Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed in an Independence Day address that his country would fight Russia’s invasion “until the end” and would not make “any concession or compromise”.
In an emotional speech to mark Ukraine’s 31 years of independence from the Soviet Union, the president told Ukrainians their country had been “reborn” when Russia invaded and that it would never give up its fight for freedom from Moscow’s domination.
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“We don’t care what army you have, we only care about our land. We will fight for it until the end,” Zelenskyy said in a video address on Wednesday, which also marks six months since the Russian invasion began.
“We have been holding strong for six months. It’s tough but we have clenched our fists and we are fighting for our destiny,” he said.
“Every new day is a reason not to give up. After such a long journey we do not have the right not to go on to the end.”
Referring to Russia, he said: “We will not try to find an understanding with terrorists”.
The 44-year-old president delivered his speech wearing combat fatigues in front of central Kyiv’s towering monument to independence from the Russian-dominated Soviet Union that broke up in 1991.
Zelenskyy underscored Ukraine’s hardening war stance, which opposes any kind of compromise that would allow Moscow to lock in territorial gains, including swaths of southern and eastern Ukraine captured over the past six months.
He 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 February 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.
“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.”
The president vowed that Ukraine would recapture lost territory in the industrial Donbas region in the east as well as the peninsula of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
“What for us is the end of the war? We used to say: peace. Now we say, victory,” he said.
Still fighting for independence
Al Jazeera’s Teresa Bo, reporting from Kyiv, said that while celebrations were muted due to concerns of possible Russian attacks to coincide with the national day, the anniversary highlights the resolve of the Ukrainian people to resist Russia.
“In spite of the vast hardships of the war, when you talk to people on the streets, they are convinced that Ukraine needs to fight back. That they need to recover those lost territories. When you talk to people they tell you that they want to be closer to Europe, to freedom, to democracy, to free press, and further away from Moscow’s authoritarian rule,” Bo said.
“They still believe that this country is fighting for independence 31 years after its independence from Soviet rule. They believe that they are defending their country, they are defending their territories, and they are defending their homes,” she said.
Speaking earlier, President Zelenskyy said the Russian invasion had led to a country unified in its resistance to Moscow. He also said he would “continue to fight to try to recover the territories that Russia has occupied, including those areas in Donbas and Crimea”, Bo said.
The streets of central Kyiv were unusually empty on Wednesday morning following days of dire warnings that Russia could launch new missile attacks on major cities.
Authorities in the capital banned large-scale gatherings until Thursday.
A small number of residents gathered in Kyiv’s central square, where destroyed Russian tanks and mobile artillery were put on display over the weekend, and the national anthem is played every day at 7am (04:00 GMT).
“I can’t sleep at night because of what I see and hear about what is being done in Ukraine,” a retiree who joined the gathering and identified herself only by her first name, Tetyana, said.
“This is not a war. It is the destruction of the Ukrainian people,” she 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 the first world war.