Bereft of the faintest grandstanding over Ukraine’s Independence Day observance six months after the war with Russia, Wednesday event was marked by a quiet resolve by its President, Volodymyr Zelenski. He has reminded the comity of nations that Ukraine is a country “reborn” in conflict with a renewed sense of cultural and political identity, “now wholly separate from Russia, and that has united democracies with a new sense of purpose”. On I-day, President Zelenskyi was mildly satisfied that the feared escalation of attacks by Moscow are yet to materialise. He has pledged to prevail in the war, for all the trundling of tanks at the behest of the Kremlin. It was fairly obvious that the Ukrainian leader has targeted his remarks as much as foreign donors as at his domestic audience.
Wednesday’s presentation was his latest attempt to urge Ukraine to hold on, as tens of thousands of soldiers huddled in trenches across a 2,414-km frontline that has been scarred by towns now blasted out. And then he sounded somewhat rhetorical ~ “Every day is a new reason not to give up. Because having gone through so much, we have no right not to reach the end. What is the end of the war for us? We used to say ‘Peace’. Now we say ‘Victory’.” The presentation must seem to be still more remarkable as mass gatherings are prohibited in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, as the United States and others had warned that the Kremlin could intensify missile strikes to coincide with Independence Day, which commemorates Ukraine’s separation in 1991 ~ the year the Soviet Union disintegrated. By the afternoon, close munitions had struck in the Kharkiv region in north-eastern Ukraine.
This was what they call a “baseline fire” level of Russian long-range fire into Ukraine in recent weeks, not exactly the intensification that the former Soviet satellite had geared up for. Ukrainians appeared determined not to let Russia’s war spoil their holiday. Perhaps the most visible sign of Kiev’s resolve was the backdrop that President Zelenskyi chose for his I-Day address, specifically the column of wrecked Russian tanks and artillery on display along Kiev’s central thoroughfare. In Russia, the state media did not carry prominent displays of the war’s six-month mark. Russia’s defence minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, said that Moscow intended to slow down its military campaign in Ukraine chiefly to reduce civilian casualties.
The Biden administration let it be known on Wednesday that it was sending nearly $3 billion in weapons and equipment to Ukraine. This had previously been approved by Congress. President Biden said in a statement that the military assistance would help Ukraine to acquire air defence and artillery systems, munitions, and other equipment “to ensure it can continue to defend itself over the long term”. Peace did not figure very prominently in anyone’s rhetoric, and might even seem to have been spurned by Zelenskyi.
A version of this story appears in the print edition of the August 27, 2022, issue.