Ukraine will fight 'until the end', Zelensky says on Independence Day

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the media after the summit of the Crimea Platform in Kyiv on Aug 23, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KYIV (AFP, REUTERS) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday (Aug 24) vowed in an Independence Day address that his country would fight Russia's invasion "until the end" and would not be making "any concession or compromise".

In an emotional speech marking 31 years of independence, he said Ukraine had been "reborn" when Russia invaded and it would not give up its fight for freedom from Moscow's domination.

Zelensky said Ukraine no longer sees the war ending when the fighting stops, but when Kyiv finally emerges victorious.

“A new nation appeared in the world on Feb 24 at 4 o’clock 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.

The 44-year-old wartime leader delivered the speech in combat fatigues in front of central Kyiv’s towering monument to independence from the Russian-dominated Soviet Union that broke up in 1991.

"We don't care what army you have, we only care about our land. We will fight for it until the end," Zelensky said on Wednesday, which also marks six months since the invasion began.

"We have been holding strong for six months. It's tough but we have clenched our fists and we are fighting for our destiny," he said.

Zelensky underscored Ukraine’s hardening war stance that opposes any kind of compromise that would allow Moscow to lock in territorial gains, including swathes of southern and eastern Ukraine captured over the past six months.

“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,” he said.

"For us Ukraine is the whole of Ukraine. All 25 regions, without any concession or compromise."

He vowed that Ukraine would recapture lost territory in the industrial Donbas region in the east as well as the peninsula of Crimea that Russia annexed in 2014.

Ukrainians are bracing for a prolonged war – and a brutal winter of energy shortages – after pushing back Russian forces at the start of what Moscow describes as a “special military operation” and preventing the fall of Kyiv.

Western military sources now say Russian forces are making little headway in their offensive operation in Ukraine’s eastern and southern territories, comparing the fighting to the slow, bloody, attritional fighting of World War I.

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The streets of central Kyiv were unusually empty on Wednesday morning following days of dire warnings that Russia could launch fresh missile attacks on major cities. An air raid siren rang out in the capital at 0740 GMT (3.40pm Singapore time).

Meanwhile, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Wednesday that the slowing pace of Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine is deliberate, and driven by the need to reduce civilian casualties.

Speaking at a meeting of defence ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Uzbekistan, Shoigu said: “Everything is being done to avoid casualties among civilians. Of course, this slows down the pace of the offensive, but we are doing this deliberately."

Warnings

On Tuesday evening, Zelensky warned of the possibility of “repugnant Russian provocations”.

“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,” Zelensky said.

Ukraine’s military urged people to take air raid warnings seriously.

“Russian occupiers continue to carry out air and missile attacks on civilian objects on the territory of Ukraine. Do not ignore air raid signals,” the General Staff said in a statement on Wednesday.

Zelensky told representatives of about 60 countries and international organisations attending a virtual summit on Crimea on Tuesday that Ukraine would drive Russian forces out of the peninsula by any means necessary, without consulting other countries beforehand.

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 jolted the global economy and security. It is now largely at a standstill with no immediate prospect of peace talks.

As well as Crimea, Russian forces have seized areas of the south including the Black Sea and Sea of Azov coasts, and chunks of the eastern Donbas region comprising the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Almost 9,000 Ukrainian military personnel have been killed in the war, its military said this week.

Russia has not publicised its losses but US intelligence estimates 15,000 killed in what Moscow describes as an operation necessitated by threats to its security. Kyiv says the invasion is an unprovoked act of imperial aggression.

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‘Intensive' talks on plant

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi said the UN nuclear watchdog hopes to gain access to the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine within days if negotiations succeed.

Both sides have accused the other of firing missiles and artillery dangerously close to the plant, Europe’s biggest, raising fears of a nuclear catastrophe.

Pro-Moscow forces took over the plant soon after the invasion began but Ukrainian technicians are still operating it.

The United Nations has called for the area to be demilitarised.

Russia accused Ukraine on Tuesday of attacking the plant with artillery, guided munitions and a drone, drawing a denial from Kyiv’s UN ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya.

“Nobody who is at least conscious can imagine that Ukraine would target a nuclear power plant at tremendous risk of nuclear catastrophe and on its own territory,” Kyslytsya told an emergency UN Security Council meeting in New York called by Russia.

Ukraine’s allies offered more military support on Wednesday.

Norway said it and Britain would jointly supply micro drones to help with reconnaissance and target identification.

The United States, which has sent US$10.6 billion (S$14.8 billion) in security assistance to Ukraine, announced a new package of about US$3 billion on Wednesday.

Advanced US missile systems appear to have helped Ukraine strike deep behind the front lines in recent months, taking out ammunition dumps and command posts.

In the latest mysterious fire at a Russian military facility, Russian officials said ammunition stored in southern Russia near the border with Ukraine spontaneously combusted on Tuesday.

Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of Belgorod region, blamed hot weather for the fire, drawing ridicule from Ukraine. 

“In a few months we will find out whether Russian ammunition can explode because of the cold,” Ukraine’s defence ministry said on Twitter.

“The five main causes of sudden explosions in Russia are: winter, spring, summer, autumn and smoking.”

 

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