Six months after Russia launched its military operation in Ukraine, West-backed President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday said his country clamors for "victory, not peace", while vowing to take back Crimea from Russia.
Zelensky's comments came during the Independence Day address as Ukraine’s international allies lavished praise and announced new military packages.
“We will fight until the end,” he said in a recorded emotional speech to mark 31 years of Ukrainian independence from the Soviet rule, vowing that his country would not be making “any concession or compromise” to Russia.
“We don’t care what army you have, we only care about our land. We will fight for it until the end,” the embattled president added.
Russia launched a military operation in Ukraine in late February, following Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements and Moscow’s recognition of the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
At the time, Russian President Vladimir Putin said one of the goals of what he called a “special military operation” was to “de-Nazify” Ukraine.
Since the operation was launched, the United States and its European allies have supplied a large cache of advanced weapons to Ukraine and imposed waves of unprecedented sanctions on Moscow, despite Russia's repeated warnings that such measures would only prolong the war.
The Russian military says it has fully captured Luhansk and has concentrated its efforts to seize the other region, making rapid advances.
The Ukrainian president, clad in a olive-green version of the 'vyshyvanka', the traditional garb of Ukraine, and embroidered with an armored vehicle and a tank, made his remarks as the festivities were subdued with mass gatherings canceled and Ukrainians across the country told to be vigilant.
Zelensky, who seemed interested in reaching a peace agreement with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during the first few months of the war, now seems to be resolute in prolonging the war with the big neighbor until a full victory is achieved and all occupied lands are liberated.
“What for us is the end of the war? We used to say: peace. Now we say: victory,” he said, insisting that his country no longer sees the war ending when there is peace, but when Kiev is actually victorious.
Zelensky claimed that Russia’s operation made Ukraine to be “reborn” and helped the nation to be united like never before, vowing to recapture what he called annexed Crimea and occupied areas in the east.
The Independence Day “happens at a time when we are fighting against the most dreadful threat to our statehood and at the same time when we have achieved the greatest national unity,” he said.
Crimea declared independence from Ukraine on March 17, 2014 and formally applied to become part of Russia following a referendum a day earlier.
Four days later, Putin, who calls Crimea a “holy land” and “sacred place” for his country, signed into law documents that officially made the Black Sea peninsula part of the Russian territory.
Moscow defends Crimea’s reunification with Russia as legitimate, saying more than 90 percent of the people in the Black Sea peninsula voted in favor of rejoining the country in the 2014 vote.
Refusing to recognize the referendum’s results, the United States and the European Union backed Ukraine in branding the reunification as the annexation of the Ukrainian land by Russia. Moscow strongly rejects the allegation.
In siding with Ukraine, the EU also followed Washington’s lead in imposing several rounds of sanctions against the Kremlin.
“Crimea is Ukraine. Crimea is an integral part of our people,” Zelensky further said in his address on Wednesday, stressing, “Russian aggression began in Crimea, and its finale will be in Crimea as well.”
The peninsula has been subject to stunning Ukrainian attacks in the past few weeks deep inside the Russian territory. Zelensky's resolve to take back Crimea from Russia and his desire to “fight until the end” make diplomatic resolution of the war increasingly remote.
“That is why we endured. Because we united and united the world around true values,” Zelensky said.
“On February 24, we were told: you have no chance. On August 24, we say: Happy Independence Day, Ukraine!”
US, UK announces new military aid
Meanwhile, the United States announced nearly $3 billion in new military aid to Ukraine on Wednesday, with President Joe Biden saying the assistance aims to help the country fight Russia “over the long term” as the war enters its seventh month.
"The United States of America is committed to supporting the people of Ukraine as they continue the fight to defend their sovereignty," Biden was quoted as saying in a White House press release on Wednesday.
"As part of that commitment, I am proud to announce our biggest tranche of security assistance to date: approximately $2.98 billion of weapons and equipment to be provided through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative."
The new military aid will allow Ukraine to get new air defense systems, artillery and munitions, anti-drone aerial systems, and radar, according to the US president.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has arrived in Kiev on Wednesday to congratulate Zelensky on Ukraine's Independence Day, also brought along $63.7 million in new military assistance.
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