Ukraine and Western Backers Pledge Resolve on the Anniversary of Russia’s Invasion

From a Washington Post story by Missy Ryan, Robyn Dixon, and David L. Stern headlined “Ukraine, Western backers pledge resolve on anniversary of Russia’s invasion”:

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainians vowed Friday to fight on as the world marked the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion, which violently ended decades of European stability and unleashed a charged battle between autocracy and freedom.

A year after the first missiles rained down on Kyiv and other cities in the early hours of Feb. 24, 2022, Ukraine’s Western backers pledged indefinite support, promising to continue the supply of weapons that helped Ukrainian forces foil President Vladimir Putin’s neo-imperialist plan to subjugate his neighbor.

The war, which has displaced millions of Ukrainians and killed tens of thousands on each side, has galvanized Western powers around defending a vulnerable democracy on Europe’s eastern edge, injected the NATO military alliance with a new sense of purpose and spurred the European Union to designate Ukraine as an official candidate for membership.

It has also strained the global economy, revealed cracks in the ability of affluent nations to mobilize support from the developing world and made Putin’s position as Russia’s all-powerful ruler more precarious.

President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday hailed what he called Ukraine’s “furious year of invincibility” by honoring troops with military decorations at Sofia Square in central Kyiv.

Zelensky recalled the initial moments of the war, when much of the world expected Kyiv to fall within days and U.S. officials offered to ferret him out of the city to escape assassination. He declined to go.

“That is how Feb. 24, 2022 began. The longest day of our lives. The hardest day of our modern history,” Zelensky said in a video address. “We woke up early and haven’t fallen asleep since.”

“We did not raise the white flag, and began to defend the blue and yellow,” he continued, referencing the bicolor Ukrainian flag. “We were not afraid, we did not break down, we did not surrender. And today we have been standing for exactly one year.”

But Ukraine’s survival is hardly assured. Fierce fighting continued along the 600-mile front line on Friday, and Russian forces still occupy huge swaths of Ukrainian territory, including Putin’s coveted “land bridge” from the Russian border to Crimea, which Russia invaded and annexed illegally in 2014.

With Putin showing no sign of relenting, people around the world voiced their outrage on Friday, as protests unfolded in Russia, across Europe, and in capitals as far away as Tokyo and Seoul.

The United States and other members of the Group of Seven nations announced new sanctions, the latest in a barrage of penalties that have begun to dent the Kremlin’s war chest but have so far failed to isolate Russia globally or cripple its economy.

The terrifying initial moments that Zelensky described have been followed by 12 months of grinding battle in which Ukrainian forces effectively leveraged billions of dollars in Western weapons to push back against Russia’s larger, better-armed military.

The Ukrainians turned back the Russian attempt to conquer Kyiv in the spring, with the humiliating Russian retreat revealing evidence of atrocities in Bucha, Irpin and other suburbs. And in counteroffensives in the fall, they ousted Russian occupiers from much of the northeast Kharkiv region, Kherson city and some nearby areas in the south.

But while the war has revealed systemic weaknesses in Russia’s armed forces, the front lines have hardened in recent months, leaving the Kremlin in control of roughly a fifth of Ukraine’s vast territory, including parts of four regions — Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson — that Putin claimed illegally to have annexed.

The war has also set off a cascade of human suffering, as civilians swept up in the fighting have been gunned down or shelled trying to escape, or bombed down in their beds, hospitals and schools.

Millions have been displaced, and countless families have been separated. Reports of widespread torture, sexual violence and forced adoptions of children sent to Russia are being compiled in a multilayered attempt to hold Russian leaders accountable, potentially for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The United Nations says it has verified more than 8,000 civilian deaths since the invasion began and many more injuries, but the true toll could be much higher. Western officials have said military deaths stand in the hundreds of thousands.

In Bucha, where evidence of atrocities against civilians under Russian occupation hardened world sentiment against Moscow in the war’s early months, residents gathered Friday in the Church of Andrew the First-Called to honor those who were killed.

In Kyiv, which has been spared regular attacks that have plagued other cities, air raid sirens sounded nearly 700 times over the year, the city’s mayor said on Telegram, and ambulance brigades responded more than 900 times to rocket and drone attacks.

Zelensky hailed Ukrainians’ sacrifice and resilience, voicing gratitude to troops, medics and volunteers. Even Ukrainian schoolchildren, he noted, were donating their pocket money toward the fight.

A former actor who has proved to be effective in rallying Ukrainians around the deepening fight and pushing Ukraine’s partners for an ever-wider array of military aid, Zelensky has at times vowed to retake every inch of Ukrainian territory from Russia but has also signaled that the war is likely to end in a negotiated deal.

A year into the conflict, it remains unclear what sort of concessions he or Putin might accept as part of a negotiated settlement. The Ukrainian leader has put forward a 10-point peace proposal, which includes the full withdrawal of Russian troops, the restoration of his country’s borders and a special tribunal to adjudicate alleged Russian war crimes.

After their discussion with Zelensky, the G-7 nations cited the president’s plan and voiced support for a “comprehensive, just and lasting peace,” expressing their willingness to take part security guarantees that would aim to ensure Russia cannot mount future cross-border attacks.

“Russia’s heinous attacks over the last 365 days have laid bare the cruelty of the ongoing aggression,” the nations said in a statement.

Russia and Ukraine have each said they want to end the war but have set incompatible preconditions for talks to occur.

On Friday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova reiterated Russia’s demands, including the need for Kyiv to “recognize territorial realities” and the “demilitarizing and denazifying” of Ukraine. She also called for Ukraine’s neutrality and an end to the flow of Western weapons to Ukraine.

Zelensky ruled out the possibility of near-term negotiations. “After everyone saw how they kill, torture, all that is happening — do you think that we Ukrainians can sit at a negotiating table?” he asked reporters at a news conference on Friday. When Russia stops its destruction, he said, Ukraine will decide “in what format we will put a diplomatic end to this.”

The declarations came a day after the United Nations overwhelmingly approved, with 141 nations voting in favor, a resolution affirming Ukraine’s sovereignty and calling for Russia’s withdrawal. While 32 nations including China and India abstained from the vote, Russia was joined by only six other countries in voting against the measure.

Across the globe on Friday, nations backing Kyiv’s fight lit up monuments with its yellow-and-blue colors or, in several cities, protested the invasion by staging shows of support for Ukraine outside Russian embassies. World leaders voiced their resolve.

President Biden underscored support from the United States, by far the biggest military backer, after making a symbolically potent surprise visit to Kyiv on Monday. “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.”

The Biden administration on Friday announced an additional $2 billion in security aid for Ukraine, including more Switchblade drones, artillery rounds and laser-guided rocket systems, along with new sanctions on Russian officials and entities.

The British government unveiled new restrictions on the export of “every item Russia has been found using on the battlefield to date,” including radio equipment, aircraft parts and electronic items used in manufacturing drones.

French President Emmanuel Macron underscored his nation’s intent to stand by Ukraine. “To solidarity. To victory. To peace,” Macron tweeted.

But as the war goes on, the mounting price tag of Western backing for Ukraine threatens to erode support. European leaders are coping with high energy prices, while Biden faces skepticism in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Congressional Republican leaders however remain strongly on Kyiv’s side. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate’s top Republican, said U.S. aid was a “core” American interest. “It is not an act of charity,” McConnell said Friday. Some lawmakers from both parties are pressing the White House to quickly provide additional aid and include fighter jets and longer-range missiles.

In Russia, the Kremlin did little to register the anniversary, which fell on an extended national holiday. Police, nonetheless, took to the streets to head off scattered protests. In cities from Moscow to Siberia, antiwar activists put up banners or laid flowers and placards at sites that have emerged as symbols of sympathy for Ukraine.

Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza issued a statement criticizing Putin for unleashing “unspeakable death, destruction and grief” in his war on Ukraine. Kara-Murza was detained last year after a speech criticizing the war.

Moscow has outlawed criticism of the military, which can lead to lengthy prison sentences, though pro-war hawks have been permitted to complain about military failures or that Russian forces have not used sufficiently brutal tactics.

As the war enters its second year, the role of China remains unclear. The Biden administration has said China is actively considering providing lethal weapons to Russia, which would further damage Washington’s already tense relations with Beijing.

Ukrainian and Western officials voiced skepticism this week about a new cease-fire proposal from China. Zelensky, speaking to reporters, said he hoped to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Top diplomats met again at the United Nations on Friday, this time in the Security Council, with most issuing strident condemnations of the war.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said that “international order” was at stake. “Putin cannot, must not, win in Ukraine,” Cleverly said.

Russian representative Vasily Nebenzya accused his counterparts of stirring up an “information hullabaloo” and insisted the Kremlin was not seeking to extinguish a sovereign Ukraine but merely wanted “a friendly neighbor who does not threaten us.”

Missy Ryan writes about diplomacy, national security and the State Department for The Washington Post. She joined The Post in 2014 to write about the Pentagon and military issues. She has reported from Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico, Peru, Argentina and Chile.

Robyn Dixon is a foreign correspondent on her third stint in Russia, after almost a decade reporting there beginning in the early 1990s. In November 2019 she joined The Washington Post as Moscow bureau chief.

David L. Stern has worked for news outlets in Russia, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, the Middle East and Central Asia. He has lived in Ukraine since 2009, covering the 2014 Maidan revolution, war in the country’s east and now Russia’s 2022 invasion.

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