On the eve of Ukraine’s independence day – and as Russia’s invasion reaches the sixth-month mark – there is growing unease that attacks are planned by Moscow on government and civilian targets during the Ukrainian national holiday.
The United States reinforced those concerns when its embassy in Kyiv issued a security alert on Tuesday, warning that it “has information that Russia is stepping up efforts to launch strikes against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and government facilities in the coming days”.
“The Department of State has information that Russia is stepping up efforts to launch strikes against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and government facilities in the coming days,” the US Embassy in Kyiv said in a statement.
US citizens should leave Ukraine “now”, and by their own means, if possible, the embassy said.
“The US Embassy urges US citizens to depart Ukraine now using privately available ground transportation options if it is safe to do so.”
Although this is not the first time the US has issued such a warning, the significance is Ukraine’s marking 31 years of independence from Soviet rule on Wednesday.
Speculation that Russia plans attacks to coincide with the holiday follows a ban by the Ukrainian government on Independence Day celebrations in the capital, Kyiv.
Kyiv is far from the front lines and has only rarely been hit by Russian missiles since repelling a Russian ground attack in March.
Wednesday will also mark six months since Russia launched its invasion on February 24.
‘Something particularly cruel’
Over the weekend, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy already sensed a looming threat when he said in his daily address that “we should be aware that this week Russia may try to do something particularly nasty, something particularly cruel”.
On Tuesday, he warned of a powerful response if Russian forces carry out attacks on or around Ukraine’s Independence Day.
“If they hit us, they will receive a response, a powerful response,” Zelenskyy said.
“I want to say that each day … this response will grow, it will get stronger and stronger.”
The heightened state of concern also comes amid Russia’s claim that Ukrainian intelligence was responsible for the car bombing over the weekend that killed Darya Dugina, 29, the daughter of a leading right-wing Russian political analyst. Ukraine has denied involvement.
A commentator with a nationalist Russian TV channel, Dugina died when a remotely controlled explosive device planted in her SUV blew up on Saturday night as she was driving on the outskirts of Moscow.
The growing sense of concern has also been compounded in recent days as Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, at Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine, has come under continued shelling and fighting, leading to fears of a nuclear catastrophe.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also said on Monday that 5,587 civilians had been killed and 7,890 wounded between February 24 and August 21, mainly from artillery, rocket and missile attacks.
UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, said at least 972 children have been killed or injured over six months of war.
“The use of explosive weapons has caused most of the child casualties. These weapons do not discriminate between civilian and combatant, especially when used in populated areas,” a UNICEF statement said.
Separately, Ukrainian armed forces chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi provided what appeared to be the first public Ukrainian military death toll, saying nearly 9,000 soldiers had died in action.
Russia has not said how many of its soldiers have been killed. Ukraine’s General Staff has estimated the Russian military death toll at 45,400.
Independent verification of the military losses on both sides has not been possible.