The war in Ukraine marked its one year anniversary with no end in sight, and a defiant President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowing the nation will defeat the much larger Russian military.
World leaders also commemorated the anniversary of Europe’s biggest war since World War II vowing to impose new sanctions on Russia and countries supporting its war effort.
In a video released to the media and titled “the year of invincibility”, the 45-year-old sat at a desk and recalled how he addressed Ukrainians a year ago in a hurried statement, as Kyiv and the world reeled from Russia’s act of war.
“A year ago on this day, from this same place around seven in the morning, I addressed you with a brief statement, lasting only 67 seconds,” he said in a 15-minute speech, as solemn music played in the background.
“We are strong. We are ready for anything. We will defeat everyone,” he said.
READ: Russia targeting Ukraine’s protestants.
“This is how it began on February 24, 2022. The longest day of our lives. The most difficult day in our recent history. We woke up early and haven’t slept since.”
Vladimir Putin, however, was silent on the anniversary. The Washington D.C. thinktank Institute for the Study of War noted that the Kremlin most likely did not comment because Russia “has failed to achieve any of its stated objectives and has not made significant territorial gains since July 2022.” In fact, it has lost half of its gains since the start of the invasion.
As fighting raged on in Ukraine’s east and south, its allies around the world showed their support on the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
Mariupol before and after (before footage: "Mind Travels" on YouTube – After footage: @den_kazansky) pic.twitter.com/78BFO4p7I5
— Aram Shabanian (@ShabanianAram) March 23, 2022
Paris lit up the Eiffel Tower in the Ukrainian flag colors of blue and yellow and people draped in Ukrainian flags, with hands on their hearts, gathered at a vigil in London holding a banner: “If you stand for freedom, stand for Ukraine.”
“There will be a life after this war, because Ukraine will win,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said in a speech.
The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution on Thursday demanding that Russia pull out and stop fighting.
There were 141 votes in favor and 32 abstentions. Six countries joined Russia to vote no — Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, Mali, Nicaragua and Syria. Russia’s ally China abstained from the UN vote.
Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy dismissed the action at the United Nations as “useless”.
The Ukraine military reported increased Russian activity in the east and south as the anniversary passed, with at least 25 towns and villages in three northern regions along the Russian border under heavy bombardment.
Wagner group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin alleged on Friday the mercenary group had taken full control of the Ukrainian village of Berkhivka, on the outskirts of Bakhmut.
“Berkhivka is fully under our control. Units of Wagner Private Military Company are in full control of Berkhivka,” he said in a post on social media.
Berkhivka is about two miles northwest of the suburbs of Bakhmut, a frontline city in the eastern Donetsk region that has seen intense fighting.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24 last year to seize Kyiv and topple the pro-European government, but those hopes were dashed by the fierce defense and Russian military blunders.
Ukrainian counter-offensives in late 2022 grabbed back much of the territory it had lost. Russia now controls around a fifth of Ukraine.
Some US and Western officials estimate Russia’s casualties at nearly 200,000 dead and wounded. Ukraine’s estmates of Russian dead stand at over 140,000.
Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of war crimes, but it denies targeting civilians.
Zelenskyy reflects on the nation’s losses
Millions of Ukrainians have fled their country and tens of thousands of civilians have been killed. The invasion has caused the largest refugee crisis in Europe since the beginning of WWII. At one point, more than half of Ukraine’s 44 million citizens fled to neighboring countries.
For many, death is a silent contact on a phone.
“Almost everyone has at least one contact in their phone that will never pick up the phone again,” Zelenskyy said.
“He who will not respond to the SMS ‘How are you?’. These two simple words got a new meaning during the year of the war.”
Ukrainian forces prevented a swift victory early in 2022, and the conflict, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”, has become one of grinding trench warfare in the east and south.
With leaders of both countries showing no signs of backing down, the prospects of an end to the fighting any time soon look bleak.
US increases support to $32 billion
The United States on Friday announced a $US2 billion ($3 billion) long-term security package for Ukraine, which will include more rounds of ammunition and a variety of small, high-tech drones.
The Pentagon said the aid would include weapons to counter Russia’s unmanned systems and several types of drones, including the upgraded Switchblade 600 Kamikaze drone, as well as electronic warfare detection equipment.
The US has now committed more than $32 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion. A very small amount of money in the overall US budget, but still causing support for Ukraine to ease.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s King Charles III has praised the “remarkable courage and resilience” of Ukrainians in a message to mark the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
“The people of Ukraine have suffered unimaginably from an unprovoked full-scale attack on their nation,” he said.
The King said he was hopeful the outpouring of solidarity “may bring not only practical aid, but also strength from the knowledge that, together, we stand united”.
As Poland has delivered its first Leopard tanks to Ukraine, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stated, “Poland and Europe stand by your side. We will definitely not leave you, we will support Ukraine until complete victory over Russia.”
Russian military bloggers commented on the Kremlin’s silence on Friday, such as former FSB officer Igor Girkin, who took aim at Medvedev’s comments as delusional.
According to Newsweek, “A critic of Russia’s forces, Girkin said on his Telegram channel that he had long predicted a ‘protracted, exhausting war.’ He added that Russia would require ‘large-scale external support’ to continue fighting.
Zelenskyy, who has been instrumental in garnering financial and military aid from around the world to sustain Ukrainian defences in the face of a much larger army, praised his people.
“We became one big army,” he said.
“We have become a team where someone finds, someone packs, someone brings, but everyone contributes.”
He described 2022 as a year of resilience, courage, pain, and unity.
“Its main conclusion is that we have survived. We had not been defeated. And we will do everything to win this year!”