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, Kyiv officials said.
Local resident Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned of the risk of “repugnant Russian provocations” ahead of the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence from Moscow-dominated Soviet rule on Wednesday, and public celebrations have been cancelled.
The holiday also coincided with six months since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, sparking the most devastating conflict in Europe since World War II.
In a video address to the United Nations Security Council, Mr Zelenskyy said rockets hit a train in the small town of Chaplyne, some 145 km west of Russian-held Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.
“Chaplyne is our pain today. As of this moment there are 22 dead,” he said in a video address later that evening, adding that Ukraine will blame Russia for everything it has done.
Zelenskyi associate Kyrylo Tymoshenko later said Russian forces fired on Chaplyne twice.
A boy was killed in the initial attack when a rocket hit his home and 21 people died later when rockets hit the train station and set fire to five train carriages, he said in a statement.
The Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Russia denies attacks on civilians.
“Russia’s rocket attack on a train station full of civilians in Ukraine fits into a pattern of atrocities.
“We will continue to stand up for Ukraine together with partners from around the world and call for accountability for Russian officials,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter.
On Ukraine’s public holiday, the Russian military avoided Kyiv and aimed artillery strikes at frontline cities like Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Nikopol and Dnipro, said Ukrainian Presidential Advisor Oleksiy Arestovych.
“Massive shelling of Ukraine on Independence Day,” added Presidential Advisor Mykhailo Podolyak on Twitter.
Separately, Kyiv shared information with international legal bodies about Russian plans, described by UN officials on Tuesday, to try captured Ukrainian fighters from the Azov regiment in Mariupol, officials said.
The port city fell in April after weeks of intense shelling by Russian forces as they surrounded Ukrainian bases at the Azovstal steelworks.
Presidential adviser Arestovych said Zelenskyy made it clear that Kyiv would “never, ever” consider peace talks with Moscow if the trials took place.
US Secretary of State spokesman Ned Price said the illegal process would amount to a “mockery of justice”.
Ukraine declared independence from the disintegrating Soviet Union in August 1991, and its people overwhelmingly voted in favor of independence in a December referendum.
Celebrations of the August 24 holiday were canceled, but many Ukrainians celebrated the occasion by wearing embroidered shirts, typical of the national costume.
In the capital Kyiv, air raid sirens wailed at least seven times during the day, although there were no attacks.
Mr Zelensky and his wife Olena Zelenska joined religious leaders for a service at Kiev’s 11th-century St. Sophia Cathedral and laid flowers at a memorial to fallen soldiers.
The 44-year-old leader said Ukraine will retake the Russian-held areas of eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.
Ukrainian forces shot down a Russian drone in the Vinnytsia region while several Russian missiles landed in the Khmelnytskyi region, regional authorities said – both west of Kyiv and hundreds of kilometers from the front lines.
No damage or casualties were reported and Reuters was unable to verify the accounts.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting in Uzbekistan that Moscow deliberately slowed down its so-called “military special operation” in Ukraine to avoid civilian casualties.
At a UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday, Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia reiterated Moscow’s rationale for its actions in Ukraine, saying that a “special operation” was needed to “de-Nazify and demilitarize” the country to “obvious” Eliminate security threats to Russia.
Moscow’s stance has been dismissed by Ukraine and the West as a baseless pretext for its imperialist war of conquest.
US President Joe Biden announced nearly $3 billion in arms and equipment for Ukraine in Washington’s “largest tranche of security assistance yet.”
Under Biden, the United States has pledged more than $13.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine.
Russia has made little progress in recent months after its troops were driven out of Kyiv in the first weeks of the war.
Ukraine’s top military intelligence agency Kyrylo Budanov said Wednesday Russia’s offensive is slowing due to low levels of moral and physical exhaustion in its ranks and Moscow’s “exhausted” resource base.
Russian forces have captured areas in the south, including the Black Sea and Azov Sea coasts and large parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, which comprise the eastern Donbass region.
The war has killed thousands of civilians, displaced more than a third of Ukraine’s 41 million people from their homes, left cities in ruins and rocked the global economy, caused shortages of essential grains and pushed up energy prices.
https://www.independent.ie/news/russian-attack-kills-22-civilians-on-ukraines-independence-day-kyiv-officials-say-41935808.html Russian attack kills 22 civilians on Ukraine’s Independence Day, Kyiv officials say