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Kyiv hosts a different kind of parade to celebrate Ukraine's independence day

Ukrainians visit an avenue, where destroyed Russian military vehicles have been displayed in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2022. Drawing the attention of large numbers of pedestrians and amateur snappers on Saturday in downtown Kyiv a large column of burned out and captured Russian tanks and infantry carriers were displayed on the central Khreshchatyk boulevard. (AP Photo/Andrew Kravchenko)
Ukrainians visit an avenue, where destroyed Russian military vehicles have been displayed in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2022. Drawing the attention of large numbers of pedestrians and amateur snappers on Saturday in downtown Kyiv a large column of burned out and captured Russian tanks and infantry carriers were displayed on the central Khreshchatyk boulevard. (AP Photo/Andrew Kravchenko)
https://ondemand.npr.org/anon.npr-mp3/npr/atc/2022/08/20220821_atc_ukraine_independence_celebration.mp3?orgId=1&topicId=1124&d=224&p=2&story=1118700800&ft=nprml&f=1001

Ukraine's independence day celebrations won't have the usual fanfare as Russia persists in its invasion.

Aug. 24 marks the day when Ukraine's parliament vowed to separate from the Soviet Union in 1991. The date this year will also mark six months since the war began.

Perhaps the most striking departure from past festivities has to do with the parade.

Instead of the Soviet-style events — a ritual that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had called wasteful — Ukraine's military is lining the route with the burned-out husks of Russian military equipment.

"I think it's appropriate, if sad," Mykhailo Virchenko told NPR as he and his wife, Lubov, strolled past the installation on Sunday.

"We hope that we can celebrate independence without weapons in the future. Maybe with flowers and dances instead," Lubov said.

Thousands of people walked along the way as more flat-bed trucks brought in their cargo. Children played on the cannon barrels, while friends took selfies in front of armored personnel carriers.

Exposed to the elements, rust coated the armor where people etched graffiti like "revenge for Mariupol" or "for Mykolaiv," Ukrainian cities that Russia has attacked since February.

Ukrainian officials are warning civilians against gathering in major cities ahead of the holiday.

"Russia may try to do something particularly nasty, something particularly cruel," Zelenskyy said during his Saturday evening address.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a top adviser in Zelenskyy's office, said Russia would do whatever it could to make the people of Ukraine miserable.

"You'll remember they said they'd march in downtown Kyiv within three days of invading. Here we are six months later, having demonstrated how weak Russia is compared to Ukraine. So they'll want their compensation," Podolyak said.

Ukraine's Culture Ministry has confirmed there would not be any public celebration to mark the holiday. The current martial law prohibits large public gatherings.

"I think we can only celebrate once we win," Valentyn Paska, a Kyiv resident, told NPR. "I'm just going to work that day."

Instead, the military will conduct private flag-raising ceremonies, and some of the capital's monuments will be illuminated in blue and yellow, the flag's colors.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Transcript :

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This week marks six months since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but it also marks Ukraine's Independence Day. On August 24, 1991, the Ukrainian parliament declared its intent to separate from the Soviet Union. Every year since, parades and festivals have been held to celebrate - not this year, though. The war won't allow it. From Kyiv, NPR's Julian Hayda has this report on how the government will mark the occasion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Non-English language spoken).

JULIAN HAYDA, BYLINE: When Volodymyr Zelenskyy became president of Ukraine in 2019, he canceled the country's big parades, citing high costs and his discomfort with militarism.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HAYDA: But for the landmark anniversary in 2021, as tensions with Russia were rising, Zelenskyy rolled out the Ukrainian tanks and marched soldiers down the street nonetheless.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZELENSKYY: (Non-English language spoken).

HAYDA: "We're doing everything we can so that our great country lives on for much longer, not the least of which by liberating the Donbas and Crimea," said Zelenskyy at last year's parade. Fast-forward a year later to today, and Ukraine's government is once again canceling its Independence Day celebration, only this time, because that war for Donbas and Crimea has spilled into the rest of Ukraine, tying up soldiers and equipment. Martial law means people can't gather either.

But on this bright weekend afternoon in Kyiv, Ukraine is setting up a different kind of parade. A nearly half-mile stretch of the Khreshchatyk, Kyiv's central boulevard, is littered with dozens of burnt-out Russian tanks, cannons, armored vehicles, radar trucks and so on and so on. Valentyn Paska peers into some of the wreckage.

VALENTYN PASKA: (Non-English language spoken).

HAYDA: "Back in February, the Russians promised to roll through Kyiv within three days," he says. "I guess their tanks finally made it, but none of their soldiers did."

There's somewhat of a carnival atmosphere in the Khreshchatyk. People line up for ice cream and sip lattes as music spills from high-end shops. Thousands of people on their Sunday stroll, sandwiched between normal business and the abnormal sight of twisted metal, people's faces ranging from amusement to melancholy. The names of the cities destroyed by Russia are graffitied into the rusted armor. This one's for Mariupol and revenge for Mykolaiv, they read. Some vehicles have their ballistic glass partially melted off. Others have weeds sprouting out of the soot inside.

MYKHILO VIRCHENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

HAYDA: "The Russians left us their garbage," said Mykhilo Virchenko. "But it's important to get reminded about the cost of war." His wife, Lubov, nods along.

LUBOV: (Non-English language spoken).

HAYDA: "We hope that we can celebrate independence without weapons in the future," she says. "Maybe with flowers and dances instead." Now, the Virchenkos grew up in the Soviet Union, so it's not the first time they've seen tanks downtown. Same for Anya (ph) from Luhansk, who fled the eastern city in 2014 after Russian-backed forces took the area.

ANYA: (Non-English language spoken).

HAYDA: "Maybe the only way to ever be independent is when someone tries to take your independence from you," says Anya, who didn't provide a surname to protect her parents still under occupation. Her 5-year-old son, Dmytro, says he likes to see the wrecked tanks, so I ask why.

DMYTRO: (Non-English language spoken).

HAYDA: "It's complicated," he says. "But I want us to win."

ANYA: (Non-English language spoken).

DMYTRO: (Non-English language spoken).

HAYDA: Still, Ukraine's government is warning people to stay away from big cities in case Russia tries to make a symbolic attack on the Independence Day Ukraine might not have had this year.

Julian Hayda, NPR News, Kyiv.

(SOUNDBITE OF MR KAFER'S "MOUNTAIN VIEWS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.