KYIV, Ukraine — On Feb. 24, 2022, Russian forces blitzed into Ukraine from multiple directions, planning to take the capital city of Kyiv in a matter of days. Some of the destroyed Russian vehicles later found on Kyiv’s outskirts contained parade uniforms, underscoring preparations for a triumphant victory march that was not to be.
Some six months later, a column of Russian tanks and armored vehicles has at last arrived on Khreshchatyk, Kyiv’s main thoroughfare. But not in the way the Kremlin had planned. Up the boulevard, the burned and blasted detritus of Russia’s folly was on full display for all to see. Russia had wanted to parade its army through Kyiv, and this is how it finally happened.
On the afternoon of Sunday, Aug. 21, thousands of Ukrainian civilians casually strolled past a column of destroyed Russian hardware more than one-third of a mile long. In addition to a collection of Russian rockets, the destroyed vehicles included tanks, armored fighting vehicles, and self-propelled artillery. Much of the vehicles’ metal was oxidized by fire. Many bore terrific blast punctures. Some tank turrets were separated from their chassis. The insides of the tanks evidenced the fiery tombs they’d become for their crews.
Wednesday will mark the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence from Soviet rule — that day will also be the six-month anniversary of Russia’s ongoing, full-scale war. Ukraine typically marks its Independence Day celebrations with a military parade down Khreshchatyk, comprising ranks of marching soldiers, convoys of military vehicles, and a presidential address.
Last year, the famed “Mriya” aircraft flew over Khreshchatyk as part of the Independence Day parade. Once the largest aircraft in the world, the Ukrainian-made Antonov An-225 cargo plane was destroyed in its hangar at the Antonov Airport outside of Kyiv after Russian forces attacked.
This year’s display of ruined Russian hardware is a telling deviation from Ukrainian Independence Day tradition. So, too, is the fact that Kyiv remains under martial law, including a strict nightly curfew, amid the ongoing threat of Russian missile attacks.
According to an online statement by Kyiv’s City Hall: “This year Ukraine celebrates the anniversary of independence in terms of martial law and under the threat of possible shelling. Mass events are prohibited, because the enemy is unpredictable, so we have to be prepared for any scenario.”
Even so, on Sunday, it was striking to observe how casually everyday Ukrainians interacted with the visceral evidence of Russia’s invasion force. Parents pushed strollers past fire-gutted tanks. A wedding party wandered through the wreckage, snapping photos. A woman wearing a blue and yellow ball gown posed for pictures in front of twisted tank remains. The most jarring part of any war is often its intersection with normal life, a maxim particularly true on this day.
Despite the outward calm, Kyiv’s city authorities are now bracing for the possibility of Russian missile attacks against the city this week in the run-up to Independence Day.
According to a Facebook post by Kyiv’s City Hall: “In the coming days, there is a possible threat of rocket-bomb attacks by the Russian military against decision-making centers, military facilities, defense industry facilities, critical infrastructure and nearby residential areas, as well as facilities that ensure the livelihood of the population during the celebration of the Day of the State Flag of Ukraine and Independence Day of Ukraine.”
Kyiv’s City Hall also urged citizens to “go to a shelter immediately” in case of an air-raid alert.
“Kyiv continues to live in a state of war,” City Hall reported.
Ukraine’s air force reported that its air defenses downed two Russian Kalibr cruise missiles and one Ka-52 helicopter on Sunday. Across the country, some of Ukraine’s national air-raid alert system is being upgraded to include separate alarms for radiation and chemical warfare threats. The sound of church bells will signal a chemical attack, and alarm bells will warn of radiation.
“Due to the aggravation of nuclear blackmail of the Russian Federation, some territorial communities have introduced several alarm signals that will notify of various types of danger,” Ukraine’s Center for Countering Disinformation reported on Telegram.
After six months of attritional warfare, Russia has achieved far less than it set out to on Feb. 24. And even if Russian forces are able to scorched-earth their way ahead in some parts of southern and eastern Ukraine over the coming months, the Kremlin’s original intent of installing a pro-Russian puppet regime in Kyiv has become a practical impossibility. This Independence Day, Kyiv remains the capital of a country more committed than ever to resisting Russian oppression.
“For the past eight years, [Russia] tried to break the will of Ukrainians…And while the world stayed afraid, Ukrainians rose to the challenge,” said Roman Burko, founder of the Ukrainian media site InformNapalm.
Multiple national polls this summer have highlighted Ukrainians’ overwhelming belief in victory and animosity toward Russia. A June poll conducted by the International Republican Institute, a US think tank, and the Ukrainian social research group Rating found that 98% of Ukrainians “believe Ukraine will win the war.” A separate poll that month by The Wall Street Journal and the University of Chicago found that 89% of Ukrainians were unwilling to cede territory to Russia for the sake of a peace deal.
What began as a national fight for freedom has evolved into an existential fight for national survival — a change made painfully clear by incontrovertible evidence of Russia’s war crimes in places like Bucha, Irpin, and Mariupol. Consequently, the stakes of this war have united Ukrainians more than they’ve ever been.
According to the International Republican Institute, or IRI, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy currently enjoys a 91% approval rating among Ukrainians. Also, the IRI reported some 72% of Ukrainians support their country joining NATO — a jump of 13 percentage points since May on the same question.
“Ukrainians are very firm in their conviction that they will be victorious in the conflict against Russia, and they overwhelmingly support the actions of their wartime president,” Stephen Nix, senior director for IRI’s Eurasia Division, said in a release.
By that measure, the Kremlin’s ongoing war has failed to divert Ukrainians from the pro-democratic, pro-Western future they’ve chosen for themselves. Regarding the recent decision by some major companies like McDonald’s to re-open their businesses in Ukraine, Burko told Coffee or Die Magazine:
“So now not only politicians or the military are talking about Ukraine’s victory, but also big international business is signaling about it by returning to Ukraine. These are definitely good signs.”