President Volodymyr Zelenskiy 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, Zelenskiy 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.
Zelenskiy 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.
Ukrainians are bracing for a prolonged war – and a brutal winter of energy shortages – after pushing back Russian forces at the start of what Moscow describes as a “special military operation” and preventing the fall of Kyiv.
Western military sources now say Russian forces are making little headway in their offensive operation in Ukraine’s eastern and southern territories, comparing the fighting to the slow, bloody, attritional fighting of World War One.
The streets of central Kyiv were unusually empty on Wednesday morning following days of dire warnings that Russia could launch fresh missile attacks on major cities. An air raid siren rang out in the capital at 0740 GMT.