Zelensky says Ukraine was ‘reborn’ when Russia invaded in emotional Independence Day speech

Wednesday marks six months of war and 31 years of independence from Soviet Union for Ukraine

Divya Soundararajan
Wednesday 24 August 2022 19:33 BST
Ukraine Independence Day: Country reborn after Russia invaded, Zelensky says

Ukraine was reborn when Vladimir Putin declared war six months ago, Volodymyr Zelensky told Ukrainians today in an emotional speech to mark 31 years of independence.

After days of warnings that Moscow could use Ukraine‘s Independence Day to launch more missile attacks on major cities, the country’s second-biggest city Kharkiv was under curfew after months of bombardment on Wednesday.

Celebrations across the country were cancelled but many people marked the day by wearing embroidered shirts that are part of the national dress and Mr Zelensky and his wife laid flowers at a memorial to fallen soldiers.

In an emotional speech aired on Wednesday morning, the Ukrainian president said Russia’s attack had revived the nation’s spirits.

He added that the country no longer saw the war ending when there was peace, but when Kyiv was victorious, and that his troops would recapture annexed Crimea and occupied areas in the east.

“A new nation appeared in the world on 24 February at 4 in the morning. It was not born, but reborn. A nation that did not cry, scream or take fright. One that did not flee. Did not give up. And did not forget,” he said as he stood in front of Kyiv’s central monument to independence.

“We are holding on for six months. It is difficult for us, but we clenched our fists fighting for our fate,” he added. “Every new day is a new reason not to give up. Because, having gone through so much, we have no right not to reach the end.”

“What for us is the end of the war? We used to say: peace. Now we say victory.

“We will not sit down at the negotiating table out of fear, with a gun pointed at our heads. For us, the most terrible iron is not missiles, aircraft and tanks, but shackles. Not trenches, but fetters.”

Mr Zelensky added that Ukraine will recapture its annexed peninsula of Crimea by any means necessary. Most of the world recognises Crimea, which was seized and annexed by Russia in 2014, as part of Ukraine.

“Donbas is Ukraine. And we will return it, whatever the path may be,” he said in the pre-recorded speech. “Crimea is Ukraine. And we will return it. Whatever the path may be. You don’t want your soldiers to die? Free our lands. You don’t want your mothers to cry? Free our lands. These are our simple and clear terms.”

Besides Crimea and the Donbas region, Russia has also seized some areas of the south, including the Black Sea and Sea of Azov coasts.

A boy waves a national flag atop an armoured van at an exhibition of destroyed Russian military vehicles (Reuters)

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has killed 9,000 Ukrainian soldiers and 5,587 civilians, according to a Ukrainian military chief and statistics from the UN. It has also pushed over a third of Ukraine’s 41 million people from their homes and left several cities in ruins.

Though Russia has not made public its losses, US intelligence estimates that at least 15,000 have been killed so far.

The war is currently at a standstill with no immediate prospect of peace talks.

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu told a meeting of defence ministers in Uzbekistan on Wednesday that Russia had deliberately slowed down what it refers to as its “special military operation” in Ukraine to avoid civilian casualties.

A young girl holds a Ukrainian flag next to destroyed Russian military hardware in Kyiv on 24 August, 2022. (Sopo Images/Shutterstock)

Kyiv broke away from the Soviet Union on this day more than three decades ago, but the city streets were unusually empty for independence day on Wednesday following days of dire warnings of the possibility of fresh missile attacks from Russia.

Residents in Kyiv woke up to air raid sirens as the Ukrainian president and military repeatedly urged them to be vigilant and respond to such signals quickly.

Mr Zelensky had said on Tuesday night that it was likely Moscow would stage “repugnant …provocations” around the festivities, and urged people to respond to air raid sirens quickly.

“We are fighting against the most terrible threat to our statehood and also at a time when we have achieved the greatest level of national unity,” he said.

As a safety precaution, Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mykolaiv have banned public celebrations. However, in a show of defiance, burnt-out Russian tanks were placed in the centre of the capital.

Cars pass by destroyed Russian tanks in the village of Dmytrivka, close to Kyiv (AP)

With Russia’s progress in the war stalling, UK defence secretary Ben Wallace claimed on Wednesday that Russia was in a “very fragile position”.

“Russia’s advance can be measured in metres per week, not miles,” Mr Wallace told BBC Radio 4. “It is grinding in small parts of the country in an attempt to advance – completely opposite of the three-days special operation that it touted at the beginning of this, six months ago.”

“I think Ukraine is getting itself into that position” to retake Ukrainian territory, he added. “If you look at the morale of the Ukrainian forces, it is leagues ahead of the Russian morale, which is poorly-trained troops, etc.”

Zelensky stands in front of troops at State Flag Day celebrations in the capital on Tuesday (AP)

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s allies offered more support to coincide with Independence Day.

British prime minister Boris Johnson told Mr Zelensky that Ukraine “can and will win this war” as he made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Wednesday. Mr Johnson, who has just weeks left in office, said the UK “will continue to stand with our Ukrainian friends” as he set out a further £54m package of military aid.

The US announced an additional $3bn (£2.5bn) in aid to help train and equip Ukrainian forces. America has already sent $10.6bn in security assistance to Ukraine so far. The package marks a shift to a longer-term campaign that will likely keep more American military troops in Europe into the future, US officials said.

The money will fund contracts for drones, weapons and other equipment that may not see the battlefront for a year or two, US officials said.

Norway and Britain will give Ukraine micro drones to help it fight off Russian troops, the Norwegian defence ministry has said.

In a statement on Wednesday, the ministry said the cost of the Teledyne Flir Black Hornet drones, which are used to identify targets, is around $9.26m.

Additional reporting by agencies

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