A woman cries at her son's grave who died fighting in the war, as Ukrainians mark Independence Day in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023. AP Photo/Bram Janssen
KYIV, Ukraine — 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.”
People look at a large number of burned out and captured Russian tanks and infantry carriers which are displayed on the central Khreshchatyk boulevard in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, as Ukrainians mark Independence Day. AP photo by Efrem Lukatsky.
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.
The holiday was observed 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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Zelenskyy said on his Telegram channel the weapon was produced by Ukraine’s Ministry of Strategic Industries but gave no other details.