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Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy pictured today in Kyiv, Ukraine

Ukraine vows to triumph over 'darkness' as country marks second anniversary of Russian invasion

It’s two years since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a ‘special military operation’ into Ukraine.


UKRAINE TODAY VOWED to triumph over Russian “darkness” as it entered a new year of war weakened by a lack of Western aid and with Moscow emboldened by fresh gains.

To mark the second anniversary, a virtual summit of G7 leaders is due to take place at Kyiv’s Saint Sophia Cathedral later today, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attending.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” at dawn on 24 February, 2022, many expected  victory within days, but Ukraine fought back, forcing Russian troops into humiliating retreats.

Since then, however, Ukraine has suffered setbacks with the failure of its 2023 counteroffensive.

The Russian army has in turn built up a position of strength thanks to booming war production.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s troops are short of manpower and running low on Western-supplied ammunition for artillery and air defences.

Today’s anniversary will see visits by Western leaders including EU commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who praised Ukraine’s “extraordinary resistance” as she arrived in the capital.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also arrived in Kyiv to take part in the G7 summit.

But the overall picture remains bleak for Ukraine due to the US Congress blocking a vital $60 billion (€55.4b) aid package, on top of delays in promised European deliveries.

US President Joe Biden renewed calls for Republican lawmakers to unblock the additional funding, warning that “history is waiting” and “failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will not be forgotten”.

Still, Ukrainian officials voiced defiance on the anniversary.

“I am convinced that unity is our victory. And it will definitely happen. Because light always conquers darkness!” the Ukrainian army’s chief Oleksandr Syrsky said on social media.

‘War is our life’

Russia is attacking hard in the east, with the destroyed town of Maryinka near Donetsk the latest hotspot after it captured the heavily fortified town of Avdiivka on 17 February.

Ukraine’s economy has also been hit by a border blockade by Polish farmers that Kyiv says threatens exports and has held up deliveries of weapons.

In Kyiv, the mood was grim but still defiant as people said they had grown accustomed to wartime conditions.

happy-2024car-sales-put-on-hold-in-kiev-after-massive-airstrike-on-2-january-elements-of-intercepted-missile-crushed-and-exploded-by-car-dealership Cars at a dealership in Kyiv destroyed after Russian attack last month Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“For women of Ukraine, this is our heartache – for our husbands, for our children, for our fathers,” said nutritionist Olga Byrko in Kyiv.

“I would really like this to end as quickly as possible.”

Yuriy Pasichnyk, a 38-year-old businessman, told AFP Ukrainians “have learned to live with it… now the war is our life”.

And 51-year-old Kostyantyn Gofman called for “more weapons so that we can drive this evil spirit out of our land and start rebuilding our Ukraine”.

Ukraine needs almost half a trillion dollars to rebuild towns and cities destroyed by Russia’s invasion, according to the latest estimate by the World Bank, European Union, United Nations and Ukrainian government.

Ukraine has estimated that around 50,000 civilians have been killed.

‘Running out of shells’

Neither side has given numbers for military deaths and injured, while both claim to have inflicted huge losses.

In August 2023, The New York Times quoted US officials as putting Ukraine’s military losses at 70,000 dead and 100,000 to 120,000 injured.

Leaked US intelligence in December indicated that 315,000 Russian troops had been killed or wounded.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Moscow’s forces in occupied Ukraine, the army said today, telling them “in terms of the ratio of forces, the advantage is on our side”.

He was also briefed on Russian troops “continuing their advance” after taking Avdiivka.

On the eastern front, morale is low as outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian troops are ceding ground to Russian forces.

“We are running out of shells and the Russians keep coming. Lots of our comrades are injured – or worse.

“Everything is getting worse and worse,” said one soldier near Bakhmut, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Britain announced Saturday a new £245 million (€287 m) defence package to help boost the production of “urgently needed artillery ammunition” for Ukraine.

Moscow has meanwhile massively ramped up its arms production and received drones from Iran, while Kyiv says it has confirmed Russia’s use of North Korean missiles.

West vows ‘will not waver’

The conflict has thrown Russia into even greater isolation from the West, with the United States and its allies imposing a slew of sanctions.

Biden announced yet more sanctions against Russia yesterday, vowing sustained pressure to stop Putin’s “war machine”, while also seeking to impose a cost for the death last week in a Siberian prison of Putin’s most vocal critic, Alexei Navalny.

French President Emmanuel Macron warned Putin Saturday not to “count on any fatigue from Europeans” over the war, pledging that France’s support for Kyiv “will not waver”.

Putin, however, has brushed off the fallout and on Friday hailed Russian troops as “true national heroes”.

He has used the war years to rally patriotism and mount an even harsher crackdown on dissent, with few daring to voice opposition to the war.

The death of opposition leader Navalny removed Putin’s arch-foe, and he is set to extend his term in office in elections next month.

On the streets of Moscow, most people told AFP they back the soldiers fighting in Ukraine.

“I’m proud of our men,” said 27-year-old Nadezhda, an environmental engineer.

“Of course I am anxious for them, but it’s a pleasant feeling that they are doing great, they are out there fighting for our country.”

One of the few to give an alternative opinion, was Konstantin, a drama teacher working as a waiter, who said: “I’m against any war. Two years have passed and it annoys me that people can’t talk to each other and are still at war.”

© AFP 2024