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On Unity Day, Ukrainians raise the flag of defiance

Ukraine’s yellow and blue flag fluttered outside schools, hospitals and many shops to mark “Day of Unity”, a day President Volodymyr Zelensky introduced this week after Russia massed troops near Ukraine’s border.

Russia denied the intention of the invasion, but warned that it may take unspecified “military-technical” measures if its security demands are not met, including restrictions on NATO.

The atmosphere in Kiev

On Kiev’s main Khreshchatyk Street, where flags adorn government offices, things were business as usual for many.

“It’s a normal day, but these flags are here for the purpose of showing that we are not afraid of anyone,” said Mikola, who sells coffee at a small kiosk in the capital.

A loudspeaker in a local government office sang patriotic songs, while state television and YouTube channels broadcast sermons in an attempt to stir up patriotic sentiment.

“Everyone wants to scare us, and we’re here to stay,” said Ludmila, a retiree who put a small flag of her country on her coat.

At the Kiev Olympic Stadium, dozens of Ukrainians raised a 200-meter-long flag, waving it to the beat of the national music.

Unity Day

In a televised speech, Zelensky said Ukrainians are united around a common desire “to live in peace and happiness… in a family, children with parents.”

“No one can love our country like we do,” he added. There is no way for us to protect our homeland except by unity.”

Later, Zelensky is scheduled to inspect military exercises in Rivne before flying to the Donbass region in the east to meet with troops.

Zelensky, an active social media user, called on his compatriots to post pictures and videos of the Ukrainian flag and add hashtags. On Instagram, users wrote posts under the hashtag #UnityDay.

“Today we have proven that we Ukrainians are a united nation and a united people,” said Pavlo Horynov, an official at the state’s Institute for Family and Youth Policy.

Zelensky has often said that while he believes Russia is threatening to attack his country, the Western allies are exaggerating the possibility of an imminent invasion, in response to Moscow’s efforts to intimidate Ukraine.

Official holiday

Mikhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s presidential chief of staff, said this week that the president had chosen February 16 as a national holiday, in part in response to media reports of a possible invasion on Wednesday.

The Russian Defense Ministry said it was returning some troops to their bases after the exercises.

US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that more than 150,000 Russian troops are currently deployed near Ukraine.

Hours after Moscow announced the withdrawal, Ukraine said the Internet networks of the Defense Ministry and two banks were subjected to a cyber attack. The ministry said hackers were still attacking Defense Ministry websites on Wednesday.

Although Kiev did not mention who was behind the incident, a statement hinted that it was pointing the finger at Russia.

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