This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy marked the anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe by saying his nation will be victorious over Russia as the Kremlin-connected head of a Russian paramilitary group claimed his forces were inching forward in the fiercely contested town of Bakhmut.
Zelenskiy submitted a bill to parliament officially marking May 9 as “Europe Day” in Ukraine, while Victory Day, May 8, would be celebrated as a “day of remembrance and victory over Nazism.” The move is a snub to Russia, which invaded Ukraine to prevent it from integrating with Europe.
Russia and other former Soviet countries celebrate the end of World War II on May 9 while Europe celebrates it a day earlier.
Zelenskiy said in a video statement on May 8 that Russian forces invading his country would be defeated with the help of Western allies just like Nazi Germany was beaten in World War II.
“We destroyed evil together, in the same way as we are now standing together against a similar evil,” he said in a direct reference to Russia and its unprovoked invasion.
“Together with all of free Europe, we will mark May 9 in Ukraine as Europe Day — [the day] of a united Europe, the basis of which should be and will be peace; [a day] of our Europe,” Zelenskiy said. “Ukraine has always been, is, and will be a part of [this Europe].
Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, claiming the Eastern European country is part of the Russian world and that Ukrainians and Russians are “one people.”
Putin has used Russia’s May 9 Victory Day celebrations in recent years to promote his argument that Ukraine is gripped by fascism similar to that of Nazi Germany. The accusation is viewed by Kyiv and its allies as a baseless claim used as another pretext for Russia’s invasion.
More than 20 Russian cities have canceled Victory Day parades this year, while celebrations in Moscow have been scaled back. Some experts have speculated that Russia is worried about possible social unrest as citizens remember family members killed or severely injured in the war in Ukraine.
Russia has suffered about 200,000 casualties by some estimates during the 14-month war and continues to lose dozens a day in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, the war’s hot spot. Russia has been besieging Bakhmut in the Donetsk region since last summer and has yet to take the city.
The Russian assault is being led by Wagner mercenaries. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Wagner, had blamed a lack of ammunition for his group’s inability to capture Bakhmut and just days ago threatened to pull out of the city if it did not soon arrive. On May 8, he said his forces have begun to receive more supplies.
Ukrainian intelligence has warned about the possibility of Russian provocations on the occasion of May 9, and Kyiv’s military command said it shot down 35 suicide drones and 16 missiles used to attack Ukrainian territory ahead of the events.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its morning update on May 8 that “the enemy again attacked the territory of Ukraine, using Iranian Shahed attack drones,” claiming “35 out of 35 drones were destroyed by our defenders.”
It said the missile strikes targeted the regions of Kharkiv, Kherson, Mykolayiv, and Odesa and inflicted human casualties.
“Unfortunately, there are dead and wounded civilians, and high-rise buildings, private homes, and other civilian infrastructure were damaged,” the General Staff said.
Earlier, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said five people were injured overnight as a result of a drone strike that damaged buildings and infrastructure.
On May 7, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate warned of Russian “provocations” ahead of the May 9 World War II victory celebrations.
“The enemy often chooses symbolic dates for this,” said Andriy Yusov, a representative of the intelligence body, saying Moscow had employed the tactic since its invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and support for separatists in Ukraine’s east in 2014.
“In this situation, provocations can be directed by the Russian special services against the Russian civilian population and timed to certain dates,” Yusov said.
Yusov also warned about the possibility of a “false flag” incident that would attempt to draw Belarus into the full-scale war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.
Ukrainian officials say fighting has intensified in Bakhmut, which Ukrainian and Russian forces have battled over for months, as part of an effort by the Kremlin to capture the eastern Ukrainian city by May 9.