Ukraine had braced itself for heavy attacks around the national holiday, which commemorates Ukraine’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Kyiv, Ukraine — Russian forces launched a missile attack on a train station in central Ukraine on Wednesday, on the contested country’s Independence Day, killing at least 15 people and wounding about 50, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said after days of warning that Moscow could “Trying something special could be cruel” this week.

The deadly attack took place in Chaplyne, a town of about 3,500 people in the Dnepropetrovsk region, Ukrainian news agencies quoted Zelenskyy, who told the UN Security Council via video. The President’s Office also reported that an 11-year-old child was killed by rocket fire in another part of the region.

Ukraine had braced itself for particularly heavy attacks around the national holiday, which commemorates Ukraine’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Wednesday also marked the six-month point in the war.

Ahead of the holiday, Kiev authorities banned large gatherings in the capital until Thursday over fears of rocket attacks.

Residents in the capital, which had been largely spared in recent months, woke up to air raid sirens on Wednesday, but no immediate strikes followed. Russian bombardments were reported throughout the day in the east, west and center of the country, with the heaviest attack apparently taking place at the train station.

Outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson marked the holiday with a visit to Kyiv – his third since the war broke out – and others European leaders took the opportunity to pledge their unwavering support for Ukraine, which has been engaged in a battle that was widely expected to be a lightning-fast conquest by Moscow, but has turned into a grueling war of attrition. That The US announced major new military aid Nearly $3 billion package to help Ukraine’s armed forces fight for years to come.

“Russian provocations and brutal beatings are possible,” Zelenskyy said in a statement before the access reef was reported. “Please strictly follow the safety rules. Please note the curfew. Watch out for the air sirens.”

Over the weekend, Zelenskyy also warned that Russia “might try to do something particularly bad, something particularly cruel” this week.

Nonetheless, a festive atmosphere prevailed in Kyiv’s Maidan Square during the day, as thousands of residents posed for photos next to displayed burned-out Russian tanks. Folk singers lined up and many revelers – ignoring the sirens – were out and about in traditionally embroidered dresses and shirts.

“I can’t sleep at night because of what I see and hear about what’s being done in Ukraine,” said one pensioner, who gave only her first name, Tetyana, and her voice shook with emotion. “This is not a war, it is the destruction of the Ukrainian people.”

In a holiday message to the country, Zelenskyy hailed Ukraine’s success in repelling Moscow forces since the invasion, saying: “On February 24 we were told: You don’t stand a chance. On August 24th we say: Happy Independence Day, Ukraine!”

Zelenskyy also spoke about Russia’s objections before the UN Security Council, saying the “security of the whole world” is at stake in Ukraine’s fight against Moscow’s “insane aggression”.

US President Joe Biden said the latest American aid package will allow Ukraine to acquire air defense and artillery systems and other weapons.

“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 increased Ukrainians’ pride in themselves, in their country and in their 31 years of independence.”

Britain’s Johnson urged Western allies to stand by Ukraine through the winter.

“This is not the time to come up with flimsy negotiating proposals,” he said. “You can’t bargain with a bear if it eats your leg, or with a mugger if he pins you to the ground.”

In Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz chastised the Kremlin for its “backward imperialism” and declared that Ukraine “will cast out the dark shadow of war because it is strong and courageous, because it has friends in Europe and around the world”.

A car bomb attack outside Moscow on Saturday that killed the 29-year-old daughter of right-wing Russian political theorist Alexander Dugin also fueled fears that Russia could step up attacks on Ukraine this week. Russian officials have blamed Ukraine for the death of Darya Dugina, a pro-Kremlin TV commentator. Ukraine has denied any involvement.

The armed forces of Russian President Vladimir Putin have met unexpectedly fierce Ukrainian resistance to their invasion and abandoned efforts to storm the capital in the spring. The fighting has escalated into a plague that has reduced neighborhoods to rubble and sent shockwaves through the global economy.

At a meeting of his counterparts at a Russian-Chinese-dominated security organization on Wednesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed the slow pace of Moscow’s military action was due to what he described as an attempt to spare civilians.

Russian forces have repeatedly attacked civilian areas in cities, including hospitals and a Mariupol theater where hundreds of people took shelter.

But Shoigu said Russia is striking Ukrainian military targets with precision weapons and “everything is being done to avoid civilian casualties”.

“It certainly slows down the offensive pace, but we’re doing it deliberately,” he said.

He also slammed the US and its allies for “continuing to pump arms into Ukraine,” saying the aid would prolong the conflict and increase casualties.

On the battlefield, Russian forces attacked several towns and villages in eastern Donetsk province within 24 hours, killing one person, authorities said. A building materials supermarket in the city of Donetsk was hit by a shell and burst into flames, the mayor said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

In the Dnepropetrovsk region, the Russians again shelled the towns of Nikopol and Marhanets, damaging several buildings and injuring people, authorities said. Russian troops also shelled the town of Zaporizhia, but no casualties were reported.

In addition, Russian missiles hit unspecified targets in the Khmelnytskyi region, about 300 kilometers west of Kyiv, the regional governor said. Attacks were rare there.

Varenytsia reported from Pokrovsk, Ukraine. Associated Press writers Hanna Arhirova in Kyiv and Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report. Ukraine’s Independence Day: 15 dead in Russian attack

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