KYIV (Reuters) : The war in Ukraine entered its second year on Friday with no end in sight, a defiant President Volodymyr Zelensky vowing “we will defeat everyone” and global leaders set to impose new sanctions on Russia and countries supporting its war effort.
In a video message, Zelensky said: .”..we are strong. We are ready for anything. We will defeat everyone.”
“This is how it began on February 24, 2022,” he said, sitting behind a desk and recalling how he addressed Ukrainians a year ago as the world reeled from Russia’s act of war.
“The longest day of our lives. The most difficult day in our recent history. We woke up early and haven’t slept since.” Zelensky 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!“
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.
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 on 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 approached, with at least 25 towns and villages in three northern regions along the Russian border under fire. Reuters was not able to verify battlefield reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 last year to seize Kyiv and topple the pro-European government, but those hopes were dashed by a fierce defense and Russian military blunders.
Ukraine counter-offensives in late 2022 grabbed back much of the territory it had lost. Russia now controls around a fifth of Ukraine.
The war, which Russia calls a “special military operation” to protect its sovereignty, has settled into attritional trench warfare, with rising losses on both sides, particularly this year in fighting in and around the eastern town of Bakhmut.
Some US and Western officials estimate Russia’s casualties at nearly 200,000 dead and wounded, while in November the top US general said more than 100,000 troops on each side had been killed or wounded.
It is impossible to independently verify casualties in what has become the worst conflict in Europe since World War Two.
Millions of Ukrainians have fled their country and tens of thousands of civilians have been killed.
Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of war crimes, but it denies targeting civilians.
The war has damaged the world economy and a Cold War chill has set into international relations, with Putin raising the spectre of nuclear weapons and signalling a desire to double down on the conflict, despite major battlefield defeats. With Zelensky insisting on Moscow’s withdrawal, the prospects of peace appear bleak.
“We don’t know when the war will end. But what we do know is that when the war ends, we need to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told Reuters on Thursday.
“We need to prevent Russia from chipping away at European security,” he said.
SUPPORT FOR UKRAINE
US President Joe Biden will meet virtually on Friday with G7 leaders and Zelensky to mark the anniversary and announce new sanctions against those aiding Russia’s war effort.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States would provide an additional $2 billion in assistance and new G7 sanctions will target countries that are seeking to backfill products that are denied to Russia because of sanctions.
G20 financial leaders meeting near Bengaluru, in India, must condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told Reuters on Friday, adding that Europe was working on new sanctions against Moscow.
“Sanctions will be more and more efficient, more and more effective,” said Le Maire, speaking on the first day of the G20 meeting.
India, which holds the current G20 presidency, does not want the bloc to discuss additional sanctions and is pressing to avoid using the word “war” in the communique to describe the year-old conflict, G20 officials told Reuters.
The United States has said China is considering providing weapons to Russia, which could intensify the conflict into a confrontation between Russia and China on one side and Ukraine and the US-led NATO on the other.
Putin on Thursday hailed “new frontiers” in ties between Moscow and Beijing and said China’s leader Xi Jinping would visit. Xi is expected to deliver a “peace speech” on Friday, though some analysts have cast doubt on whether China’s efforts to act as peacemaker will go beyond rhetoric.
The Chinese foreign ministry said in a position paper on Friday that dialogue and negotiation were the only viable ways to resolve the conflict.
Ukraine and its allies say the invasion is an unjustified land grab aimed at subjugating a sovereign state.
Further ratcheting up tension, Putin announced plans on Thursday to deploy new Sarmat multi-warhead intercontinental ballistic missiles this year.
This week, he suspended Russia’s participation with the United States in the New START, or Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, on nuclear arms control.