‘Victory inevitable’: Zelenskiy addresses defiant Ukraine on war’s first anniversary

President says start of Russian invasion was ‘longest day of our lives’ and urges allies to ‘respect promises’

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has declared victory to be inevitable as his country marked the anniversary of the moment invading Russian tanks poured across its border and missiles pummelled its cities, an event he described as “the longest day of our lives”.

Speaking at a press conference in Kyiv late on Friday, Zelenskiy said: “If our partners respect all their promises and deadlines, victory inevitably awaits us.”

In a national address earlier in the day, Zelenskiy told Ukrainians they had been proven invincible over “a year of pain, sorrow, faith and unity”. He paid homage to cities that have become bywords for Russian war crimes, such as Bucha, Irpin and Mariupol, describing them as “capitals of invincibility”.

“We clearly understood [on the day of the invasion] that for each tomorrow, you need to fight. And we fought. The longest day of our lives. The hardest day of our modern history. We woke up early and haven’t fallen asleep since,” he said.

The invasion’s anniversary unfolded in a global outpouring of solidarity for embattled Ukrainians, both emotionally and in fresh offers of assistance for Kyiv’s war effort, even as Russia continued to insist on recognition for its illegally annexed territories.

During a visit to Kyiv, Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, announced the delivery of four of 14 promised Leopard 2 tanks, adding that 6o other tanks would arrive in the coming days. Morawiecki said Poland would also be willing to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 jets.

Ukrainian soldiers in Kyiv
Ukrainian soldiers in Kyiv on Friday. Photograph: Presidential Press Service Handout Handout/EPA

Ukraine’s western allies, led by the US, also announced a raft of new sanctions targeting nearly 90 companies helping supply Moscow both in Russia and other countries, including China.

Reflecting the sentiments of many, Rishi Sunak, presiding over a minute’s silence outside Downing Street, said: “My thoughts will be with all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend freedom and return peace to Europe.”

As the UN security council also marked a minute’s silence, the secretary general, António Guterres, said Russia’s invasion one year ago had brought “living hell” to the Ukrainian people through “widespread death, destruction and displacement”.

It was in Ukraine, however, where the anniversary was felt most viscerally, as soldiers and civilians gathered quietly across the country, some weeping and others holding flowers, to reflect on a year of war that has brought horror to every corner of its society.

As funerals for the recently killed took place alongside church services to commemorate the fallen, they served as a reminder of the relentless attrition of the continuing war that claimed yet more lives on Friday.

People attending a memorial service in a church at the site of a mass grave in Bucha.
People attending a memorial service in a church at the site of a mass grave in Bucha. Photograph: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, Oleksandr Hranyk echoed the conflicted feelings of many. “I can sum up the last year in three words,” the school director said: “Fear, love, hope.”

As Zelenskiy was speaking, Russian forces said they were continuing their attack along the entire eastern front.

At a service at St Vladimir’s church in Kyiv, the former patriarch Filaret described the “challenges and suffering” his country was facing. “Why do [Ukrainians] volunteer to fight?” he asked. “Is it for money? No. It is to defend their land and their people.”

As if to reinforce the point, a group of soldiers from the 112th brigade and former work colleagues were waiting outside in the cold to shoulder the coffin of Yuri Storazhev, a government auditor in his 50s who was killed recently in the fighting in the east.

“He was my brother,” said a junior sergeant who identified himself only by his call sign “Transit”. “An hour before he helped save another soldier’s life by bandaging his wounds. Then he was killed. He’d been with us since the war began. Now the world feels empty.”

On social media, many posted recollections from the opening day of the war when heavily outnumbered Ukrainians, including volunteers, took to the streets and the forests to resist the Russian assault.

Lining up in Kyiv on Friday to buy commemorative postage stamps, Tetiana Klimkova said she had been unable to shake “the feeling that your heart is constantly falling, it is falling and hurting”.

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

In Paris, the Eiffel Tower was illuminated in Ukraine’s colours — yellow and blue – to mark the anniversary, while a destroyed Russian tank was put on display near the Russian embassy in Berlin.

A Ukraine supporter wearing white wings holds a banner next to the remains of a destroyed Russian tank near the Russian embassy in Berlin. The banner says: ‘When Putin stops fighting the war will be over. When Ukraine stops fighting the Ukraine will stop existing.’
A Ukraine supporter holds a banner next to the remains of a destroyed Russian tank near the Russian embassy in Berlin. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

On the geopolitical front, Russia’s ally China called for a ceasefire, an idea previously rejected by Ukraine for fear it would allow Russia to regroup after bruising battlefield setbacks.

A 12-point paper issued on Friday by China’s foreign ministry also urged the end of western sanctions that are squeezing Russia’s economy. That suggestion also looks like a non-starter, given that western nations are working to further tighten the sanctions, not loosen them.

However, in his press conference late on Friday, Zelenskiy said he was open to some of the suggestions and proposed a summit with India and China, both countries seen as being closer to Russia. He said Ukraine needed to deepen its cooperation with countries in Africa and Latin America to counter Russia’s influence.

A year on, casualty figures are high on both sides, with western estimates suggesting hundreds of thousands have been killed or wounded. Economic and diplomatic repercussions have rippled around the globe. Western nations are supporting Ukraine militarily, financially and politically. But China, India and countries in the global south have proven ambivalent about arguments that Ukraine is the frontline of a fight for freedom and democracy.

Associated Press and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report


Peter Beaumont and Luke Harding in Kyiv, and Isobel Koshiw in Dnipro

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