One year into invasion, Ukraine mourns dead and vows victory
February 25, 2023 09:22 AM NPT
KYIV, Feb 25: Ukraine honored its dead and vowed to keep fighting on Friday while Russia told the world to accept "the realities" of its war but faced new Western sanctions on the invasion's anniversary.
At a ceremony in 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 reiterated calls for more Western weaponry and attended an online summit with U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies who pledged to intensify their support.
"A dictator bent on rebuilding an empire will never erase the people’s love of liberty," Biden said on Twitter.
"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.
However, Biden reiterated in an interview with ABC News that he had no plans to send Ukraine the F-16 fighter jets Zelenskiy has been seeking for months, saying the U.S. does not currently see a rationale for sending the advanced aircraft.
"I am ruling it out for now," Biden said.
G7 members Canada and Britain unveiled similar measures, as did the 27-nation European Union, after some hectic last-minute negotiations.
At the same time, Ukraine's military said Russia had doubled the number of ships on active duty in the Black Sea on Friday and predicted it could be preparation for more missile strikes.
For Ukrainians, who have spent much of the year in fear and grief and supporting the war effort any way they can, the anniversary meant reflection.
"When an innocent person's life is taken before your own eyes, when someone aims at a child, you just ask 'Why? What for'?" said Alla Nechyporenko, 50, whose husband was shot dead and 14-year-old son wounded at a Russian checkpoint in Bucha, near Kyiv, early in the war.
In Russia, where publicly criticizing the war is punishable by long prison terms, a human rights group said dozens of people were detained by police for actions to commemorate victims of the invasion, in some cases just for placing flowers.
There were no official public events and 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
Ukraine's blue and yellow colors lit up the Eiffel Tower, Brandenburg Gate, Empire State Building and Sydney Opera House in a wave of international solidarity.
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.
Ukraine sees it as a bid to subjugate an independent state. Its outnumbered and outgunned forces repelled Russia's attempt to seize 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.
Russia's foreign ministry said the world should recognize "new territorial realities" in Ukraine to achieve peace.
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, have waged 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 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, a small eastern mining city 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.
"We'll be here for as long as needed, as long as we can," said Ivan, a 31-year-old Ukrainian radio operator on the front line near Bakhmut.
Costly Russian assaults have yielded little in the way of advances elsewhere. Ukraine, for its part, is awaiting new Western weapons before starting a counter-attack.
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.
China, which signed a "no limits" partnership with Russia just before the war and sent its top diplomat to Moscow this week, called for a ceasefire, sticking to its principle of public neutrality.