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On Independence Day, Ukraine remains defiant after 6 months of war

The Ukraine war has been raging for six months with no end in sight. Tens of thousands of soldiers have been killed, millions have fled their homes and thousands of civilians have died. But Ukrainians are confident they'll beat Russia.

(CN) — A war-battered but defiant Ukraine on Wednesday marked both the 31st anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union and six months of war since it was attacked by Russia.

Independence Day provided leaders in Kyiv a chance to celebrate the bravery of Ukrainians in resisting Russia's onslaught and reaffirm their determination to carry on fighting until Moscow is defeated and its troops are completely pushed out of Ukraine, including the Crimean peninsula, which is now a Russian fortress since it was annexed in 2014.

Ukraine's resistance was hailed by Western leaders who pledged new support for Kyiv. U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled a new $3 billion arms package for Ukraine, the largest yet. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived in Kyiv unexpectedly and announced $64 million more in military support.

“This assistance really brings our victory closer,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a statement. “We will definitely win, we are sure of that. The victory of freedom in Ukraine is the victory of freedom in Europe.”

Biden said the $3 billion package is meant to help Ukraine “over the long term” to defend itself with new air defense systems, artillery, ammunition, drones and radars. This new package brings U.S. military support to about $14 billion since Russia invaded on Feb. 24.

“Six months of relentless attacks have only strengthened Ukrainians’ pride in themselves, in their country, and in their 31 years of independence,” Biden said in a statement. “Today and every day, we stand with the Ukrainian people to proclaim that the darkness that drives autocracy is no match for the flame of liberty that lights the souls of free people everywhere.”

The celebrations, though, were muted as Ukrainians were told to avoid large gatherings out of fear of Russian attacks. Air raid alarms were heard in many parts of Ukraine, but the day passed without reports of attacks on civilians until late Wednesday when Ukraine accused Russia of striking a railway station.

Ukraine said at least 22 people were killed and 50 wounded in the town of Chaplyne in eastern Ukraine when rockets hit a train at the station.

On the front lines, the war continued to grind on with new reports of shelling and combat. Russian forces have continued to make small advances, including potentially critical breakthroughs in the south near Mykolaiv where Ukraine has been vowing to launch a counteroffensive against Russian-held Kherson.

But after six months of fighting, the Russo-Ukrainian war is turning into a protracted conflict with no end in sight despite heavy losses on both sides and massive economic damage in Russia, Ukraine and Europe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24 has shattered world politics and brought the world to the precipice of a major war between superpowers. Washington is portraying the war as a decisive battle between democracy and autocracy while the Kremlin says it is staving off a U.S.-driven NATO expansion that is undermining Russia's security and world peace.

On the battlefields of Ukraine, the war has turned into what many military experts call a stalemate. Both sides can claim successes but have also suffered strategic defeats.

Russia initially hoped Ukraine's army and leadership would crumble as its paratroopers assaulted Kyiv and large military convoys rumbled into the country from the north, east and south. Russian missiles rained down on Ukraine, destroying communications towers, logistics centers, ammunition depots and military infrastructure.

But Zelenskyy and his government didn't collapse and instead valiantly led Ukraine's resistance and gained massive support from the United States and its Western allies, which imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia.

To Russia's surprise, average Ukrainians rallied to their country's defense and took up arms by the thousands. Ukraine's army – built up after eight years of fighting in the east against pro-Russian separatists and through NATO funding – also held strong and unleashed attacks on Russian invaders, often using guerilla-style tactics as they blew up Russian tanks, armored vehicles and downed aircraft.

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By the end of March, Russia gave up its attack on Kyiv and retreated from the north; instead, it focused its efforts on seizing the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and consolidating gains in southern Ukraine.

By the end of April, it captured the southern port city of Mariupol after weeks of brutal street fighting that left much of the city in ruins. In early July, Russia claimed the capture of the Luhansk region, one of two breakaway eastern regions that make up Donbas, an area of Ukraine heavily populated by ethnic Russians. Since then, fighting has been intense in the neighboring Donetsk region and in the south along the Black Sea.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has been considered not just a horrendously illegal act of brutality but also a military failure by many in the West.

Ukrainian servicemen prepare their weapon to fire on Russian positions in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine early Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrii Marienko)

Western intelligence estimates that tens of thousands of Russian soldiers have been killed. Ukraine claims it has killed more than 45,700 Russian troops, though that number is likely exaggerated. This week, Ukraine said more than 9,000 of its soldiers have been killed, but this figure too is likely far under from the actual toll. Military experts say both sides likely have lost tens of thousands of fighters.

Ukraine's main boast is that it has not collapsed in front of Russia's superior firepower and slowed the invasion's advances. Russia amassed an invasion force of between 150,000 to 200,000 troops, but that army has turned out to be insufficient to roll over Ukraine's defenses. Ukraine's fighting force is deemed larger with more than 200,000 soldiers.

While it's been successful in resisting the invasion, Kyiv has not been able to mount counteroffensives and it seems unlikely to do so any time soon. But it is striking Russian targets – including strategic bridges, command centers and ammunition depots – with supplies of advanced Western weapons.

The war has taken a terrible toll on civilians. The United Nations human rights agency reports that 5,587 civilians have been killed and 7,890 wounded so far. These figures, though, are believed to be undercounts.

The U.N. refugee agency reports that 6.8 million Ukrainians, most of them women and children, are spread across Europe as refugees. Poland and Russia are housing the most refugees, respectively about 1.3 million and 2.3 million. In addition, about 6.6 million people inside Ukraine have been forced to flee their homes, according to U.N. Data.

Even before the war Ukraine was one of Europe's poorest countries and massive relief and aid efforts are being carried out to keep the country afloat. Its economy has been shattered and inflation is skyrocketing in Ukraine. With the colder months approaching, Ukraine is bracing for a terrible winter.

Beyond the grisly battlefields and trenches of Ukraine, the war continues to rage on diplomatic, economic and propaganda fronts.

In the latest move to punish Russia, European Union countries along Russia's borders are pushing to bar all Russian visitors. So far, leaders in Brussels have not endorsed such measures.

In Latvia, meanwhile, a massive Soviet-era monument dedicated to the liberation of Riga from Nazi occupation began to be dismantled this week to the outrage of ethnic Russians there. Similar statues have been removed across Eastern and Central Europe.

On the economic front, Western sanctions have hit Russia hard and cost the country billions of dollars. Western countries have put a halt to imports of Russian oil, natural gas, coal, uranium and many other goods.

Russia's military industry is scrambling to find high-tech parts it needs for its weaponry and the hope is that Russia will not be able to rebuild its military strength due to the sanctions.

Nearly all Western firms have pulled out of Russia and billions of dollars in assets owned by Russia and Russian oligarchs have been frozen and seized in the West.

A recent Yale University study said the sanctions were crippling Russia's economy because of a collapse in exports and imports. The study said Putin's regime has resorted to “fiscal and monetary intervention to smooth over” the economic collapse and “sent his government budget into deficit for the first time in years and drained his foreign reserves.”

The “Kremlin finances are in much, much more dire straits than conventionally understood,” the study said.

But Western sanctions are backfiring too as energy prices soar in the EU, putting Germany and other European countries at risk of recession. Unrest in Europe is likely to increase as inflation takes a bite out of earnings.

On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that the world faces “the end of abundance.” France is getting set to lift a cap on energy prices that has allowed households to cope with soaring inflation.

“I believe that we are in the process of living through a tipping point or great upheaval. Firstly because we are living through... what could seem like the end of abundance,” Macron said, as reported by France 24.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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