Ukraine marks Independence Day and vows to keep fighting Russia as it remembers the fallen

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine on Thursday marked its second Independence Day since Russia’s full-scale invasion, with officials vowing to keep up their fight to drive out the Kremlin’s forces and local people remembering their fallen loved ones.

The national holiday coincided with the war’s 18-month milestone, giving a somber mood to the commemorations.

“We remember everyone who gave their lives for freedom and independence, for the free future of Ukraine,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a social media post.

He said that an independent Ukraine is “what we are fighting for.”

In the northeastern Kharkiv region, families visited a cemetery where fallen Ukrainian soldiers are buried.

Kateryna Krotchenko, the mother of Serhii Krotchenko who was killed near Bakhmut, cleaned his grave.

“He was an ordinary boy who loved life and dreamed of something,” she told The Associated Press. “Therefore, he did not accept the fact that war had come to our land and decided to (sign up) voluntarily,” she said. “We agreed with his decision. We didn’t think it would be like this.”

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Ukraine was fighting for “the values we all stand for:” sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.

That battle has earned the support of foreign allies, especially NATO alliance member countries that have provided Kyiv with sophisticated new weaponry. The new weapons have allowed Ukraine to launch a grinding counteroffensive.

Ukraine’s defense ministry marked the day with a series of social media videos that mixed gratitude with wry humor to thank those allies individually for their support.

The United States’ video was set to Frank Sinatra’s “Our Love is Here to Stay” and ended with a cheeky “thanks for the F-16s” and the words “too soon?” The U.S. has agreed its allies can send Ukraine the fighter jets, but the lengthy process has been a source of frustration to Kyiv.

Britain was thanked to the tune of The Clash’s punk classic “London Calling,” while Canada received gratitude for sniper rifles, howitzers, armored vehicles — and long underwear. France was sent a message of love to the strains of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Je t’aime … moi non plus.”

The more than 20 clips were tagged UkraineSaysThankYou — perhaps a riposte to British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace’s suggestion last month that Kyiv should express more gratitude and not treat its allies like Amazon’s delivery service.

Britain’s deputy U.N. ambassador, James Kariuki, recalled that 92% of Ukrainians voted in a 1991 national referendum to declare independence from the former Soviet Union, and its existence was recognized by the United Nations including the USSR’s successor, Russia.

“If Russia wins this war, it will give the green light to a new era of international aggression, where big countries can rewrite borders by force,” Kariuki told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday.

In an expected reaction, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the Security Council his country has no reason to congratulate Ukraine, saying “That would be insincere.”

He said Ukraine had willingly compromised its interests to be a “blind weapon wielded by the West” to further the West’s geopolitical agenda. “Let this serve as a lesson to others, and let the Ukrainian tragedy never again repeat itself,” he said.

The holiday came against a backdrop of continued fighting.

Ukrainian intelligence units together with the Ukrainian navy landed on the western side of Russia-occupied Crimea to strike at Russian military assets there, according to Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman Andrii Yusov.

In Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, meanwhile, a Russian strike severely injured a 7-year-old girl whose home was hit, Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin said.

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Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed from the United Nations

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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