Speaking on Monday at an event in the city of Kharkov, close to the Russian border, Zelensky proclaimed that “the true history of the development of our Ukrainian Army dates back several centuries.”
The head of state mentioned the Kievan Rus era, a former East Slavic monarchy considered to be the predecessor of modern Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Zelensky referred to the Zaporozhian Cossacks, whose leader signed a treaty with Russia in 1654, fearing domination by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
He also mentioned those who fought under the banner of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), referring to them as “fighters in the anti-Hitler coalition during World War II.” However, he refused to include those who served during the Soviet era. The UPA, registered as an extremist organization in Russia, worked alongside the Nazis in the fight against the Red Army. Historians say it was responsible for the mass killing of Jews and the destruction of Polish communities during a period of ethnic cleansing.
According to Zelensky, “having absorbed the best national military traditions formed in difficult, bloody wars and armed conflicts of the past, the Ukrainian Army during its recent history has come a long way to building a combat-capable and highly organized fighting organization, confident and able to break any aggression plans on the part of the enemy.”
The celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Kiev’s armed forces come amid heightened tensions on the Russian-Ukrainian shared border. Last week, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov warned that the risk of a full-blown armed conflict in southeastern Ukraine is highly likely, which is becoming a matter of grave concern for Moscow.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova alleged the day before that Kiev was significantly increasing its military force in the Donbass by “pulling heavy equipment and personnel” into the region. “According to some reports, the number of troops… in the conflict zone already reaches 125,000 people,” the representative said.
Last month, Kiev’s Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba dismissed claims that Ukrainian troops were drawing up plans to launch an offensive in the region, and blamed Russia for piling on the “intensity of disinformation, including false accusations that Ukraine is supposedly preparing for a military attack in the Donbass.”