President Zelensky sheds tears for the dead as Ukraine war enters second year
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky marked the first anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion on Friday with a sombre message of defiance to his people and tears for the thousands of soldiers who have died.
On a cold, cloudy morning in Kyiv, the 45-year-old addressed members of Ukraine's armed forces and a small gathering of dignitaries in St Sophia Square, next to the green- and gold-domed cathedral that is a symbol of the city's resilience.
"I want to say to all of you who are fighting for Ukraine ... I am proud of you. We all, each and every one, are proud of you!"
As he has done throughout the war, Zelensky showed his emotions in the 30-minute ceremony, holding back tears as he gave out Hero of Ukraine awards to troops — one of whom was on crutches — and to the mother of a soldier who had been killed. He cried as a band played the national anthem. Those present bowed their heads during a minute's silence.
Zelensky remains hugely popular in Ukraine, connecting with the population through daily messages filmed on a smartphone, and working to maintain international support through financial aid and weapons.
He recorded a special address of nearly 15 minutes titled "The Year of Invincibility" for the anniversary, in which he vowed to defeat the enemy.
"A year ago on this day, from this same place, around seven in the morning, I addressed you with a brief statement, lasting only 67 seconds," he said, recalling the first day of what has become Europe's worst conflict since World War Two.
"...we are strong. We are ready for anything. We will defeat everyone. This is how it began on February 24, 2022. The longest day of our lives. The most difficult day in our recent history. We woke up early and haven't slept since."
Western military officials estimate casualties on both sides at more than 100,000 killed or wounded. Tens of thousands of civilians are also feared to have died, while millions have fled the threat of fighting.
"Almost everyone has at least one contact in their phone that will never pick up the phone again," Zelensky said. "He who will not respond to the SMS 'How are you?'. These two simple words got a new meaning during the year of the war."
Ukrainian forces repelled Russia's advance on Kyiv early in 2022, and the conflict, which Moscow calls a "special military operation" to protect its security, has become one of grinding trench warfare in the east and south.
In recent months, Russia has also targeted Ukraine's power grid, causing blackouts and loss of water and heat for millions across the country.
With leaders of both countries showing no sign of backing down, the prospects of an end to the fighting any time soon look bleak.
Zelensky praised his people.
"We became one big army," he said. "We have become a team where someone finds, someone packs, someone brings, but everyone contributes. "We withstand all threats, shelling, cluster bombs, cruise missiles, kamikaze drones, blackouts and cold. We are stronger than that," he said. "We were not defeated. And we will do everything to gain victory this year!"