President Joe Biden on Wednesday praised the “extraordinary courage and dedication to freedom” of the Ukrainian people in fending off Russian fighters, six months into Moscow’s invasion, while demonstrating continued U.S. support for Kyiv’s forces with nearly $3 billion in new military aid.
On Ukraine’s Independence Day marking 31 years since escaping Soviet rule in 1991, Biden said the day “is not only a celebration of the past, but a resounding affirmation that Ukraine proudly remains – and will remain – a sovereign and independent nation.”
Biden said the new tranche of military assistance was designed to help Ukraine defend itself over the long term, with U.S. officials saying some of the weaponry might not be used for a year or two. The U.S. leader said the package would include air defense systems, artillery systems and munitions, counter-unmanned aerial systems, and radars.
The new aid comes on top of about $10.6 billion in military assistance the U.S. has already sent to Ukraine in the last year and a half.
Biden said he knows that this year’s Independence Day “is bittersweet for many Ukrainians as thousands have been killed or wounded, millions have been displaced from their homes, and so many others have fallen victim to Russian atrocities and attacks.”
He added, “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.”
In Norway, the defense ministry issued a statement saying Norway and Britain are jointly supplying Ukraine with micro drones used for “reconnaissance and target identification.”
Norway is also supplying a portable system that would allow Ukrainian forces to jam enemy drones, which the Norwegian defense ministry said is “particularly suitable for protecting smaller patrols, artillery positions and other important resources.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in a video address from Kyiv’s Independence Square, said Ukrainians are “fighting for our destiny” and will defend their land “until the end.”
He declared that while the end of the war would be marked by peace, now Ukraine wants victory.
“And we will put our hands up only once — when we will celebrate our victory. The whole of Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said. “Because we do not trade our lands and our people. For us, Ukraine is all of Ukraine. All 25 regions, without any concessions or compromises.”
Zelenskyy said Ukraine would regain control of the eastern Donbas region, where heavy fighting has raged for months, as well as Crimea.
Russian forces shifted their focus to the Donbas after failing in an early push toward the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Russian-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces in the Donbas since 2014. The same year, Russian seized Crimea in a move not recognized by the international community.
“You don’t want your soldiers to die? Free our lands,” Zelenskyy said. “You don’t want your mothers to cry? Free our lands. These are our simple and clear terms.”
Public Independence Day celebrations were banned in Kyiv as Ukrainian leaders, and the United States, warned of increased Russian efforts to strike civilian infrastructure and government facilities in Ukraine.
Pope Francis used part of his general audience Wednesday to renew a call for prayers for the Ukrainian people, saying they have “been suffering the horrors of war for six months now,” according to Vatican News.
“I hope that concrete steps will be taken to bring an end to the war and to avert the risk of a nuclear disaster at Zaporizhzhia,” the pope said, referring to a nuclear power plant that Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of attacking in recent weeks.
The pontiff also talked about what he called “the madness” of war and losses on both sides of the conflict, saying children “have lost their father or mother, whether Russians or Ukrainians.”
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.