JEDDAH: Ukraine’s president led the world on Friday in marking the anniversary of the Russian invasion of his country and the start of Europe’s deadliest war since 1945.
Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukrainians had proved themselves to be invincible during “a year of pain, sorrow, faith and unity.” Feb. 24, 2022, he said, was “the longest day of our lives. The hardest day of our modern history. We woke up early and haven’t fallen asleep since.”
At a ceremony in St. Sophia Square in Kyiv, Zelensky gave medals to soldiers and the mother of one killed, and fought back tears as the national anthem played.
“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. “We withstand all threats, shelling, cluster bombs, cruise missiles, kamikaze drones, blackouts and cold ... And we will do everything to gain victory this year.”
Zelensky repeated calls for more Western weaponry and took part in an online summit with US President Joe Biden and other leaders of the G7 group of wealthy states, who pledged more support for Ukraine.
“I’ll repeat today what I said one year ago as Russia invaded Ukraine,” Biden said.
“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, as well as 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, the anniversary meant reflection. “I buried my son who died in military service. I also buried my husband. I’m on my own now and it’s very, very hard,” said Valentyna Krysan, 75, a shop employee in Kyiv.
Allies showed their support for Kyiv. Ukraine’s blue and yellow colors 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.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers on both sides are believed to have died since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion, saying it was necessary to protect Russia’s security.
In recent weeks, Russian forces, replenished with hundreds of thousands of conscripts, have launched a winter offensive of intense trench warfare, making only small gains despite fighting that both sides call the bloodiest so far.