Wednesday marks 31 years of Ukrainian independence and also 6 months of fighting Moscow's invasion
A Russian missile attack killed 22 civilians and set a passenger train on fire in Eastern Ukraine as the country marked its independence day under heavy shelling, officials in Kyiv said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had warned of the risk of "repugnant Russian provocations" ahead of the 31st anniversary on Wednesday of Ukraine's independence from Moscow-dominated Soviet rule, and public celebrations were cancelled.
The holiday also coincided with six months since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, touching off Europe's most devastating conflict since the Second World War.
In a video address to the United Nations Security Council, Zelenskyy said rockets hit a train in the town of Chaplyne, some 145 kilometres west of Russian-occupied Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
"Chaplyne is our pain today. As of this moment there are 22 dead," Zelenskyy said in an evening video address, adding Ukraine would hold Russia responsible for everything it had done.
Zelenskyy aide Kyrylo Tymoshenko later said Russian forces had shelled Chaplyne twice. A boy was killed in the first attack when a missile hit his house, and 21 people died later when rockets hit the railway station and set fire to five carriages, he said in a statement.
The Russian Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Russia denies targeting civilians.
"Russia's missile strike on a train station full of civilians in Ukraine fits a pattern of atrocities. We will continue, together with partners from around the world, to stand with Ukraine and seek accountability for Russian officials," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter.
On Ukraine's holiday, Russia's military avoided Kyiv and targeted front-line towns like Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Nikopol and Dnipro with artillery attacks, Ukraine presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said.
"Massive shelling of Ukraine on Independence Day," fellow presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak added on Twitter.
In a ceremony to honour those who fought for their country, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy awarded Ukrainian servicemen and family members of soldiers killed in combat the Golden Star medal, recognizing them as 'Heroes of Ukraine.'
A war, 31 years after independence
Ukraine declared independence from the disintegrating Soviet Union in August 1991, and its population voted overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum that December.
Celebrations of the Aug. 24 public holiday were cancelled, but many Ukrainians marked the day by wearing embroidered shirts typical of the national dress.
Air raid sirens blared at least seven times in the capital Kyiv during the day, though no attacks transpired there.
Zelenskyy and his wife, Olena Zelenska, later joined religious leaders for a service in Kyiv's St. Sophia cathedral and laid flowers at a memorial to fallen soldiers.
Strikes on Ukrainian military, civilian targets
Ukrainian forces shot down a Russian drone in the Vinnytsia region, while multiple Russian missiles landed in the Khmelnytskyi area, regional authorities said — both west of Kyiv and hundreds of kilometres from front lines.
No damage or casualties were reported, and Reuters could not verify the reports.
The war between Russia and Ukraine has evolved into something of a stalemate, but Ukraine now needs more tanks, artillery and especially ammunition for its war effort, says Nicholas Drummond, a former British army officer and now a defence analyst.
Russia has repeatedly denied its forces are aiming at civilian targets. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told a meeting in Uzbekistan that Moscow had deliberately slowed down what it refers to as its "special military operation" in Ukraine to avoid civilian casualties.
At a UN Security Council session on Wednesday, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia reiterated Moscow's rationale for its actions in Ukraine, saying a "special operation" was needed to "denazify and demilitarize" the country to remove "obvious" security threats to Russia.
Moscow's stance has been dismissed by Ukraine and the West as a baseless pretext for an imperialist war of conquest.
More military aid
U.S. President Joe Biden announced nearly $3 billion US for weapons and equipment for Ukraine in Washington's "biggest tranche of security assistance to date."
On a surprise visit to Kyiv on Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also promised a further $63.5 million US worth of military support, including 2,000 drones.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country is providing more than 500 million euros ($498 million US) in aid, including powerful anti-aircraft systems. And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Tuesday $3.85 million Cdn for two Ukraine projects, with the bulk going to funding for ongoing development of Ukraine's national police force and other emergency services.
Ukraine is marking 31 years of national independence, and six months of struggling to defend it. For Ukrainians, it was a day of powerful and conflicting emotions.
"Ukrainians are not only defending their country; they are defending the values of freedom and democracy that we hold dear here in Canada and in many places around the world," Trudeau said in a statement Wednesday. "We must continue to come together with our allies and partners to offer our steadfast support to the Ukrainian people."
Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly, speaking to CBC News in Toronto, said the Liberal government is steadfast in its support.
"We know that Putin's war of choice is one of imperialism," she said. "So it is not a rational decision and we need to make sure that, meanwhile, we strengthen the position of Ukrainians.
"We need to continue to support them by really isolating diplomatically, economically and politically, Russia. We need to make sure that we send heavy artillery. We need to be there for Ukrainian people through humanitarian aid, and also need to shed light on the atrocities that Russia is committing in Ukraine."
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Ukrainians they were an inspiration to the world.
"You can count on NATO's support. For as long as it takes," he said in a video message.
Russian advance has slowed
Russia has made few advances in Ukraine in recent months after its troops were repelled from Kyiv in the early weeks of the war.
Ukraine's top military intelligence official, Kyrylo Budanov, said Russia's offensive was slowing because of moral and physical fatigue in its ranks and Moscow's "exhausted" resource base.
Russian forces have seized areas of the south including on the Black Sea and Sea of Azov coasts and large tracts of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces that comprise the eastern Donbas region.
The war has killed thousands of civilians, forced more than a third of Ukraine's 41 million people from their homes, left cities in ruins, and shaken the global economy, creating shortages of essential food grains and pushing up energy prices.
With files from CBC News
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