He spoke with the same resoluteness and composure as he has almost every day for the last six months, the same furrow between his brows, the same conviction in his voice.
How does a country mark a day of independence, when its sovereignty is being threatened, when some of its people are living under occupation, when its land is being fought over, street by street? On the eve of Ukraine’s Independence Day, President Volodymyr Zelensky told his people the national holiday was all the more important because the nation was under threat.
“It happens at a time when we are fighting against the most dreadful threat to our statehood and at the same time when we have achieved the greatest national unity,” he said, clad in a olive-green version of the vyshyvanka, the traditional garb of Ukraine, embroidered with an armored vehicle and a tank.
“That is why we endured,” he added. “Because we united and united the world around true values.”
Echoing U.S. intelligence assessments and his own government’s warnings in recent days, he urged Ukrainians to prepare for Russia to escalate attacks on civilians around Wednesday’s holiday, which marks Ukraine’s break from the Soviet Union and coincides with six months since the start of Russia’s invasion.
“Tomorrow is an important day for all of us. And that is why this day, unfortunately, is also important for our enemy,” he said. “We must be aware that tomorrow hideous Russian provocations and brutal strikes are possible.”
He used the occasion to highlight Russia’s land grab beyond the now six-month-old war, by focusing his day and his speech on the Crimean peninsula, which was seized by Russia in 2014. Ukraine hosted a day of diplomatic meeting s on the annexation of Crimea, which both Russia and Ukraine consider strategically and historically critical and Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, has called a “holy land” and “sacred place” for his country.
Mr. Zelensky vowed to take back the peninsula, which has been subject to stunning Ukrainian attacks in recent weeks deep inside Russian-occupied territory — a stance that appears to make diplomatic resolution of the war increasingly remote.
“Crimea is Ukraine. Crimea is an integral part of our people,” he said. “Russian aggression began in Crimea, and its finale will be in Crimea as well.”