NEW YORK (WABC) -- Ukrainian immigrants and Americans across the New York area and the nation marked a somber Ukraine Independence Day Wednesday, coinciding with the six-month milestone of Russia's invasion.
Hundreds of people came to Central Park and unfurled a flag, befitting, in size at least, to the courageous heart of a defiant and wounded nation.
They waved their flag proudly and children danced beneath its colors as they celebrated Ukrainian Independence Day.
They chanted 'glory to Ukraine,' in Central Park. There were no military experts there, but so many know well the heart of their homeland.
At the Veselka restaurant, owner Jason Birchard still collects money for Ukraine and donates all proceeds from Borscht orders to his homeland.
For those with family and friends still in Ukraine, news reports and footage show old neighborhoods, and buildings they recognize, and they are heartened to know Americans support them.
In Mineola, there was a flag-raising ceremony, and in the East Village, they wore black, thinking about friends who have died in Ukraine.
Western leaders pledged unwavering support for the war-ravaged country, paying tribute to the sacrifices and courage of the Ukrainian people and voicing their resolve to keep supplying Ukraine with weapons.
They also reviled Moscow for its attack on the neighboring Eastern European nation.
More than 20 people were killed in a missile strike at a central Ukraine train station Wednesday. Six blood-stained months into this wrenching war, the death toll is staggering: 9,000 Ukrainian soldiers, and 5,500 civilians are all dead in Vladimir Putin's war.
Experts disagree about how the war is going. Putin's unmotivated, undisciplined military seems now bogged down in a slow, merciless slog of a war they can't win but refuse, so far, to abandon.
U.S. President Joe Biden, marking the day by announcing significant new military aid to Ukraine, noted that the day was "bittersweet" for many Ukrainians as they continue to suffer but take pride in withstanding Russia's "relentless attacks."
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Biden announced that he is sending $2.98 billion in new military aid to Ukraine that he said will enable forces there to fight for years to come.
In a statement, Biden said the aid will allow Ukraine to acquire air defense systems, artillery systems and munitions, drones and other equipment "to ensure it can continue to defend 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," Biden said. "But six months of relentless attacks have only strengthened Ukrainians' pride in themselves, in their country, and in their thirty-one years of independence."
In Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned the day could be filled with especially brutal Russian attacks, under conditions considered too dangerous to allow any major public celebrations in the capital.
Kyiv authorities banned large gatherings in the capital through Thursday, fearing the national holiday might bring particularly heavy Russian missile strikes.
Independence Day commemorates Ukraine's 1991 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union.
"Russian provocations and brutal strikes are a possibility," Zelenskyy said in a statement. "Please strictly follow the safety rules. Please observe the curfew. Pay attention to the air sirens. Pay attention to official announcements. And remember: We must all achieve victory together."
Last year, crowds turned out in Kyiv to watch a military parade marking 30 years of Ukrainian independence. This year, just a small number of residents gathered in the central square, where destroyed Russian tanks and artillery were put on display over the weekend, and the national anthem is played every day at 7 a.m.
In a holiday message to the country, Zelenskyy said: "Six months ago, Russia declared war on us. On Feb. 24, all of Ukraine heard explosions and gunshots. ... On Feb. 24, we were told: You have no chance. On Aug. 24, we say: Happy Independence Day, Ukraine!"
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Russian President Vladimir Putin's forces have encountered unexpectedly stiff Ukrainian resistance in their invasion, and the fighting has turned into a grinding war of attrition that has sent shock waves through the world economy.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, speaking Wednesday at a meeting of his counterparts from a security organization dominated by Russia and China, claimed the slow pace of Moscow's military action was due to what he said was an effort to spare civilians.
Russian forces have repeatedly targeted civilian areas in cities, including hospitals and a Mariupol theater where hundreds of people were taking shelter.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
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