Well-known Russian human rights defender attacked, hospitalized

Ukrainians have Celebrating 31 years of independence from the Soviet Union, and also six months since Russia invaded the country, in an ongoing conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people, devastated Ukraine’s economy and turned Russia into a virtual pariah state.

Ukrainians were warned to remain vigilant on August 24 as they celebrated the date in 1991 when lawmakers issued a declaration of independence from the USSR. A little over three months later, more than 90 percent of Ukrainians approved a referendum to formalize the statement.

Meanwhile, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of launching an attack missile attack that hit the Chaplyne railway station in the southern Dnepropetrovsk region, killing at least 22 people and injuring more than 50.

“Chaplyne is our pain today. To this moment there are 22 dead, five of them burned in a railway carriage,” he said in his nightly video address. “Search and rescue operations at the train station are continuing. We will definitely hold the occupiers accountable for everything they have done. And we will surely drive the invaders off our land.”

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Earlier, in recognition of the heavy toll taken since the February 24 invasion, Zelenskyy promised his “born again” country would do so Fight against Russian troops “to the end”.

“During those six months, we changed history, changed the world, and changed ourselves… We started to respect ourselves. We understood that despite all the help and support, no one but us will fight for our independence. And we joined forces.” Zelenskyy said in a registered address broadcast to the nation.

The Supreme Commander of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said this week that around 9,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in six months of fighting.

Kyiv and several other major cities have banned public celebrations amid warnings that Russia would seize the opportunity to attack civilian and state infrastructure.

In the Ukrainian capital, authorities held an exhibition of destroyed and captured Russian military vehicles and tanks on Kiev’s famous Khreshchatyk Street to commemorate Moscow’s failed attempt to seize the capital.

The invasion has led to unprecedented Western sanctions that have hit Russia’s economy hard and isolated Moscow internationally. The invasion has also drawn in massive amounts of Western aid, support and weapons, which bolster Ukraine’s defences.

The United States, the single largest arms supplier, announced an additional $3 billion in new military aid, a mammoth package that puts U.S. aid at nearly $12 billion since February 24.

“On behalf of all Americans, I congratulate the Ukrainian people on their Independence Day,” said President Joe Biden said in a statement Announcing the package. “The United States of America pledges to support the Ukrainian people in their continued struggle to defend their sovereignty.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had traveled to Kyiv unannounced for the occasion, pledged further British support. London was also a major supplier of arms and supplies to Ukraine.

What is happening in Ukraine concerns us all. That’s why I’m in Kyiv today,” he said said in a post on Twitter. “I believe that Ukraine can and will win this war.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg paid tribute to “all who lost their lives or were wounded and all Ukrainian men and women who are fighting for their country, their freedom and their loved ones”.

“You can count on NATO’s support for as long as it takes,” he said.

Russia has cited Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO as one of the pretexts for an invasion.

In 2014, after months of street protests that led to the ouster of the country’s pro-Russian resident, Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and backed Russian-speaking separatists who seized parts of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Since February 24, Russia has increased its hold over Ukraine’s southern and eastern regions, although more recently, Western military officials say, the conflict has turned into a stalemate.

In his speech, Zelenskyy promised that Ukrainians would fight “to the end” and stop only when the whole country was reunited.

“Each new day is a new reason not to give up. Because after going through so much, we have no right not to reach the end. What is the end of the war for us? We used to say peace. Now we say victory,” he said.

Pope Francis, at his weekly general audience on August 24, called for “concrete steps” to end the “madness” and called for action to avert the risk of “nuclear catastrophe” at the Zaporizhzhya power plant.

Recent fighting over the Zaporizhzhya power plant – Europe’s largest nuclear power plant – has sparked fears of a catastrophic incident.

Ruining the anniversary spirit, Russia continued to bomb civilian targets across Ukraine, where air raid sirens blared at times.

“The air and missile attacks by the Russian occupying forces against civilian targets on the territory of Ukraine continue,” the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a statement. “Don’t ignore air warning signals.”

Russian forces also attacked Ukrainian positions near Bakhmut and Kodema in the Donetsk region and towards the settlements of Pisky and Nevelske, the statement said.

Russian air defenses shot down an unspecified number of Ukrainian drones late on August 23 near the Crimean city of Sevastopol, Moscow-appointed Sevastopol governor Mikhail Razvozhayev said.

The reports could not be independently confirmed.

With reports from Reuters, AP, AFP, CNN and dpa

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