Ukraine doubles down on victory goal on 31st Independence Day

Ukrainians told to expect attacks from Russia as country marks six months of war

Destroyed Russian military vehicles installed in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, Aug.  24, 2022.  Kyiv authorities have banned mass gatherings in the capital through Thursday for fear of Russian missile attacks.  Independence Day, like the six-month mark in the war, falls on Wednesday.  (AP Photo / Evgeniy Maloletka)
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged his nation to set its sights on victory as residents of Kyiv woke up to air raid sirens on Wednesday, as the country marked its independence day and six months since the start of the Russian invasion.

The 44-year-old leader, speaking in front of Kyiv's central monument to independence in his trademark combat fatigues, vowed to recapture occupied areas of eastern Ukraine as well as the Crimean peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

"What for us is the end of the war? We used to say: peace. Now we say: victory," he said, days after his government laid out the hulks of burnt-out Russian tanks and armoured vehicles in central Kyiv in a show of defiance.

Foreign leaders paid tribute to Ukraine on a day of double significance. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country would stand with Ukraine for as long as necessary.

"Neighbours help each other out in times of need. Germany therefore stands firmly by Ukraine’s side in this hour of danger – today and for as long as Ukraine needs our support," he said.

"We will continue to train Ukrainian servicemen and women so they can use Europe’s most modern military equipment. We will maintain our sanctions. We will support Ukraine financially, and we are helping to rebuild destroyed towns and villages."

Britain's outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who made a surprise visit to Kyiv to mark the occasion, said he "never doubted for a moment" that Ukraine will win its struggle against Russian aggression.

"One day Ukraine will come through this ordeal and achieve victory, and when that moment comes, as it will, we in the UK will be even prouder to be friends of Ukraine," he said.

The two candidates in the running to take over from Mr Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, both promised to maintain strong support for Ukraine if they win the Conservative leadership contest next month.

Ms Truss, the foreign secretary, said Russian President Vladimir Putin "cannot prevail" and said she would "do everything I can to ensure the flame of freedom in Ukraine continues to burn bright".

Mr Sunak had a letter published in the Kyiv Post assuring Ukrainians that Britain "will always remain your strongest ally" regardless of political developments at Westminster.

"I promise that the United Kingdom will be a lifelong friend and help Ukraine rebuild into the prosperous, ambitious and forward-looking country you are," he wrote.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, helped unfurl a giant Ukrainian flag in Brussels, where EU members agreed in June to put Ukraine on the path to membership.

"We can never match the sacrifices you are making every day. But we can and will stand by your side," she said.

Ben Wallace, the UK defence secretary, said on Wednesday that the world is still “pretty solid and determined” to stand up for Ukraine but Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of Nato, has said the war in Ukraine will “most likely end at the negotiating table”.

“We will support Ukraine for as long as it takes, we will support Ukraine to prevail as an independent sovereign state in Europe and then this war will most likely end at the negotiating table, and the outcome of that will totally depend on the strength on the battlefield, that’s the reason why we support them,” said Mr Stoltenberg

Ben Wallace said he believed support for Ukraine in Europe was durable. “I don’t think that there’s been any wavering, I think that’s what Putin would love the world to do," he said. "It’s what he would fantasise, we’d all sort of go back to our sun loungers.

“The simple reality is we see this as a direct threat not only to Ukraine, but to our values, and the world is still pretty solid and determined.

“Now, of course, as we see, he will use gas as a weapon. I think we saw yesterday a reduction in parts of the gas pipeline into Europe, deliberately to drive up prices. But, of course, that is why he must not be allowed to be successful in Ukraine in the long term.

“I really don’t think that we have seen much of the waning that is alleged or reported, I think we’ve actually seen a strong commitment.

“Look, of course, when you’re trying across either 30 countries of Nato or, indeed, the whole of the EU, trying to get into a completely uniform position, that is always going to take effort.

“I mean, the EU doesn’t always, you know, can’t even often decide on some of the most basic Pan-European initiatives, whether that’s environmental standards, that’s just the way it is.

“But I think that’s why the Commission is there to do that work. But I don’t see any waning.

“There’s always a few disagreements about the levels of sanctions, but, fundamentally, the international community is united against what Putin is doing.”

Updated: August 24, 2022, 2:50 PM
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