With Ukraine set to mark its independence from Soviet rule in 1991 and six months since Russian forces invaded, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned of the risk of “brutal strikes” by Russia and said any attack would provoke a powerful response.
Zelenskyy, who has led his country’s resistance since Russian troops poured over the border on February 24, also said Ukraine would restore its rule over the Crimea region – annexed by Russia in 2014 in a precursor to this year’s invasion.
Zelenskyy had warned at the weekend that Moscow might try “something particularly ugly” in the run-up to Independence Day on Wednesday.
“They will receive a response, a powerful response,” he told a news conference on Tuesday. “I want to say that each day … this response will grow, it will get stronger and stronger.”
In an evening video address hours later, he said: “Tomorrow is a important day for all of us – it is also, unfortunately, important for our enemy. We must be aware that disgusting Russian provocations and brutal strikes are possible tomorrow.”
There was growing unease among Ukraine’s Western allies that attacks could be planned by Moscow on government and civilian targets during the 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.”
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.