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February 24, 2023 11:13 am
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Ukrainians Grieve and Vow to Fight on, a Year After Russia Invaded

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avatar by Reuters and Algemeiner Staff

Ukrainian service members ride a tank, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, near the town of Lyman, Donetsk region, Ukraine February 23, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Alex Babenko

Ukrainians paid tribute to fallen loved ones on Friday and vowed to fight on to victory, while Russia said its forces were making gains in battle in the east as its invasion entered a second year with no end in sight.

At a ceremony on Kyiv’s St Sophia Square, a visibly emotional President Volodymyr Zelenskiy bestowed medals on soldiers and the mother of one killed. He fought back tears when a band played the national anthem.

“We have become one family. There are no more strangers among us … 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,” he said. “And we will do everything to gain victory this year.”

Zelenskiy was due later to attend an online summit with U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies, expected to pledge more support for Ukraine and tighten sanctions against Russia.

“I’ll repeat today what I said one year ago as Russia invaded Ukraine,” Biden tweeted. “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.”

For ordinary Ukrainians who have spent much of the year hiding 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.”

BLUE AND YELLOW

Allies around the world showed their support. Ukraine’s blue and yellow colours lit up the Eiffel Tower, the Brandenburg Gate, the Empire State Building and the Sydney Opera House, and 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 a year ago, 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 the 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.

NO PEACE

There is no sign of any peace process. 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 in a breakthrough a month ago – were already in Ukraine.

Britain announced new sanctions on Russia, and other Western powers were expected to do so around the G7 online summit, led by Biden, who journeyed to Kyiv and gave a landmark speech in Warsaw this week to mark the anniversary.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States would provide an additional $2 billion in assistance, and new G7 measures would target countries seeking to backfill products denied to Russia by sanctions.

“The international community must come together and show solidarity and impose strong sanctions against Russia,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, holder of the G7 rotating presidency, told a news conference.

At a separate meeting of finance ministers of the wider G20 group, which includes Russia, host India made no mention of the conflict. Western countries pushed for a final communique that would record 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. Washington has said in recent days it worries China could arm Russia; Beijing denies this.

 

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