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Zelenskiy rallies Ukrainians on Independence Day, 18 months after invasion

By Dan Peleschuk

KYIV (Reuters) - President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed his nation's spirit and defiance in holding out against Russian forces in a rallying speech on Thursday marking Ukraine's Independence Day.

The anniversary was celebrated quietly, and fell exactly 18 months after Moscow's full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022 which has killed tens of thousands of people, forced millions from their homes and devastated towns across Ukraine.

In a video address filmed in front of government buildings in central Kyiv, Zelenskiy thanked Ukrainians - from soldiers to utilities workers and journalists - for their contribution to the country's defence and urged them to reflect on how were contributing to Ukraine's independence.

"In a big war, there are no small deeds," he said. "No unnecessary ones, no unimportant ones."

"And everyone is important in this fight. Because this is a fight for something that is important to everyone. An independent Ukraine," he said.

Fighting did not stop on Thursday. Local Ukrainian officials said at least one person was killed and 16 people were wounded in Russian attacks. Moscow said air defence systems shot down three Ukrainian drones over Russian regions.

A counteroffensive to regain Russian-occupied territory is now in its third month and moving at a slower pace than some Western and Ukrainian officials had expected, but Zelenskiy vowed on Wednesday to regain all occupied territory.


In his address, Zelenskiy focused much more on current events than the 1991 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union.

Russia's invasion last year galvanised Ukrainians and inspired waves of volunteers to join the military, donate to the army, or help the cause in other ways.

On Thursday, Ukrainians celebrating in downtown Kyiv - where the charred husks of Russian fighting machines stood on display along the central Khreshchatyk Street - expressed exhaustion but hope that they would prevail.

"They wanted to take Kyiv in three days, and now their tanks are here," said Svitlana, a 71-year-old nurse, referring to Russia's purported plans to quickly take the Ukrainian capital.

Like many others crossing the boulevards and streets of the capital, she wore a traditional embroidered shirt.

Oleksandr, a 41-year-old Kyiv resident walking along Khreshchatyk Street, said he and others "have learned to appreciate the simple moments" of wartime life in Ukraine.

"I hope that we won't lose our drive...because all that's going on is exhausting," he said, standing near a blown-out Russian army vehicle.

"But we have to preserve our dynamic and bring this situation to a logical conclusion," he said.

(Reporting by Yurii Khomenko and Stefaniia Bern; Writing by Dan Peleschuk; Editing by Timothy Heritage)