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Ukraine leader Zelensky defiant on anniversary of Russian invasion

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)
John Leicester, Associated Press

The president of Ukraine has used a news conference on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion to urge Moscow to change course, saying: “Please respect our right to live on our land. Leave our territory. Stop bombing us.”

Breaking with his office’s usual wartime security protocols, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s news conference was broadcast live on Friday.

Mr Zelensky got emotional when talking about how the war could end, arguing that only if Russia halts its aggression can a diplomatic path be followed.

“Stop (destroying) all our infrastructure, energy, drinking water. Stop bombing towns, villages, killing dogs and cats, simply animals, torching forests,” he said.

Although China on Friday called for a ceasefire, peace was nowhere in sight. Ukraine previously rejected a pause in the fighting for fear it would allow Russia to regroup militarily after bruising battlefield setbacks.

Mr Zelensky gave qualified support to China’s new pronouncements about the ceasefire and peace talks between Ukraine and Russia in a vaguely worded proposal released on Friday.

“China has shown its thoughts. I believe that the fact that China started talking about Ukraine is not bad,” the president said during a wide-ranging news conference.

“But the question is what follows the words. The question is in the steps and where they will lead to.”

A 12-point paper issued by China’s Foreign Ministry also urged an end to sanctions that aim to squeeze Russia’s economy.

China Ukraine Explainer
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

That suggestion also looked like a non-starter, given that Western nations are working to further tighten the sanctions noose, not loosen it. Both the UK and US imposed more sanctions on Friday.

Ukraine is readying another military push to roll back Russian forces with the help of weaponry that has poured in from the West.

Nato member Poland said that it had delivered four advanced Leopard 2A4 tanks, making it the first country to hand the German-made armour to Ukraine.

The prime minister of Poland said on a visit to Kyiv that more Leopards are coming. Poland’s defence minister said contributions from other countries would help form Ukraine’s first Leopard battalion of 31 tanks.

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

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

Air raid alarms did not sound overnight in Kyiv, alleviating concerns that Russia might unleash another barrage of missiles to pile yet more sadness on Ukraine on the anniversary.

(PA Graphics)

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 when missiles struck, troops rolled across Ukraine’s borders and a refugee exodus began a year ago.

Back then, there were fears the country might fall within weeks. Mr Zelensky 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.”

Tributes to Ukraine’s resilience took place in other countries. The Eiffel Tower in Paris was among monuments illuminated in Ukraine’s colors — yellow and blue. In Berlin, a wrecked Russian tank was put on display.

Anti-war activists in Belgrade, Serbia, left a cake covered with red icing representing blood and a skull on top on a pavement near the Russian Embassy, which police stopped them from approaching.

In Russia, media and rights groups reported more police arrests of protesters who took to streets with anti-war slogans and flowers in various parts of the country.

In Ukraine, Mr Zelensky 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.”

Mr Zelensky said one of his biggest disappointments of the war had been to see people who could have fought leave the country when Russia invaded, referring to officials who fled.

He said a low point was when Russian atrocities were discovered in the recaptured town of Bucha near Kyiv.

“It was very scary,” he said. “We saw that the devil is not somewhere out there, but on Earth.”

Earlier on Friday, the Ukrainian leader addressed troops on a Kyiv square and handed out honours, including to the widow and daughter of a fallen soldier, telling them: “We will never forget.”

In a Kyiv hospital, he also decorated wounded fighters.

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

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