One year into Russian invasion, Ukraine’s Zelenskyy vows victory

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Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a ceremony dedicated to the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv [Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters]

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the beginning of the Russian invasion was ‘the longest day of our lives’.

Ukraine’s leader has pledged to push for victory in 2023 as Ukrainians marked the sombre anniversary of the Russian invasion while Moscow told the world to accept “the realities” of its war.

At a ceremony in Kyiv’s St Sophia Square, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy 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.”
Zelenskyy, who has himself become a symbol of Ukraine’s refusal to bow to Moscow, said Ukrainians proved themselves to be invincible during “a year of pain, sorrow, faith and unity”.

“We have been standing for exactly one year,” Zelenskyy said. February 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.”

A wounded Ukrainian serviceman and his girlfriend walk past national flags
A wounded Ukrainian serviceman and his girlfriend walk past national flags each of which symbolises the dead servicepeople set at Independence Square in Kyiv [File: Sergei Supinsky/AFP]

Around the country, Ukrainians looked back at a year that changed their lives and at the clouded future. They wept at memorials for their tens of thousands of dead — a toll growing inexorably as fighting rages in eastern Ukraine in particular.

“I can sum up the last year in three words: Fear, love, hope,” Oleksandr Hranyk, a school director in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, said.

Lining up in the capital, Kyiv, to buy anniversary commemorative postage stamps, Tetiana Klimkova described her heart as “falling and hurting”.

Still, “this day has become a symbol for me that we have survived for a whole year and will continue to live,” she said. “On this day, our children and grandchildren will remember how strong Ukrainians are mentally, physically, and spiritually.”

Speaking from Kyiv, Ukrainian member of parliament Sviatoslav Yurash said that his countrymen felt as defiant as they did a year ago.

“We want an independent and democratic Ukraine and we will certainly get that. We have been strengthened throughout this year.”

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 the capital Kyiv early in the war and later recaptured swaths 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 recognise “new territorial realities” in Ukraine to achieve peace.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a working session of G7 leaders
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a working session of G7 leaders via video link  [Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters]

Calls for ceasefire

Although China called for a ceasefire on Friday, peace was nowhere in sight. Ukraine previously rejected a pause in the fighting for fear it would allow Russia to regroup militarily after bruising battlefield setbacks.

Zelenskyy gave qualified support to China’s apparent new interest in playing a diplomatic role, saying, “The fact that China started talking about Ukraine is not bad.”

“But the question is what follows the words,” he said during a wide-ranging news conference. “The question is in the steps and where they will lead to.”

A 12-point paper issued by China’s foreign ministry also urged an end to sanctions that aim to squeeze Russia’s economy.

As a ceasefire appeared unlikely, Ukrainian defence minister Oleksii Reznikov said that Ukraine was “entering a new period, with a new task – to win.”

“It will not be easy. But we will manage,” he added. “There is rage and a desire to avenge the fallen.”

Air raid alarms did not sound overnight in Kyiv, alleviating concerns that Russia might unleash another barrage of missiles to pile yet more misery on Ukraine on the anniversary.

More sanctions, tanks

Meanwhile, Western nations were working to further tighten sanctions. Washington on Friday announced a new $2bn 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.

“One year on, the commitment of the United States, together with some 50 countries who have rallied to rush urgently needed assistance to Ukraine, has only strengthened,” the US defence department said.

In a news release, the White House said the new measures were designed to disrupt Russian financial institutions, officials and authorities from “illegitimately operating in Ukraine”.

US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen said in a televised address that a main objective behind the sanctions “has been to degrade Russia’s ability to wage war, to deprive it of the goods it needs to supply its military through sanctions and export controls. We have been quite successful in doing that”.

“Over 9,000 Russian tanks have been destroyed over the last year and the biggest tank factories are shut down because they are unable to gain access to the input that they need to repair or rebuild tanks,” she added.

Reporting from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, said US President Joe Biden and the G7 have agreed to further isolate Russia in terms of its means of financing its war machine.

“What Russia has been able to do so far is find partnerships with North Korea and Iran to keep its war machine going,” said Halkett. “This latest round of sanctions is all about trying to incapacitate those kinds of partnerships and to isolate Russia from the global financial system.”

She explained that the latest sanctions target 200 Russian entities and individuals, and are tied to specific sectors of Russia’s economy, namely defence and the tech industry.

In addition to the sanctions, NATO member Poland said it had delivered four advanced Leopard 2A4 tanks, making it the first country to hand the German-made armour to Ukraine.

Poland’s prime minister said on a visit to Kyiv that more Leopards were coming. Poland’s defence minister said contributions from other countries would help form Ukraine’s first Leopard battalion of 31 tanks.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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