(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.