 hours, killing one person and injuring another two, according to the regional administration. In the Dnipropetrovsk region on the southern front, Russian forces again shelled the cities of Nikopol and Marhanets, damaging several buildings and injuring two people, according to Gov. Valentyn Reznichenko. Russian troops also shelled the city of Zaporizhzhia, damaging several buildings and infrastructure but inflicting no casualties.
On eve of Ukraine's national day, fears Russia will pounce
On the eve of Ukraine's independence day and the half-year mark of Russia's invasion of its neighbor, there was increasing unease in the country on Tuesday that Moscow could be centering on specific government and civilian targets during the holiday. The United States reinforced those concerns when its embassy in Kyiv issued a security alert, saying it “has information that Russia is stepping up efforts to launch strikes against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and government facilities in the coming days.” Over the weekend, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy already sensed a threat coming when he said in his daily address that “we should be aware that this week Russia may try to do something particularly nasty, something particularly cruel.” The warnings come on the heels of Russia's claim that Ukrainian intelligence was responsible for the car bombing that killed the daughter of a leading right-wing Russian political thinker over the weekend. Ukraine denied involvement. Darya Dugina, a 29-year-old commentator with a nationalist Russian TV channel, died when a remotely controlled explosive device planted in her SUV blew up on Saturday night as she was driving on the outskirts of Moscow. The sense of dread pervading the war centers in part on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, at Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine, where continued shelling and fighting in the area has raised fears of a nuclear catastrophe. Read:Six months on, Ukraine fights war, faces painful aftermath U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres late Monday warned about the nuclear threat in general, particularly since Russia alluded to its massive nuclear arsenal early in the war. Guterres demanded a halt to “nuclear saber-rattling” on Monday, saying the world is at a “maximum moment of danger” and all countries with nuclear weapons must make a commitment to “no first-use." That didn't prevent shelling close to Zaporizhzhia early Tuesday. Regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko said Russian forces fired on nearby Marhanets and Nikopol on the right bank of the Dnieper River, continuing weeks of relentless overnight shelling. Amid the death and destruction, there was one small point of light. All professional soccer was stopped in February, but a new league season starts Tuesday in Kyiv. The Olympic Stadium will see the the opening-day meeting of Shakhtar Donetsk and Metalist 1925 from Kharkiv — teams from eastern cities that are fighting for their very existence. No fans will be allowed in the 65,000-capacity downtown stadium for the kickoff at 1 p.m. local time, and the players must be rushed to bomb shelters if air-raid sirens sound. "The teams, the players will be proud of this event,” Shakhtar captain Taras Stepanenko said Monday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
Russia attacks Kyiv area for the first time in weeks
Russian forces launched a missile attack on the Kyiv area for the first time in weeks Thursday and pounded the northern Chernihiv region as well, in what Ukraine said was revenge for standing up to the Kremlin. Ukrainian officials, meanwhile, announced a counteroffensive to take back the occupied Kherson region in the country’s south, territory seized by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces early in the war. Russia attacked the Kyiv region with six missiles launched from the Black Sea, hitting a military unit in the village of Liutizh on the outskirts of the capital, according to Oleksii Hromov, a senior official with Ukraine’s General Staff. He said that the attack ruined one building and damaged two others, and that Ukrainian forces also shot down one of the missiles in the town of Bucha. Fifteen people were wounded in the Russian strikes, five of them civilians, Kyiv regional Gov. Oleksiy Kuleba said. Kuleba linked the assaults to the Day of Statehood, a commemoration that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy instituted last year and Ukraine marked for the time on Thursday. “Russia, with the help of missiles, is mounting revenge for the widespread popular resistance, which the Ukrainians were able to organize precisely because of their statehood,” Kuleba told Ukrainian television. “Ukraine has already broken Russia’s plans and will continue to defend itself.” Chernihiv regional Gov. Vyacheslav Chaus reported that the Russians also fired missiles from the territory of Belarus at the village of Honcharivska. The Chernihiv region had not been targeted in weeks. Russian troops withdrew from the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions months ago after failing to capture either. The renewed strikes come a day after the leader of pro-Kremlin separatists in the east, Denis Pushilin, urged Russian forces to “liberate Russian cities founded by the Russian people — Kyiv, Chernihiv, Poltava, Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Lutsk.” Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, also came under a barrage of shelling overnight, according to the mayor. Authorities said a police officer was killed in Russian shelling of a power plant in the Kharkiv region. The southern city of Mykolaiv was fired on as well, with one person reported injured. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military kept up a counterattack in the Kherson region, knocking out of commission a key bridge over the Dnieper River on Wednesday. Read: Ukraine forces strike key bridge in Russian-occupied south Ukrainian media quoted Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich as saying the operation to liberate Kherson is underway, with Kyiv’s forces planning to isolate Russian troops and leave them with three options — “retreat, if possible, surrender or be destroyed.” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said the Russians are concentrating maximum forces in the direction of Kherson, warning: “A very large-scale movement of their troops has begun.” The British military said Ukraine has used its new, Western-supplied long-range artillery to damage at least three of the bridges across the Dnieper that Russia relies on to supply its forces. Ukraine’s presidential office said Thursday morning that Russian shelling of cities and villages over the past 24 hours killed at least five civilians, all of them in the eastern Donetsk province, and wounded nine. Fighting in recent weeks has focused on Donetsk province. It has intensified in recent days as Russian forces appeared to emerge from a reported “operational pause” after capturing neighboring Luhansk province. Ukrainian emergency authorities said two civilians were killed in a Russian bombardment of the town of Toretsk. A missile struck a residential building there early Thursday morning, destroying two floors, officials said. “Missile terror again. We will not give up. ... We will not be intimidated,” Donetsk regional Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Telegram. Military analysts believe Russian forces are focusing their efforts on capturing the cities of Bakhmut and Siversk in Donetsk province. Zelenskyy instituted the Day of Statehood to remind Ukrainians about the country’s history as an independent state. The commemoration honors Prince Vladimir, who made Christianity the official religion of the medieval state of Kyivan Rus more than 1,000 years ago. “You could say that for us, every day is a statehood day,” the president said in a Day of Statehood address. “We fight every day so that everyone on the planet can finally understand: We are not a colony or enclave or protectorate, not a province, an eyalet, or a crown land, not a part of foreign empires, not a part of a country, not a federal republic, not an autonomy, not a province, but a free, independent, sovereign, indivisible and independent state,” Zelenskyy said. The Kremlin also lays claim to the heritage of the Kyivan Rus. In 2016, Putin erected a monument to Prince Vladimir near the Kremlin.