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Russian attack leaves 15 dead and 50 injured on Ukraine’s Independence Day

A Russian rocket strike hit a train station in central Ukraine on Wednesday as people celebrated Independence Day, killing at least 15 people and injuring 50, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

The attack came amid warnings of a possible revenge attack after a car bomb four days ago outside Moscow killed a hardline commentator who was the daughter of a Russian ultranationalist. Ukraine said it was not involved in the attack. As well as being the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union, Wednesday also marked six months since the start of the war.

Zelenskyy had banned large public gatherings on Wednesday and told government workers to work from home in anticipation of “something particularly nasty, something particularly cruel” from Russia amid high tensions.

Additionally, the United States issued a security alert citing “reports that Russia is intensifying efforts to launch strikes against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and government facilities in the coming days.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Zelenskyy gave a fiery speech pledging to drive Russian occupiers out of his battered country as he stood among burnt-out Russian tanks in downtown Kyiv.

“Donbass is Ukraine. And we will return it, whatever the path. Crimea is Ukraine. And we will return it. Whatever the path,” Zelenskyy said, referring to the regions which have been taken over partially or entirely by the Russians. “You don’t want your soldiers to die? Liberate our lands. You don’t want your mothers to cry? Liberate our lands. These are our simple and clear conditions.

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Other developments:

►Zelenskyy, speaking at the United Nations, called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to take “permanent control” of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, now occupied by Russia. “Russia has brought the world to the brink of a radioactive catastrophe,” he said.

►Russia’s eight-year occupation of Crimea has cost Ukraine about $118 billion, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has estimated. He said Russia had turned the peninsula into a “huge military base”.

►War crimes in Ukraine could be unprecedented. So are the country’s efforts for speedy justice. USA TODAY examines the tragedies takes place in Ukraine.

►Pope Francis marked the half-anniversary of the invasion by denouncing the “madness” of war and lamenting that innocent civilians on both sides are paying a heavy price.

US commits nearly $3 billion in new military aid

A $2.98 billion aid package for Ukraine announced by the Pentagon on Wednesday includes surface-to-air missile systems, artillery munitions and drones. Since January, the Biden administration has spent $13.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine.

The White House said the latest security assistance would allow Ukraine to continue to defend itself over the long term.

“I know that this Independence Day is bittersweet for many Ukrainians, as thousands have been killed or injured, millions have been displaced from their homes and so many more have been victims of atrocities and of Russian attacks,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “But six months of relentless attacks have only strengthened the pride of Ukrainians in themselves, in their country and in their 31 years of independence.”

Ukraine’s Finance Minister Sergei Marchenko called the grant ” important gift for our country.”

Belarus player barred from US Open exposure

Two-time tennis champion and former world number one Victoria Azarenka, from Belarus, was barred from a pre-US Open exhibition on Wednesday raising money for humanitarian aid in Ukraine.

Belarus has been Russia’s strongest supporter since the invasion. Ukrainian player Marta Kostyuk questioned the participation of a Belarusian in the American Tennis Association’s “Tennis Plays for Peace” exhibition on Wednesday night in New York.

Wimbledon has banned Russian and Belarusian players, but the US Open allows them to play in the event which begins on Monday.

Air raid sirens wail across the country

Air raid sirens sounded across much of Ukraine on Wednesday as Russian rockets slammed into areas of the nation battered on Independence Day. Explosions were reported in the Chernihiv region northeast of Kyiv and Poltava Dnipropetrovsk in the southeast. Ukrainian authorities had warned residents not to hold large gatherings to mark the holiday amid fears of Russian strikes, and planned mass celebrations in many towns have been called off.

Residents of Kyiv were woken by air raid sirens, but there were no immediate airstrikes. Zelenskyy urged Ukrainians to observe curfews and pay attention to sirens.

“Russian provocations and brutal strikes are a possibility,” Zelenskyy said.

Europe pays tribute to Ukraine on Independence Day of a battered nation

European leaders pledged support for Ukraine on its independence day, paying tribute to the sacrifices and courage of the Ukrainian people, expressing their determination to continue supplying arms and swearing at Russia for its attack on the neighboring nation.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz chided the Kremlin and predicted that Ukraine “will drive out the shadow of war because it is strong and brave, because it has friends in Europe and all over the world”. French President Emmanuel Macron, in a video message, said defending Ukraine meant “refusing that international relations be governed by violence and chaos”.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted a photo of himself visiting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv: “What happens in Ukraine concerns us all. That’s why I’m in Kyiv today. is why the UK will continue to support our Ukrainian friends.I believe that Ukraine can and will win this war.

Celebrating the day it declared independence from the Soviet Union – August 24, 1991 – was a way for Ukraine to move away from its former status as a Soviet republic, said Kathryn David, assistant professor of studies Russian and Eastern European Studies at Vanderbilt University. .

“The war showed that Russia’s choice to carry on the Soviet legacy made it look like the USSR in the worst possible way – violent and isolated from the world,” David said, “while Ukraine is become a place defending democratic and European values.”

Contributor: Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY; The Associated Press