Ukrainians grieve and vow to fight on, a year after Russia invaded
KYIV – Ukrainians honoured fallen loved ones on Friday and vowed to fight on to victory, while Russia said its forces were making battlefield gains in the east as its invasion entered a second year with no end in sight.
At a ceremony on Kyiv’s St Sophia Square, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy bestowed medals on soldiers and the mother of one killed. He fought back tears at the national anthem.
“We have become one family … Ukrainians have sheltered Ukrainians, opened their homes and hearts to those who were forced to flee the war,” he said in a televised address.
“We withstand all threats, shelling, cluster bombs, cruise missiles, kamikaze drones, blackouts and cold … And we will do everything to gain victory this year.”
Zelenskiy was due to attend an online summit with U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies.
“I’ll repeat today what I said one year ago as Russia invaded Ukraine,” tweeted Biden. “A dictator bent on rebuilding an empire will never erase the people’s love of liberty. Brutality will never grind down the will of the free. And Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia. Never.”
Washington announced a new $2 billion package of military aid for Ukraine, and a raft of additional sanctions and tariffs hitting Russia’s mining and metals industries, and companies from third countries accused of supplying Moscow with restricted goods. Other G7 countries unveiled similar measures.
For Ukrainians who have spent much of the year in bomb shelters and supporting the war effort any way they can, the anniversary meant reflection.
“I buried my son who died in military service. I also buried my husband. I think it’s very clear to you, I’m on my own now and it’s very, very hard,” said Valentyna Krysan, 75, a shop employee in Kyiv. “I wish you a nice, peaceful day, and that such a thing will never be repeated in your lives.”
In Russia, where publicly criticising the war is punishable by long jail terms, the mood was muted. “I really want peace, I really want it all to end as soon as possible,” said Vera, a pensioner. Igor, walking through Moscow, said Russia must win: “We’re looking forward to it ending successfully. That’s all we can expect. We have no other options.”
BLUE AND YELLOW
Allies showed their support for Kyiv.
Ukraine’s blue and yellow colours lit up the Eiffel Tower, the Brandenburg Gate, the Empire State Building and the Sydney Opera House. They were painted on the street outside the Russian embassy in London.
“There will be a life after this war, because Ukraine will win,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said.
There were no major public events to mark the anniversary in Russia, which set off fireworks on Thursday for the annual “Defenders of the Fatherland” holiday and held a pop concert on Wednesday attended by President Vladimir Putin.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers on both sides are believed to have died since Putin ordered the invasion, saying it was necessary to protect Russia’s security.
Ukraine sees it as a bid to subjugate an independent state. Its outnumbered and outgunned forces repelled Russia’s attempt to seize the capital Kyiv early in the war and later recaptured swathes of occupied territory. But Moscow still occupies nearly a fifth of Ukraine, which it claims to have annexed.
Russian troops have destroyed Ukrainian cities, set a third of the population to flight and left behind streets littered with corpses in towns they occupied and lost.
Moscow denies war crimes.
In recent weeks, Russian forces, replenished with hundreds of thousands of conscripts in Moscow’s first mobilisation since World War Two, have launched a winter offensive of intense trench warfare, making only small gains despite fighting that both sides call the bloodiest so far.
Putin says he is battling the combined might of the West in what he now depicts as a fight for Russia’s survival. Kyiv says there can be no peace until Russia withdraws.
In the latest reports from the battlefield, Russia’s Wagner private army, run by a Putin ally who has quarrelled with the regular military brass, claimed to have captured another village on the outskirts of Bakhmut, the small mining city in the east that is the focus of Moscow’s offensive.
Russia has made clear, if slow, progress towards encircling Bakhmut, but failed to capture it in time to deliver a victory for Putin to announce on the anniversary.
Costly Russian assaults have yielded little in the way of advances elsewhere on the front. Ukraine, for its part, is awaiting new Western weapons before starting a counter-attack.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, visiting Kyiv, said a first batch of four German Leopard tanks – among scores promised – were already in Ukraine.
Despite strong support for Ukraine in the West, big developing nations, above all China and India, have kept clear of imposing sanctions on Moscow. At a meeting of finance ministers of the G20 group, which includes Russia, host India made no mention of the conflict. Western countries pushed for a final communique recording opposition to the war.
China, which signed a “no limits” partnership with Russia just before the war and signalled support by sending its top diplomat to Moscow this week, issued a peace plan, sticking to its principle of public neutrality.