By DEREK GATOPOULOS and INA VARENITSIA, Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces on Wednesday launched a rocket attack on a train station in central Ukraine on the country’s Independence Day, killing at least 15 people and wounding about 50, President Volodymyr Zelensky said, after days of warning that Moscow may try “something particularly cruel” this week.
The deadly attack took place in Chaplin, a town of about 3,500 in the Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukrainian news agencies cited Zelensky as telling the UN Security Council via video.
Ukraine braced for particularly heavy attacks around the national holiday that marks Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Ukraine also marked the six-month mark of the war.
Before Independence Cay, authorities in Kyiv banned large gatherings in the capital until Thursday for fear of missile strikes.
Residents of the capital, which has been largely spared in recent months, awoke Wednesday to air raid sirens, but no immediate strikes followed. As the day progressed, Russian bombardment was reported in the eastern, western and central regions of the country, the most serious attack apparently being on the station.
Outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson marked the holiday with a visit to Kyiv – his third visit since the outbreak of war – and other European leaders used the occasion to pledge unwavering support for Ukraine, which is embroiled in a battle expected to be a blitzkrieg by Moscow. but it became a torturous war of attrition. The US has announced a major new military aid package totaling nearly $3 billion to help Ukrainian forces fight for years to come.
“Russian provocations and brutal strikes are possible,” Zelensky said in a statement before the train attack was reported. “Please strictly follow the safety rules. Please respect the evening hours. Note the air sirens.
Nevertheless, during the day there was a festive atmosphere in Kyiv’s Maidan Square, as thousands of residents posed for photos next to burnt-out Russian tanks on display. Folk singers took up residence and many revelers – ignoring the sirens – were out and about in traditionally embroidered dresses and shirts.
Others were scared.
“I can’t sleep at night from what I see and hear about what is being done in Ukraine,” said a pensioner who gave only her first name, Tetyana, her voice shaking with excitement. “This is not a war. This is the destruction of the Ukrainian people.
In a celebratory message to the country, Zelensky gloated over Ukraine’s success in repelling Moscow’s forces after the invasion, saying: “On February 24, we were told: You don’t stand a chance. On August 24, we say: Happy Independence Day, Ukraine!”
Zelensky also addressed the UN Security Council over Russia’s objections, saying the “security of the whole world” was at stake in Ukraine’s battle against Moscow’s “crazy aggression”.
US President Joe Biden said the latest package of US aid would allow Ukraine to acquire air defense systems and artillery and other weapons.
“I know this Independence Day is bittersweet for many Ukrainians as thousands have been killed or injured, millions have been driven from their homes, and so many more have fallen victim to Russian atrocities and attacks,” Biden said. “But six months of relentless attacks have only strengthened Ukrainians’ pride in themselves, in their country and in their 31 years of independence.”
British Minister Johnson called on Western allies to stand by Ukraine this winter.
“This is not the time to present fragile proposals for negotiations,” he said. “You can’t negotiate with a bear when it’s eating your leg, or a street thief when he’s got you pinned to the floor.”
In Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz chided the Kremlin for its “backward imperialism” and said Ukraine “will chase away the dark shadow of war because it is strong and brave, because it has friends in Europe and around the world.”
A car bomb attack outside Moscow that killed the 29-year-old daughter of right-wing Russian political theorist Alexander Dugin on Saturday also raised fears that Russia may step up attacks on Ukraine this week. Russian officials have blamed Ukraine for the death of Daria Dugina, a pro-Kremlin television commentator. Ukraine has denied involvement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces encountered unexpectedly stiff Ukrainian resistance in their incursion and abandoned efforts to storm the capital in the spring. The fighting became a slogan that turned neighborhoods into rubble and sent shockwaves through the global economy.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, speaking Wednesday at a meeting of his colleagues at a Russian-Chinese-dominated security organization, said Moscow’s slow pace of military action was due to what he said was an effort to spare civilians .
Russian forces have repeatedly attacked civilian areas in the cities, including hospitals and a theater in Mariupol, where hundreds of people have taken refuge.
But Shoigu said Russia was striking Ukrainian military targets with precision weapons and “everything is being done to avoid civilian casualties.”
“Undoubtedly, it slows down the offensive pace, but we do it deliberately,” he said.
He also criticized the US and its allies for “continuing to pump weapons into Ukraine”, saying the aid was prolonging the conflict and increasing casualties.
On the battlefield, Russian forces pounded several towns and villages in eastern Donetsk province in 24 hours, killing one person, authorities said. A building materials superstore in the city of Donetsk was hit by a shell and burst into flames, the mayor said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
In the Dnipropetrovsk region, Russians again shelled the towns of Nikopol and Markhanets, damaging several buildings and wounding two people, authorities said. Russian troops also shelled the city of Zaporizhia, but there were no reports of casualties.
In addition, Russian missiles hit unspecified targets in the Khmelnitsky region, about 300 kilometers (180 miles) west of Kyiv, the regional governor said. Attacks there have been rare.
Varenitsa reported from Pokrovsk, Ukraine. Associated Press writers Hana Arkhirova in Kyiv and Lolita S. Baldor and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.