KYIV — Ukraine’s president pledged to push for victory in 2023 as he and other Ukrainians on Friday marked the somber first anniversary of the Russian invasion that he called “the longest day of our lives.”
As morning broke on a day of commemorations and reflection, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy struck a tone of grim defiance and used the anniversary to congratulate Ukrainians on their resilience in the face of Europe’s biggest and deadliest war since World War II. He said they had proven themselves to be invincible in what he called “a year of pain, sorrow, faith and unity.”
“We survived the first day of the full-scale war. We didn’t know what tomorrow would bring, but we clearly understood that for each tomorrow, you need to fight. And we fought,” he said in an early morning video address.
It was “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.
Ukrainians planned memorials, candle vigils and other remembrances for their tens of thousands of dead — a toll growing all the time as fighting rages in eastern Ukraine in particular.
A year on, peace is nowhere in sight. China called for a cease-fire — an idea previously rejected by Ukraine for fear it would allow Russia to regroup militarily after bruising battlefield setbacks. A 12-point paper issued Friday morning 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 noose, not loosen it.
In Ukraine, there were concerns that Russia might unleash another barrage of missiles against Ukraine to pile yet more sadness on the grim day.
Mercifully, air raid alarms did not sound overnight in the capital, Kyiv, and the morning started quietly.
Still, the government recommended that schools move classes online, and office employees were asked to work from home. A day that a year ago started with missile strikes, invasion troops pouring across Ukraine’s borders and a refugee exodus began far more calmly Friday in Kyiv and other places that Ukraine successfully defended in the opening stage of the Russian assault, defying fears that the country might fall within days or weeks.
Still, even as they rode Kyiv’s subway to work, bought coffee and got busy, Ukrainians were unavoidably haunted by thoughts of loss.
Mykhailo Horbunov, a 68-year-old trying to rebuild in Kyiv having been forced to flee his Russian-occupied village in the south, said the invasion had been a watershed in his life. He lost his agricultural business and Russian troops have been living in his house for six months. He described the war’s impact on him as “a collapse.”
Tributes to Ukraine’s resilience flowed from overseas. The Eiffel Tower in Paris was among monuments illuminated in Ukraine’s colors — yellow and blue.
Zelenskyy got an early start on the day, firing off a tweet that promised: “We know that 2023 will be the year of our victory!”
He followed that up with his video address in which he pledged not to abandon Ukrainians living under Russian occupation.
Ukraine “has not forgotten about you, has not given up on you. One way or another, we will liberate all our lands,” he said.
A year on, casualty figures are horrific on both sides, with Western estimates suggesting hundreds of thousands of killed and wounded.
Economic repercussions have rippled across the globe. Diplomatic repercussions, too. Western nations are supporting Ukraine militarily, financially and politically. But China, India and countries in the global south have proven ambivalent about Western arguments that Ukraine is the front line of a fight for freedom and democracy.