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Zelensky warns of 'particularly cruel' attacks ahead of Ukraine Independence Day

A Ukrainian servicemen stands guard by the wall of memory to the fallen Ukrainian soldiers in Kyiv, Ukraine on Wednesday, August 24, 2022. This year, Ukraine's Independence Day, which commemorates their break with the Soviet Union in 1991, coincides with the six-month mark since Russia launched its large-scale invasion of the country. The fighting has largely focused on the eastern Donbas region and the south, but most anywhere in Ukraine remains vulnerable to Russian air strikes. Photo by Vladyslav Musiienko/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 22 (UPI) -- Several Ukrainian cities, including the country's capital, Kyiv, are banning Wednesday's Independence Day celebrations as Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky warns of "particularly cruel" attacks by Russia.

Ukraine will mark 31 years of independence from Soviet rule this Aug. 24. It will also be the first time the country celebrates its independence since Russia invaded six months ago.

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"We should be aware that this week Russia may try to do something particularly nasty, something particularly cruel," Zelensky said in his nightly address Saturday.

"One of the key tasks of the enemy is to humiliate us, Ukrainians, to devalue our capabilities, our heroes, to spread despair, fear, to spread conflicts," Zelensky said as he urged vigilance. "Therefore, it is important never, for a single moment, to give in to this enemy pressure, not to wind oneself up, not to show weakness."

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While marking Ukraine's independence milestone, Zelensky also commended Ukrainians for their work since the invasion Feb. 24.

"During these 178 days, Ukrainians have proven that our people are invincible, our defenders are invincible," Zelensky said. "Our unity, our faith in ourselves made it possible to pass these six months and approach this week, which is always important for every Ukrainian."

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According to the United Nations Human Rights Office, more than 5,500 civilians in Ukraine have been killed, including 356 children, and nearly 7,700 civilians have been injured since the start of the war to Aug. 14.

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"Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects, including shelling from heavy artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, missiles and air strikes," the UN casualty update said.

Meantime, shelling intensified Monday at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, raising international safety concerns. Ukrainian staff continue to operate the massive plant. Russia and Ukraine are blaming each other for the continued attacks and damage that could risk a large-scale nuclear catastrophe.

With Ukraine's independence anniversary just days away, Kyiv's military administration banned all large gatherings through Thursday. Authorities in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, announced a curfew from 7 p.m. Tuesday to 7 a.m. Thursday.

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"We ask that you understand such measures and prepare to stay at home and in shelters -- this is our safety," Kharkiv authorities said.

In his address, Zelensky acknowledged the holiday is important for every Ukrainian, given the last six months, but said there is still a lot of work ahead.

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"We have always said and we say honestly: For the sake of Ukraine's victory, we still need to fight, we still need to do a lot, we still need to persevere and endure, unfortunately, a lot of pain," he said.

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