While previous years have been marked by celebrations and parades, Wednesday’s commemoration comes exactly six months after Russia’s invasion of the country began.
President Volodymyr Zelensky marked the day with an emotional address that spoke of the Russian invasion as a new independence day — the day Ukraine had to fight for its freedom, rather than simply voting for it at the ballot box.
“A new nation emerged on February 24 at 4 a.m. Not born, but reborn. A nation that didn’t cry, didn’t scream, didn’t get scared. Didn’t run away. Didn’t give up. Didn’t forget,” Zelensky said Wednesday.
He added: “Every new day is a new reason not to give up. Because, having gone through so much, we have no right not to reach the end. What is the end of the war for us? We used to say: Peace. Now we say: Victory.”
The head of Kyiv’s Military Administration, Maj. Gen. Mykola Zhyrnov, said events have been banned in the capital and other cities so that security forces can respond more efficiently to potential Russian attacks.
In lieu of a parade, wrecked and captured Russian military vehicles including tanks were placed on Khreshchatyk, Kyiv’s main street, as a testament to Moscow’s failed attempt to capture the capital in the early weeks of the war.
On the eve of Independence Day, crowds of people were seen in Khreshchatyk, inspecting the display. Some children crawled up the rusty metal carcass of a tank, while others posed for pictures by the mangled vehicles.
Liubov, who asked for her last name to not be published, said she turned up to show the “scrap metal parade” to her 8-year-old son, Illia.
As Illia climbed on a Russian combat vehicle, Liubov described the parade as “symbolic,” saying “a lot of people in Kyiv (have forgotten) about war, so I think this is a good reminder.”
Her husband, who is fighting on the front line, has implored her to leave the capital for their summer home 50 kilometers (31 miles) away, she said. But she has refused to go.
Even if “there are massive missile strikes on Kyiv (on Wednesday), we will not leave,” she said, explaining she has an emergency bag at home, with enough clothes and overalls “in case of radiation pollution… in case of missiles. We are not that easily scared by them anymore.”
“I don’t feel festive about (Independence Day), I rather feel sad,” she added. “Because I understand what is going on and my husband and brother are on the front line.”
Holding a Ukrainian flag, another onlooker told CNN she also has relatives fighting against Russia.
“My father is on the front line, a lot of my relatives are on the front line … so tomorrow is not a celebration per se, but honoring and feeling independence, because this time it will feel differently than for the previous 30 years,” said Daria, 35, who declined to give her last name.
‘It’s tearing me apart’
On Khreshchatyk, by Ukrainian spoils of war, many who spoke to CNN shared worries about a possible Russian attack on Wednesday.
“We were planning to come here tomorrow but because there were a lot of warnings about tomorrow, we will stay at home,” Oleh Fetir, 51, said as he visited the parade with his wife.
“We came here to see the parade of scrap metal, because the (Russians) have spoiled the celebration for us. Last year on Independence Day we were here watching the parade (of Ukrainian) military equipment, with the airplanes, it was majestic and fascinating. Now, this current parade is quite impressive. It’s missing the photos of those who were inside,” he said in reference to Russian soldiers.
After six months of conflict that have sent Ukraine’s economy into a tailspin and disrupted almost every part of daily life, the weariness was tangible.
“I don’t feel festive about tomorrow, not in a festive mood,” said 29-year-old Oleksii, explaining that he is worried about missiles being fired on the capital.
“My hatred for Russians has grown so big that it’s tearing me apart,” said Anna, 68, who declined to give her surname for safety reasons.
The clinic that she works in has told her to work remotely for the next few days. “I’ve worked (throughout) the war … sometimes getting home under shelling,” she said.
She described Russian President Vladimir Putin as unpredictable, like “a monkey holding a grenade.”
“He says one thing, does something different and nobody can guess what’s actually on his mind,” she said.