Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned that any attacks by Russia on the country’s independence day would receive a strong response as it prepared to mark 31 years after the end of Soviet rule.
The Ukrainian president’s defiant message followed warnings from Western and Ukrainian officials that Russia was preparing to attack the capital Kiev again, on the date that also marks six months after the February 24 invasion. The US on Tuesday urged all its citizens to leave the country, saying it thought Russia would target civilian and government infrastructure in the coming days.
Kiev authorities have banned mass gatherings in the capital to mark Ukraine’s 1991 independence from the Soviet Union. Instead of the traditional parade through Kiev’s main street, authorities have blocked the road with captured and destroyed Russian military equipment.
The car bombing of the daughter of a prominent ultra-nationalist Russian ideologue over the weekend, which Russia blames on Ukraine, has also heightened fears of reprisals. Darya Dugina’s funeral took place on Tuesday in Moscow, where her father, Alexander Dugin, said only victory in Ukraine could justify the price she paid.
Zelenskiy said he had information from Ukrainian intelligence services and international partners that there was an increased threat, but emphasized that the threat from Russia had been daily and constant since February 24.
He told a news conference in Kiev that Ukraine would not agree to any proposal to freeze the current front lines to “calm down” Moscow, which now controls about 22% of Ukraine, including Crimea.
On Wednesday, the US will announce a new package of security assistance to Ukraine worth about $3 billion (£2.5 billion), officials said, to coincide with Ukraine’s independence day and to equip the country for a war of attrition that is mainly in Eastern Europe. and southern Ukraine is being fought. .
“If the world gets tired of the war in Ukraine, it will pose a major threat to the whole world,” Zelenskiy told an online conference on Crimea attended by representatives from 60 states.
He also vowed to return Crimea to Ukraine and said it would become part of the EU along with the rest of the country. “It all started with Crimea and it will end with Crimea,” Zelenskiy said.
Speaking via video link during the conference, outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain would never recognize the annexation of Crimea by Russia or any other part of Ukrainian territory.
“In light of Putin’s attack, we must continue to give our Ukrainian friends all the military, humanitarian, economic and diplomatic support they need until Russia ends this horrendous war and withdraws its troops from all over Ukraine,” Johnson said.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also spoke at the conference and said Crimea should be returned to Ukraine. Erdoğan, who helped negotiate the recent grain deal, maintains ties with Zelenskiy and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Crimea has become the center of attention in the past two weeks following a series of explosions at Russian military bases on the peninsula. Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for the attacks. But Ukraine’s defense ministry has given the impression that Ukraine was involved, publishing a video on Twitter warning Russians not to visit Crimea “unless they want an uncomfortably hot summer vacation”.
Several media reports, including one from CNN, say they have confirmed Ukraine was responsible, citing anonymous Ukrainian officials.
On the eve of Ukraine’s Independence Day, there were reports of the sounds of explosions in Sevastopol, in southern Crimea. Russian occupation authorities in the city reported that air defense systems had shot down a Ukrainian drone over the sea.
Meanwhile, Dnipro mayor Borys Filatov said Russia launched a missile at the central Ukrainian city on Tuesday morning. “Please stay in the [bomb] shelters,” Filatov wrote on his Telegram channel. He later wrote that the missile landed on private homes and that there was no military target nearby.
Ukraine’s defense ministry has advised Ukrainians to be extra cautious on Independence Day, citing the threat of missile strikes and “provocations” from Russia.
“Russia and the Putin regime attacked the independence of Ukraine and independent Ukraine. They are really obsessed with dates and symbols, so it would make sense to be on your guard and be prepared for the Independence Day attack,” Andriy Yusov, the head of the ministry’s intelligence service, told Ukrainian state television.
Located far from the front lines, Kiev has rarely been hit by Russian missiles since Ukraine repulsed a ground offensive to take the capital in March, but some Kiev restaurants have closed early this week due to the perceived heightened threat.
The head of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, said he expected Russian security forces to carry out a series of terrorist attacks in Russian cities, resulting in civilian casualties, in an effort to rekindle domestic support for the war. . Danilov said he believed the murder of Dugina was the first such attack.
After the attack, which Russian security forces blamed on Ukraine, many prominent pro-Putin figures called for revenge. Ukraine denies responsibility.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov swore “no mercy” for the killers.
A spokesman for the UN law office said he was concerned about Russian attempts to try Ukrainian prisoners of war in the coming days, and said the trial could amount to a war crime.
“We are very concerned about how this is happening. There are pictures in the media of cages being built in the Mariupol Philharmonic Hall, really huge cages and apparently the intention is to contain the prisoners,” Ravina Shamdasani told a UN briefing. “This is not acceptable, this is humiliating.” Willfully depriving a prisoner of war of the right to a fair trial amounts to a war crime by Russia, she added.
Zelenskiy has said that if Russia tries the detainees, it will rule out the possibility of talks with Moscow. Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets called on the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross to intervene and prevent the trial.