US warning of new attacks and weekend car bombing killing pro-Kremlin TV commentator Darya Dugina stir fears of Russian violence on the 31st anniversary of Ukraine's independence from Soviet Union.
The sense of dread has deepened in Ukraine because of warnings that Russia may try to spoil the country's Independence Day holiday and mark the conflict's six-month point with intensified attacks.
The US reinforced the worry with a security alert on Tuesday citing "information that Russia is stepping up efforts to launch strikes against Ukraine's civilian infrastructure and government facilities in the coming days." As it has done previously, it urged American citizens to "depart Ukraine now." Several European countries issued similar warnings.
Kiev authorities banned mass gatherings in the capital through Thursday for fear of missile attacks around Independence Day, which, like the six-month mark in the offensive, falls on Wednesday. The holiday celebrates Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
"Our country is having a very hard time, and we need to be careful," 26-year-old Vlad Mudrak said in support of the ban.
Anxiety also mounted after a weekend car bombing outside Moscow killed the daughter of a leading right-wing Russian political theorist. Russia accused Ukraine of carrying out the attack and the bloodshed stirred fears of Russian retaliation.
Pro-Kremlin TV commentator Darya Dugina, 29, the daughter of Alexander Dugin, a writer dubbed "Putin's brain", died when the SUV she was driving blew up on Saturday night as she was returning home from a patriotic festival.
Managing expectations of Russian 'cruelty'
Over the weekend, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that Russia "may try to do something particularly nasty, something particularly cruel" this week.
On Tuesday, however, Zelenskyy stressed defiance rather than worry when he raised the national flag at a memorial one day ahead of Independence Day.
"The blue and yellow flag of Ukraine will again fly where it rightfully should be — in all temporarily occupied cities and villages of Ukraine," he said, including the Crimea Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.
He added: "It is necessary to liberate Crimea from occupation. It will end where it had started.”
At a separate event, Zelenskyy appeared to downplay the threats this week, indicating that at most, he expected increased intensity rather than new targets.
NATO, meanwhile, said Zelenskyy can continue to count on the 30-nation alliance for help in defending itself in what Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called "a grinding war of attrition." The conflict broke out on February 24.
"This is a battle of wills and a battle of logistics. Therefore, we must sustain our support for Ukraine for the long term so that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign, independent nation," Stoltenberg said at an international conference on Crimea.
Zaporizhzhia at risk
One particular source of foreboding is Europe's largest nuclear power plant, in southeastern Ukraine, where shelling has raised fears of a catastrophe.
Shelling close to the Zaporizhzhia plant continued early on Tuesday. Regional Governor Valentyn Reznichenko said Russian forces fired on Marhanets and Nikopol, two towns less than a dozen kilometres from the power station. The UN Security Council is meeting on Tuesday to discuss the danger.
In other developments, the US plans to announce on Wednesday an additional $3 billion or so in aid to train and equip Ukrainian forces, according to American officials speaking on condition of anonymity. This would be the largest single security package yet in the six-month-old fighting.