Civilians flee Kyiv amid threat of ‘brutal Russian strikes’ on Independence Day

Some brave civilians checked out a ‘parade’ of captured Russian tanks (Picture: AFP/AP)

Kyiv’s steady ‘return to normality’ has been shattered by threats of airstrikes on residents daring to celebrate Ukraine’s Independence Day.

The city’s shops, restaurants and businesses had been teeming with people in recent weeks as the key battle lines remain far to the east.

There have only been two attacks on the capital since April and more than 100,000 internal refugees are believed to be living there, although commanders continue to warn it is not completely safe.

But many civilians began fleeing the area on Tuesday after President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Russia may launch ‘brutal strikes’, according to his officials.

Zelensky said August 24, which marks the day Ukraine formally broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991, was an important date ‘for all of us’ but was ‘also important for our enemy’.

The date also marks exactly six months since the start of Putin’s invasion, an embarrassing milestone for the 69-year-old who had planned his assault in the confident belief Ukraine would be defeated in a matter of days.

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Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday, the president’s top aide Alex Rodnyansky said: ‘There is a risk Russia will try to strike exactly at that time to compensate for their inability to have any success on the battlefield, to have any success in subduing Ukraine and basically all the failures they have run up over the last six months.

US intelligence sources Putin is likely to ‘step up’ efforts to hit government facilities and major infrastructure points this week.

Some civilians braved the risk to look at a ‘parade’ of captured Russian military vehicles (Picture: Getty)
The country marked 31 years of independence from the Soviet Union on Wednesday (Picture: Anadolu)
Residents have been banned from gathering in large numbers (Picture: Rex)
Commanders don’t yet consider the city safe from long-range attacks (Picture: AP)

Ukrainian officials have not warned of specific threats requiring local evacuations.

But cvilians have been banned from gathering in large numbers and told to obey a 7pm curfew and listen out for air raid sirens.

People were said to be moving clear of built-up areas, particularly those housing state buildings.

Mr Rodnyansky added: ‘People are reacting to the news. They are trying to ensure they have contingency plans, they don’t want to spend too much time near the centre near the buildings of our government.’

Despite the threats, President Zelensky stepped outside in central Kyiv on Wednesday to film a video address congratulating his people on their resilience.

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Zelensky and his wife Olena paid tribute to victims of the invasion (Picture: AFP)

He stood near a curated ‘parade’ of captured and decommissioned Russian tanks and military vehicles, which a a few dozen brave civilians were seen inspecting earlier in the day.

He said: ‘On February 24, we were told: you have no chance. On August 24, we say: Happy Independence Day, Ukraine!

‘[Before], the world was not united. COVID-19 clearly showed: it’s every man for himself. Ukraine has changed this in six months.

‘All world history textbooks will have a section: “Times when Ukraine united the world”. When democracy grew teeth again. When tyranny receives an answer in the language it understands.

Kyiv had shown strong signs of a return to normal life before the latest threats (Picture: Getty)

”The occupier believed that in a few days he would be on parade in our capital’s downtown. Today, you can see this “parade” …

‘The proof that enemy equipment can appear in the center of Kyiv only in such form. Burnt, wrecked and destroyed.’

A total of 5,587 civilians including 324 children have been killed in Ukraine since the start of the fighting, according to the latest UN figures.

A further 7,890 have suffered gruesome injuries, of which 558 are children, with most incidents linked to the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects.

UN investigators believe the true casualty numbers is ‘considerably higher’ due to difficulties in collecting data from active warzones.

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