Ukraine war: European leaders praise Ukrainian independence as Zelenskyy says country ‘reborn’

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In this handout photo from the Ukrainian Presidency press office on Aug. 23, 2022, President Zelenskyy attends a ceremony to mark Ukraine's Day of the National Flag in Kyiv.

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European leaders have been sending messages of solidarity to Ukraine on the country’s independence day.

It’s 31 years since Ukraine broke free from Russian dominance under the former Soviet Union — and exactly six months since Vladimir Putin’s forces rolled across the border in a full-scale invasion.

Anniversary events have been restricted amid security warnings of further Russian attacks.

Follow the latest developments in our live blog below:

07:41

Wednesday’s key points:

    President Zelenskyy says Ukraine was ‘reborn’ when Russia invaded, in an emotional speech marking independence day.Outgoing UK PM Boris Johnson makes a visit to Kyiv, saying: “What happens in Ukraine matters to us all.”European leaders have sent messages of solidarity. The EU’s Ursula von der Leyen and Germany’s Olaf Scholz both pledged to support Ukraine for “as long as” necessary. France’s President Macron paid tribute to Ukrainians’ courage and unity.President Biden has announced another near $3 billion (€3 billion) package in long term US military aid for Ukraine.Kyiv has banned public celebrations commemorating Ukraine’s independence from Soviet rule. Kharkiv and Mykolaiv have also imposed curbs. It follows warnings of increased Russian attacks.The UN nuclear watchdog says it will visit the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine within days if talks to gain access succeed. A key Russian opposition figure, Yevgeny Roizman, is arrested on charges of discrediting the country’s military.Ukraine’s Vatican envoy criticises Pope Francis for describing Daria Dugina, the daughter of a prominent Russian ultra-nationalist, as an innocent victim of war. The TV commentator who shared her father’s views was killed by a car bomb.

18:33

Ukraine rejects ‘cynical’ Independence Day message from Russia ally Lukashenko

Ukraine rebuked what it called a “cynical” Independence Day greeting from Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko on Wednesday, blasting Minsk for supporting Russia and assisting its invasion. 

In an unexpected message on his website to mark the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union, Lukashenko wished Ukrainians “peaceful skies, tolerance, courage, strength and success.”

“I am convinced that today’s disputes will not be able to destroy the centuries-old foundation of sincere good neighbourly relations between the peoples of the two countries,” he added in the statement.

Wednesday’s well wishes from Belarus prompted a sharp response from Kyiv. 

“Lukashenko truly believes the world does not notice his participation in crimes against Ukraine,” wrote Senior Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak on Twitter. 

“That is why he cynically wishes us a ‘peaceful sky’ while allowing deadly rockets to hit us,” he added.

Belarus is a close ally of Russia and has allowed Moscow to use its territory to send thousands of troops into neighbouring Ukraine, as well as to launch missiles from its airspace.

Lukashenko has also vocally supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which borders southern Belarus.

The Belarussian leader has previously said that his country was “being dragged” into joining the war by Kyiv’s actions. 

(Reuters)

17:11

Russian military struck train station in Ukraine’s central region, Zelenskyy tells UN Security Council

Russia has launched missiles at a railroad station in Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told a Ukraine-focused meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday.

“This is our life every day. This is how Russia got prepared for this UN session,” Zelenskyy said over a video link. There were deaths and injuries in the missile strikes, Zelenskyy said, warning that the death toll could rise.

The Ukrainian president also addressed the ongoing siege of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, saying that Russia must stop its “nuclear blackmail”.

“Russia must unconditionally stop its nuclear blackmail and simply withdraw from the plant,” he said at the meeting called to mark six months since Russia invaded his country.

17:04

16:49

UN chief says 24 August represents ‘sad, tragic milestone’ as Zelenskyy addresses Security Council

UN secretary-general denounced before the Security Council the “absurd” war in Ukraine on Wednesday, six months to the day after the invasion of the country by Russia.

“Today marks a sad and tragic milestone, the six months since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia on 24 February,” said Antonio Guterres, denouncing the consequences of this “absurd war far beyond Ukraine”.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN, Sergiy Kyslytsya, shared on Twitter that the Russian objection to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressing the Security Council on Wednesday was unanimously rejected.

“Russians are notoriously known for being world champions of shooting (themselves) in the foot,” Kyslytsya commented.

16:39

Russian troops arrest two employees of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

Two employees of Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant have been detained for passing information to Ukrainian authorities, Russia’s National Guard said on Wednesday.

The National Guard said it had prevented what it called “illegal actions” that threatened the plant’s security and arrested the two staff, who it said had transmitted information to Ukrainian armed forces about the location of personnel and equipment on the site.

It said it also detained a third person who had violated the plant’s access procedures, describing them in a statement as “an accomplice of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, who transmitted the coordinates of the movement of columns of Russian equipment.”

There was no immediate comment from Ukraine.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, was captured by Russian troops in March. It remains close to the frontline and has come under repeated fire in recent weeks, raising fears of a nuclear disaster. 

Ukraine denies shelling the site and says Russia is using it as a shield to enable it to launch attacks on the surrounding territory.

The United Nations has called for the area to be demilitarised, and its nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is seeking to gain access.

15:42

Boris Johnson arrives in Kyiv

The UK’s outgoing prime minister, Boris Johnson, has visited Kyiv for the third time since Russia’s invasion.

It comes as Ukraine marks 31 years of independence from Russian dominance under the former Soviet Union. Today is also six months since Russian troops invaded Ukraine. 

“This is the third time Boris Johnson has been in Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion. Not all countries are so lucky to have such a friend,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said upon receiving him. 

15:36

14:53

Ukraine envoy criticises pope for remark on ‘innocent’ Russian

Ukraine’s ambassador to the Vatican has criticised Pope Francis for referring to Daria Dugina, daughter of a prominent Russian ultra-nationalist, who was killed by a car bomb near Moscow, as an innocent victim of war.

It is highly unusual for ambassadors to the Vatican to criticise the pope publicly.

“Innocents pay for war,” Francis said earlier at his Wednesday general audience in a sentence where he referred to “that poor girl thrown in the air by a bomb under the seat of a car in Moscow”.

Alexander Dugin, Daria’s father, has long advocated the unification of Russian-speaking and other territories in a new Russian empire that would include Ukraine.

Daria Dugina broadly supported her father’s ideas and appeared on state TV in her own right to offer support for Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Russia blamed the killing on Ukrainian agents, a charge Kyiv denies. 

In a tweet, Andrii Yurash, Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See, said the pope’s words were “disappointing”. “How (is it) possible to mention one of ideologists of (Russian) imperialism as innocent victim? She was killed by Russians,” he said. 

Francis called the war “madness”. He said Ukrainian and Russian children had been killed and that “being an orphan knows no nationality”.

In his Tweet, Yurash said: “can’t speak in same categories about aggressor and victim, rapist and raped”. The Vatican did not immediately respond to Yurash’s comments.

In another part of his address, Pope Francis called for “concrete steps” to end the war in Ukraine and avert the risk of a nuclear disaster at the Zaporizhzhia power plant.

(Reuters)

14:20

Moldova’s Sandu praises Ukraine’s ‘courage and defiance’

President Maia Sandu tweeted a photo of herself alongside Volodymyr Zelenskyy, expressing her admiration for Ukraine and its people. “You are an inspiration for generations to come,” she said.

Moldova has been deeply impacted by the Russian invasion and its aftermath. Inflation has soared and the country has taken tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees. 

It hastened its planned pro-Western course by formally applying to join the EU and has since had its candidate status approved, along with Ukraine. Not least, the ex-Soviet state fears being next in Russia’s expansionist agenda.

For a detailed summary of Tuesday’s developments in the Ukraine war, please click here.

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