KYIV: Russian forces launched a rocket attack on a Ukrainian train station on Wednesday — the embattled country’s Independence Day — killing 25 people, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said after warning for days that Moscow might attempt “something particularly cruel” this week.
The lethal assault took place in Chaplyne, a town of about 3,500 people in the central Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukrainian news agencies quoted Zelenskyy as telling the United Nations Security Council via video. The president’s office also reported that an 11-year-old child was killed by rocket fire earlier in the day in the settlement.
“Chaplyne is our pain today,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.
At one point, he put the number of wounded at about 50. The deputy head of Zelenskyy’s office said at least 22 people were wounded in the attack, which hit five passenger rail cars.
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Ukraine had been bracing for especially heavy attacks around the national holiday that commemorates its declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Wednesday also marked six months since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Days ahead of Independence Day, Kyiv authorities banned large gatherings in the capital through Thursday for fear of missile strikes.
Residents of Kyiv, which has been largely spared in recent months, woke up on Wednesday to air raid sirens, but no immediate strikes followed. As the day wore on, Russian bombardments were reported in the country’s east, west and center, with the most serious attack apparently 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 other European leaders used the occasion to pledge unwavering support for Ukraine, locked in a battle that was widely expected to be a lightning conquest by Moscow, but has turned into a grinding war of attrition.
Over the weekend, Zelenskyy cautioned that Russia “may try to do something particularly nasty, something particularly cruel” this week. He repeated the warnings ahead of the train station attack, saying: “Russian provocations and brutal strikes are a possibility.”
Nevertheless, a festive atmosphere prevailed during the day at Kyiv’s Maidan square as thousands of residents posed for pictures next to burned-out Russian tanks put on display. Folk singers set up, and many revelers — ignoring the sirens — were out and about in traditionally embroidered dresses and shirts.
In a holiday message to the country, Zelenskyy exulted over Ukraine’s success in fending off Moscow’s forces since the invasion, saying: “On February 24, we were told: You have no chance. On August 24, we say: Happy Independence Day, Ukraine!”
Johnson urged Western allies to stand by Ukraine through the winter.
“This is not the time to put forward flimsy negotiating proposals,” he said. “You can’t negotiate with a bear when it’s eating your leg or with a street robber when he has you pinned to the floor.”
A car bombing outside Moscow that killed the 29-year-old daughter of right-wing Russian political theorist Alexander Dugin last Saturday also heightened fears that Russia might intensify 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.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces have encountered unexpectedly stiff Ukrainian resistance in their invasion and abandoned their effort to storm Kyiv in the spring. The fighting has turned into a slog that has reduced neighborhoods to rubble and sent shock waves through the world economy.
During a meeting of his counterparts from a security organization dominated by Russia and China on Wednesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed the slow pace of Moscow’s military action was due to what he said was an effort to spare civilians.
Russian forces have repeatedly targeted civilian areas in cities, including hospitals and a theater in the southern port city of Mariupol, where hundreds of people were taking shelter.
But Shoigu said Russia was carrying out strikes with precision weapons against Ukrainian military targets, and “everything is done to avoid civilian casualties.”
“Undoubtedly, it slows down the pace of the offensive, but we do it deliberately,” he said.
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