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Ukraine says Russian ‘shackles’ worse than missiles six months after invasion


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KYIV — Ukraine was “reborn” when Russia invaded six months ago, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Wednesday, marking 31 years of his country’s independence from the Moscow-controlled Soviet Union with a vow to drive Russian forces out completely.

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

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The anniversary fell exactly six months after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine. Wednesday’s celebrations were canceled but many people marked the day by wearing embroidered shirts that are part of the national dress.

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In an emotional speech to his compatriots, Zelenskiy said Russia’s attack had revived the nation’s spirit.

“A new nation appeared in the world on Feb. 24 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.

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 Russia annexed in 2014.

“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.

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He and his wife later joined other religious leaders for a service in St. Sophia cathedral and laid flowers at a memorial to fallen soldiers.

Russia has made few advances in Ukraine in recent months, after its troops were pushed back from Kyiv in the early weeks of the war. Ukrainian soldiers on the front line in the east said they were more motivated than their enemy.

“All of our people are cheering for us,” a soldier called Yevhen told Reuters, declining to give his last name. “The whole country is, and other countries who help us too. Our fighting spirit is greater than theirs.”

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

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WARNINGS

On Tuesday evening, Zelenskiy warned of the possibility of “repugnant Russian provocations” and on Wednesday, Ukraine’s military urged people to take air raid warnings seriously, reporting new air and missile attacks on civilian buildings.

U.S. President Joe Biden announced nearly $3 billion for weapons and equipment for Ukraine in Washington’s “biggest tranche of security assistance to date,” while the head of NATO told Ukrainians they were an inspiration to the world.

“You can count on NATO’s support. For as long as it takes,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a video message.

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.

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U.S. officials have warned of likely new Russian attacks on civilian and government infrastructure in coming days.

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.

In Germany, public buildings will be cooler this winter and streets darker under measures to make up for cuts in Russian gas supplies which it calls “blackmail.” Moscow blames technical problems. Italy called on Europe to cap Russian gas prices.

Almost 9,000 Ukrainian military personnel have been killed in what Kyiv says is an unprovoked act of imperial aggression.

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Russia has not publicized its losses but U.S. intelligence estimates 15,000 killed. Moscow describes its actions in Ukraine as an operation necessitated by threats to its security and has imposed penalties on those deemed to discredit its armed forces.

Russian opposition politician Yevgeny Roizman was shown being detained at home in a video published by state-owned news agency RIA. “The essence is that I called the war a war. That’s it,” he said as he was led away.

In Ukraine, the head of the town of Mykhailivka in the Russian-controlled part of Zaporizhzhia region was killed by a car bomb, the latest killing of a Moscow-installed official.

Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union in August 1991 after a failed putsch by Communist hardliners in Moscow, and its population voted overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum that December.

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NUCLEAR PLANT HOPES

In southern Ukraine, both sides have accused the other of firing missiles and artillery at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, raising fears of a nuclear catastrophe.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi said the U.N. nuclear watchdog hoped to gain access soon, while Russia said it had arrested two Ukrainian employees of the plant for passing information to Ukrainian authorities.

Advanced U.S. 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 the south 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’s defense ministry on Twitter.

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

(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Max Hunder, Andrea Shalal, Olzhas Auyezov, John Chalmers and Reuters bureaux; writing by Stephen Coates and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Jon Boyle, Catherine Evans and Gareth Jones)

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