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Ukraine Leader Pledges Push for Victory on War Anniversary

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, holds the flag of a military unit as an officer kisses it, during commemorative event. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
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Ukraine’s leader pledged to push for victory in 2023 as he and other Ukrainians on Friday marked the somber anniversary of the Russian invasion that upended their lives and Europe’s security.

It was Ukraine’s “longest day,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, but the country’s dogged resistance a year on has proven that “every tomorrow is worth fighting for.”

On a day of commemorations, reflection and tears, the Ukrainian president’s defiant tone captured the national mood of resilience in the face of Europe’s biggest and deadliest war since World War II. Zelenskyy, who has himself become a symbol of Ukraine’s refusal to bow to Moscow, said Ukrainians proved themselves to be invincible during “a year of pain, sorrow, faith and unity.”

“We have been standing for exactly one year,” Zelenskyy said. Feb. 24, 2022, he said, was “the longest day of our lives. The hardest day of our modern history. We woke up early and haven’t fallen asleep since.”

Ukrainians wept at memorials for their tens of thousands of dead — a toll growing inexorably as fighting rages in eastern Ukraine in particular. Although Friday marked the anniversary of the full-scale invasion, combat between Russian-backed forces and Ukrainian troops has raged in the country’s east since 2014. New video from there shot with a drone for The Associated Press showed how the town of Marinka has been razed, along with others.

And the killing continued: Russian shelling killed another three civilians and wounded 19 others in the most recent 24-hour spell, Ukraine’s presidential office said.

Around the country, Ukrainians looked both back and forward.

“I can sum up the last year in three words: Fear, love, hope,” Oleksandr Hranyk, a school director in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, said.

Lining up in the capital, Kyiv, to buy anniversary commemorative postage stamps, Tetiana Klimkova described her heart as “falling and hurting.”

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

But peace is nowhere in sight, even though China on Friday called for a cease-fire. Ukraine previously rejected the idea for fear a cease-fire would allow Russia to regroup militarily after bruising battlefield setbacks.

China Calls for End to Russia Sanctions

A 12-point paper issued by China’s Foreign Ministry also urged an end to 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. The U.K. government imposed more sanctions Friday on firms supplying military equipment to Moscow and said it would bar exports to Russia of aircraft parts and other components.

Ukraine also is readying another military push to roll back Russian forces — with weaponry that has been pouring in from the West. Poland announced Friday that it has delivered Leopard tanks to Ukraine — the first of dozens of that Western countries have pledged.

“Ukraine is entering a new period, with a new task — to win,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Facebook.

“It will not be easy. But we will manage,” he said. “There is rage and a desire to avenge the fallen.”

Air raid alarms didn’t sound overnight in Kyiv and the morning started quietly, allaying concerns that Russia might unleash another barrage of missiles to pile yet more sadness on Ukraine on the anniversary.

Still, the government recommended that schools move classes online, and office employees were asked to work from home. And even as they rode Kyiv’s subway to work, bought coffee and got busy, Ukrainians were unavoidably haunted by thoughts of loss and memories of a year ago when missiles struck, troops rolled across Ukraine’s borders and a refugee exodus began. Back then, there were fears the country might fall within weeks.

Zelenskyy referred to those dark moments in a video address.

“We fiercely fought for every day. And we endured the second day. And then, the third,” he said. “And we still know: Every tomorrow is worth fighting for.”

The anniversary was also particularly poignant for the parents of children born exactly a year ago as bombs began killing and maiming.

“It’s a tragedy for the whole country, for every Ukrainian,” said Alina Mustafaieva, who gave birth to daughter Yeva that day.

“My family was lucky. We didn’t lose anyone or anything. But many did, and we have to share this loss together,” she said.

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 was particularly busy — kicking off the day with an early morning 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 also pledged not to abandon Ukrainians living under Russian occupation, vowing: “One way or another, we will liberate all our lands.”

He also addressed troops on a Kyiv square and handed out honors, including to the pained widow and daughter of a fallen soldier, telling them: “We will never forget.”

A year on, casualty figures are horrific on both sides, although Moscow and Kyiv are keeping precise numbers under wraps. Western estimates suggest hundreds of thousands of killed and wounded.

The war, including the Russia’s failure to fulfill its initial objective of capturing Kyiv, also has severely dented the Russian military’s reputation as a fighting force. Still, it has unleashed an unrelenting barrage of firepower on Ukraine over the past year. Ukrainian armed forces put the tally at roughly 5,000 missile strikes, 3,500 airstrikes and 1,000 drone strikes.

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.

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