Ukraine on Wednesday marks both its independence from Soviet rule in 1991 and six months since the Russian invasion on February 24. President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed a tough response to Russian attacks on the country’s holiday, echoing a national defiance as the war drags on. Follow our liveblog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

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  • Six months after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, the conflict rages with no end in sight. Western intelligence sources, however, say the momentum is shifting against Russia.
  • Nearly 9,000 Ukrainian soldiers have died since the February 24 invasion, Ukraine’s military chief said this week.
  • The UN has confirmed the deaths of more than 5,500 Ukrainian civilians. The real toll is likely to be much higher.
  • At an international forum on the eve of Independence Day, Zelensky vowed to take back Crimea, the southern peninsula Russia annexed in 2014.
  • A spate of explosions have rocked Crimea in recent weeks. Ukraine has not claimed responsibility, but has hinted its forces played a role.
  • The Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southeastern Ukraine has been hit by shelling in recent weeks, prompting calls for an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission to the site.
  • Fears of intensified Russian attacks mounted after the killing over the weekend of Darya Dugina, daughter of a prominent Russian ultra-nationalist, in a car bombing near Moscow. Russia blamed Ukraine for the attack, a charge Kyiv denies.

3:43pm: In Kyiv, Johnson declares UK stands ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with Ukraine

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has arrived in Kyiv on a surprise visit to mark Ukraine’s Independence Day.

“There’s a strong will of Ukrainians to resist, and that is what (Russian President Vladimir) Putin failed to understand,” Johnson told reporters in Kyiv. “You defend your right to live in peace, in freedom, and that’s why Ukraine will win,” he added.

3:21pm: Three Zaporizhzhia plant workers detained for aiding Ukraine, says Russia

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

In a statement, the National Guard said it had prevented what it called “illegal actions” that threatened the plant’s security, and arrested two nuclear plant workers, along with a third person who, it said, had violated the plant’s access procedures and collaborated with the Ukrainian armed forces.

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. Both Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of shelling the plant.

3:04pm: Six months on, Irpin residents return to ruins

Some of the most dramatic scenes during the early stages of the Ukraine war were the shelling and evacuations from Irpin, a satellite city located just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Kyiv.

The Irpin bridge was blown up by Ukrainian forces just hours after the Russian invasion began on February 24 to stop the invading forces from reaching the country’s capital. Today, the bridge has turned into a symbol of the Ukrainian resistance, says FRANCE 24’s James André reporting from Irpin, as residents are returning to rebuild their lives. 


2:14pm: Western leaders salute Ukraine on its Independence Day

European leaders pledged unwavering support for Ukraine as the war-torn country marked its Independence Day on Wednesday, coinciding with the six-month milestone of Russia’s invasion. 

>> Western leaders salute Ukraine on its Independence Day

1:44pm: Biden announces nearly $3 billion in new military aid for Ukraine

US President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that he is sending $2.98 billion in new military aid to Ukraine that will enable forces there to fight for years to come.

In a statement, Biden said the aid will allow Ukraine to acquire air defense systems, artillery systems and munitions, drones and other equipment “to ensure it can continue to defend itself over the long term.”

The announcement comes as Ukraine is celebrating its 1991 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union.

“I know this independence day is bittersweet for many Ukrainians as thousands have been killed or wounded, millions have been displaced from their homes, and so many others 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 thirty-one years of independence.”

1:43pm: Russian ex-mayor detained for criticising Ukraine invasion

Russian opposition politician Yevgeny Roizman was shown being detained at his home in a video published on social media on Wednesday, in the latest move by authorities to punish critics of the war in Ukraine.

Video of the arrest showed Roizman, former mayor of the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, being taken away by masked men in camouflage uniform.

Roizman was seen in the video telling reporters that he was being investigated under a law against discrediting the armed forces. He said he was being arrested “basically for one phrase, ‘the invasion of Ukraine'”.

Asked where he had said that, he replied: “I’ve said it everywhere and I’ll say it now.”

1:35pm: Ukraine envoy criticises pope over comments on Russian killed by car bomb

Ukraine’s ambassador to the Vatican on Wednesday criticised Pope Francis for referring to Darya 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”.

Russia blamed the killing on Ukrainian agents, a charge Kyiv denies. Alexander Dugin, Darya’s father, has long advocated the unification of Russian-speaking and other territories in a new Russian empire that would include Ukraine.

12:43pm: Western leaders underline support for Ukraine on Independence Day

European leaders pledged unwavering support for Ukraine as the war-torn country marked its Independence Day on Wednesday, coinciding with the six-month milestone of Russia’s invasion.

Leaders paid tribute to the sacrifices and courage of the Ukrainian people, voiced their resolve to keep supplying Ukraine with weapons and reviled Moscow for its attack on the neighboring Eastern European nation.

In Britain, floral and musical tributes punctuated a show of solidarity as Ukraine commemorated its 1991 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. The U.K. Ministry of Defense tweeted a video of the Scots Guards Band, which usually provides musical accompaniment for the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, performing Ukraine’s winning Eurovision Song Contest entry, “Stefania.”

12:24pm: Russia detains opposition politician for Ukraine comments

Russian police on Wednesday detained one of the last opposition figures still in the country and not behind bars, according to state media, after he reportedly criticised Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine.

Politician Yevgeny Roizman, former mayor of the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, was detained for “discrediting” the Russian army in comments about Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine.  

“Roizman was arrested early in the morning” at his home in Yekaterinburg, state news agency TASS said, quoting local law enforcement.

“A criminal case has been launched against him for discrediting the Russian army,” it added.

10:33am: Pope warns of potential ‘nuclear disaster’ at Zaporizhzhia plant

Pope Francis on Wednesday called for “concrete steps” to end the war in Ukraine and avert the risk of a “nuclear disaster” at the Zaporizhzhia plant.

Speaking at his weekly general audience, Francis went off script to condemn wars as “madness” and, referring to Darya Dugina, said the woman killed by a car bomb near Moscow was among “innocents” killed because of war. He also said arms merchants who profit from war are “delinquents who kill humanity”.

10:25am: EU’s support for Ukraine ‘quite unprecedented’

The Ukrainian government says it is expecting between $12 billion and $16 billion in international aid before the end of the year; French President Emmanuel Macron underlined on Tuesday that EU support for Ukraine will be continuing in the long term. The EU’s assistance to Ukraine is “quite unprecedented”, said FRANCE 24 Brussels correspondent Pierre Benazet.

“It is a very stark contrast with what happened 30 years ago, because 30 years ago [was] the independence of Ukraine but also the start of the Yusoslav wars, where the Europeans [were] really very inefficient for more than three years,” Benazet continued.

 


 

10:04am: Head of Russian-controlled Ukrainian town killed in car bombing, local Russian-backed official says

The Russian-installed head of the Ukrainian town of Mykhailivka in the Russian-controlled part of Zaporizhzhia region was killed in a car bomb on Tuesday, an official in the region’s Russian-backed administration said.

Writing on Telegram, Zaporizhzhia region administration member Vladimir Rogov said that Mykhailivka head Ivan Sushko had been critically injured when a bomb placed under his car exploded, and died shortly afterwards in hospital.

It is the latest in a series of assassinations of Russian-installed officials in occupied areas of Ukraine. In neighbouring Kherson region, the deputy head of the town of Novaya Kakhovka was shot dead in his home on August 6.

10:02am: Belarus congratulates Ukraine on Independence Day

The authoritarian leader of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko on Wednesday congratulated Ukraine on its Independence Day, saying that “today’s contradictions” should not destroy long-term neighbourly ties with the pro-Western country.

Wednesday also marked six months since the start of Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine, which Russia launched from several directions, including from Belarusian territory.

“I am convinced that today’s contradictions will not be able to destroy the centuries-old foundation of sincere good neighbourly ties between the peoples of our two countries,” Lukashenko said in a statement released by his press service. “Belarus will continue to stand for the preservation of harmony, the development of friendly, mutually respectful contacts at all levels,” it added.

Belarus relies financially and politically on its close ally Russia.

10:02am: Ukraine starts football season

Ukraine on Tuesday launched its new football season despite Russia’s ongoing invasion, trying to give a morale boost to the war-ravaged nation.

In the first match of the Ukrainian Premier League, Shakhtar Donetsk drew 0-0 with Metalist 1925 from Kharkiv at the Olympiysky stadium in Kyiv.

In an emotional pre-match ceremony, the players of both teams and the referees entered the pitch wrapped in Ukrainian flags and unfurled a banner that read “We are of the same courage.”

The Shakhtar players wore T-shirts with the inscription “Donetsk. Ukraine will win” over their playing jerseys, while the players of the Kharkiv club wore similar T-shirts with the inscription “Kharkiv. Ukraine will win.”

>> Ukraine kicks off football season despite ravages of war with Russia

9:19am: ‘Calm’ mood in Kyiv despite Russian attack fears

“The mood here is indeed one of great calm, which is unusual for Independence Day,” FRANCE 24’s James Andre reported from Kyiv. Nevertheless, “a lot of people are very worried that there could be a Russian strike”, Andre continued. “As you can see behind me, there is nothing planned for this Independence Day; usually there is a large military parade. Now last year, 2021, marked the 30 years of Ukrainian independence and, here, 5,000 troops marched, there were armoured vehicles; there were also delegates from 50 countries. And American and British troops marched alongside their Ukrainian counterparts. Well, nothing of the sort this year. But as you can see behind me, there are tanks, but these are burnt-out Russian tanks that have been placed here by authorities to show the population that indeed this war to show that […] the Russians are paying a heavy price.”


 

8:56am: From Lviv to Kyiv, snapshots of Ukraine in a time of war

FRANCE 24’s David Gormezano met civilians and soldiers suddenly plunged into a brutal and bloody conflict on a journey from the Polish border to Kyiv in March, as related in the article below.

>> From Lviv to Kyiv, snapshots of Ukraine in a time of war

8:49am: ‘Ukrainians have put up this phenomenal resistance’

“Compared to the expectations six months ago, [we are] not at all where we expected to be; Vladimir Putin expected to enter Kyiv fairly rapidly,” noted FRANCE 24 international affairs editor Angela Diffley. “There are reports that he counted on about three days; he intended to install a puppet government. The CIA obtained some of the operational plans, gave them to Kyiv and the Ukrainians have put up this phenomenal resistance ever since then. So what was expected to be a lightning war, certainly on the Russian side, and generally by observers [… has been met with] this extraordinary resistance.

“Next to that, as well, you can look in a wider context of what has happened over these last six months,” Diffley continued. “NATO has been significantly strengthened by this. That probably was not what Putin hoped would happen. And something else that was pretty much unthinkable six months ago was that Ukraine is now a candidate to join the European Union.”


 

8:27am: Zelensky says Ukraine was ‘born again’ when Russia invaded

President Volodymyr Zelensky told Ukrainians in an emotional speech marking 31 years of independence on Wednesday that their country had been “reborn” when Russia invaded and that it would never give up its fight for freedom from Moscow’s domination.

In a recorded speech aired on the six-month anniversary of Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, Zelensky said Ukraine no longer saw the war ending when the fighting stopped but when Kyiv finally emerged victorious.

“A new nation appeared in the world on Feb. 24 at 4 o’clock in the morning. It was not born, but reborn. A nation that did not cry, scream or take fright. One that did not flee. Did not give up. And did not forget,” he said.

The 44-year-old wartime leader delivered the speech in combat fatigues in front of central Kyiv’s towering monument to independence from the Russian-dominated Soviet Union that broke up in 1991.

Zelensky underscored Ukraine’s hardening war stance that opposes any kind of compromise that would allow Moscow to lock in territorial gains, including swathes of southern and eastern Ukraine captured over the past six months.

“We will not sit down at the negotiating table out of fear, with a gun pointed at our heads. For us, the most terrible iron is not missiles, aircraft and tanks, but shackles. Not trenches, but fetters,” he said.

He vowed that Ukraine would recapture lost territory in the industrial Donbas region in the east as well as the peninsula of Crimea that Russia annexed in 2014.

“What for us is the end of the war? We used to say: peace. Now we say: victory,” he said.

8:05am: Looking back at eight years of conflict in Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 came after eight years of conflict following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the fighting between Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas that started the same year. FRANCE 24’s Romain Houeix looks back on this near-decade of fighting, starting with the Maidan Revolution in 2014, when Ukrainian protesters overthrew their pro-Russian president and reoriented Kyiv’s foreign policy towards the West.

>> From the Maidan protests to Russia’s invasion: Eight years of conflict in Ukraine

6:46am: Norway, Britain donate micro drones to Ukraine

Norway and Britain will jointly supply micro drones to Ukraine to aid in its war with Russia, the Norwegian defence ministry said on Wednesday.

The cost of the Teledyne Flir Black Hornet drones, used for reconnaissance and target identification, will be up to 90 million Norwegian crowns ($9.26 million), the ministry said in a statement.

4:25am: Russia detains politician critical of Ukraine war

Russian authorities have detained politician Yevgeny Roizman known for his criticism of the Kremlin and, more recently, of the military campaign in Ukraine, Russia’s TASS news agency reported on Wednesday.

Roizman, a former mayor of the city of Yekaterinburg, is being investigated for “discrediting the Russian army”, TASS reported, citing Yekaterinburg security services.

Roizman was one of a handful of Kremlin critics who won mayoral posts following a series of big opposition demonstrations as President Vladimir Putin campaigned for office in 2012.

1:20am: Ukraine prepares for more violence as they mark Independence day

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned late on Tuesday of the possibility of “repugnant Russian provocations” and “brutal strikes” by Moscow to cast a pall over what he said was an important day for all Ukrainians.


Officials have banned public gatherings in the capital Kyiv and imposed a hard curfew in the eastern city of Kharkiv, which has weathered months of shelling on the front lines. Many government officials have been ordered to work from home.

Zelensky has not disclosed details of how the government will mark the public holiday, for security reasons. He said he would be rewarding people such as railway personnel, emergency services workers, electricians, drivers, artists and those in the media.

Authorities urged people to take air raid warnings seriously and seek shelter when sirens sound.


 

1:05am: Britain and Ukraine launch talks on digital trade

Britain on Wednesday said it had launched talks with Kyiv over removing barriers digital trade as part of its efforts to support Ukraine following Russia’s invasion of the country.

Britain in May removed all tariffs on Ukrainian goods, and is now looking to smooth trade in the digital sphere.

Britain and Ukraine will look to improve efficiency in digital trade, working on areas such as electronic transactions, e-signatures and other technology.

12:58am: Germany, Canada partner on transatlantic hydrogen trade

The leaders of Canada and Germany signed a green hydrogen deal on Tuesday, laying a path for a transatlantic supply chain as Europe seeks to lessen its dependence on Russian energy.

“It’s a vote of confidence for Canada as a leader in clean energy,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during a joint press conference with visiting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

“We cannot as a world continue to rely on authoritarian countries that will weaponize energy policy, as Russia is, that don’t concern themselves with environmental outcomes or labor rights or even human rights,” Trudeau added.

Moscow has slashed its energy exports to Europe in response to punishing Western sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, forcing countries to scramble for alternatives.

12:12am: US set to provide $3 billion in military aid to Ukraine

The United States will announce close to $3 billion in fresh military assistance for Ukraine as the country marks its Independence Day, a US official said Tuesday, in the largest single security package yet in the six-month-old war.

The White House is expected to officially announce the aid, which can be used for arms acquisition, training and other operations, on Wednesday, when Kyiv observes both the anniversary of its independence from Russia and the half-year mark of the invasion launched in February by Moscow.

12:05am: UN nuclear agency renews request to access Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

The UN nuclear agency renewed its request Tuesday to assess the safety and security at Europe’s largest nuclear plant in southeastern Ukraine which Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of shelling, sparking warnings of a possible nuclear catastrophe.

At the start of an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, UN political chief Rosemary DiCarlo announced that Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, requested to send an IAEA mission “to carry out essential safety, security and safeguard activities at the site.”


DiCarlo said the UN has the logistics and security capacity in Ukraine “to support any IAEA mission to the plant from Kyiv, provided Ukraine and Russia agree.”

The Zaporizhzhia plant has been under the control of Russian forces since early March, soon after their invasion of Ukraine. Technical experts from Ukraine continue to operate the nuclear equipment.

© France Médias Monde graphic studio

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