Russian attack kills 22 on Ukraine's Independence Day; US pledges nearly $3B in new military aid – USA TODAY

Editor’s note: This page recaps the news from Ukraine on Wednesday, Aug. 24. Follow here for the latest updates and news from Thursday, Aug. 25, as Russia’s invasion continues. 
Ukraine’s Independence Day celebrations were disrupted Wednesday after a Russian rocket strike on a railroad station killed 22 people, said President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who had warned the Kremlin may attempt “something particularly cruel” on the holiday.
The attack took place in Chaplyne, a town of about 3,500 people in the central Dnipropetrovsk region, according to Ukrainian news agencies. Zelenskyy initially said about 50 people were wounded but his office later reduced the number to 22. Five passenger rail cars were hit.
The assault came four days after a car-bomb blast outside Moscow killed a hardline commentator who was the daughter of a Russian ultranationalist, prompting calls for revenge. Ukraine denied involvement in the bombing.
Besides being the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union, Wednesday also marked six months since the war began. Kyiv officials had banned large public gatherings this week and told government employees to work from home in anticipation of a Russian missile strike amid the elevated tensions.
In addition, the U.S. issued a security alert citing “information that Russia is stepping up efforts to launch strikes against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and government facilities in the coming days.”
Earlier Wednesday, Zelenskyy delivered a fiery speech pledging to drive the occupiers out of his battered country as he stood among burned-out Russian tanks in downtown Kyiv.
“Donbas is Ukraine. And we will return it, whatever the path may be. Crimea is Ukraine. And we will return it. Whatever the path may be,” Zelenskyy said, referring to regions that have been taken over partially or entirely by the Russians. “You don’t want your soldiers to die? Free our lands. You don’t want your mothers to cry? Free our lands. These are our simple and clear terms.”
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Other developments:
►Zelenskyy, speaking at the United Nations, called for the International Atomic Energy Agency to take “permanent control” of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, now occupied by Russia. “Russia has put the world on the brink of radiation catastrophe,” he said.
►Yevgeny Roizman, the former mayor of Yekaterinburg – Russia’s fourth-largest city –was arrested Wednesday on charges of discrediting the country’s military, part of a crackdown on critics of Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
►Russia’s eight-year occupation of Crimea has cost Ukraine about $118 billion, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal estimated. He said Russia has converted the peninsula into a “huge military base.”
►War crimes in Ukraine may be unprecedented. So is the country’s push for swift justice. USA TODAY examines the tragedies unfolding in Ukraine.
►Pope Francis marked the half-year anniversary of the invasion by decrying the “insanity” of war and lamenting that innocent civilians on both sides were paying a high price.
A $2.98 billion aid package to Ukraine the Pentagon announced Wednesday includes surface-to-air missile systems, artillery ammunition and drones. Since January, the Biden administration has spent $13.5 billion on military aid to Ukraine.
The White House said the latest security assistance would allow Ukraine to continue defending itself over the long term.
“I know this Independence Day is bittersweet for many Ukrainians as thousands have been killed or wounded, millions have been displaced from their homes, and so many others have fallen victim to Russian atrocities and attacks,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “But six months of relentless attacks have only strengthened Ukrainians’ pride in themselves, in their country, and in their 31 years of independence.” 
Ukrainian Finance Minister Sergei Marchenko called the grant “an important gift for our country.”
Two-time major tennis champion and former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, who is from Belarus, was dropped Wednesday from a pre-U.S. Open exhibition event raising money for humanitarian assistance in Ukraine. 
Belarus has been Russia’s strongest supporter since the invasion. Ukrainian player Marta Kostyuk questioned having a Belarusian participate in the U.S. Tennis Association’s “Tennis Plays for Peace” exhibition Wednesday night in New York. 
Wimbledon banned Russian and Belarusian players, but the U.S. Open is allowing them to play in the event that starts Monday.
European leaders pledged support for Ukraine on its Independence Day, paying tribute to the sacrifices and courage of the Ukrainian people, voicing resolve to keep supplying weapons and reviling Russia for its attack on the neighboring nation.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz rebuked the Kremlin and predicted Ukraine “will drive away the dark shadow of war because it is strong and brave, because it has friends in Europe and all over the world.” French President Emmanuel Macron, in a video message, said the defense of Ukraine meant “refusing to allow international relations to be ruled by violence and chaos.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted a photo of himself making a surprise visit to Kyiv alongside Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy: “What happens in Ukraine matters to us all. That is why I am in Kyiv today. That is why the UK will continue to stand with our Ukrainian friends. I believe Ukraine can and will win this war.”
Celebrating the day it declared independence from the Soviet Union – Aug. 24, 1991 – has been a way for Ukraine to push away from its former status as a Soviet republic, said Kathryn David, assistant professor of Russian and East European studies at Vanderbilt University.
“The war has shown that Russia’s choice to carry on the Soviet legacy has made it resemble the USSR in the worst ways – violent and isolated from the world,” David said, “while Ukraine has emerged as a place defending democratic and European values.”
Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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