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Zelenskyy hosts Western leaders in Kyiv as Ukraine marks 2 years since Russia's full-scale invasion

Associated Press Saturday, 24 February 2024, 10:19 Last update: about 3 months ago

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed Western leaders to Kyiv Saturday to mark the second anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion, as Ukrainian forces run low on ammunition and weaponry and foreign aid hangs in the balance.

Zelenskyy posted a video from the Hostomel airfield together with Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.


“Two years ago, here, we met enemy landing forces with fire; two years later, we meet our friends and our partners here,” Zelenskyy said at the airport just outside of Kyiv, which Russian paratroopers unsuccessfully tried to seize in the first days of the war.

The Western leaders arrived shortly after a Russian drone attack struck a residential building in the southern city of Odesa, killing at least one person. Three women also sustained severe burns in the attack Friday evening, regional Gov. Oleh Kiper wrote on his social media account. Rescue services combed through the rubble looking for survivors.

Italy, which holds the rotating presidency of the Group of Seven leading economies, announced that the G7 will meet virtually on Saturday with Zelenskyy and would adopt a joint statement on Ukraine.

“More than ever we stand firmly by Ukraine. Financially, economically, militarily, morally. Until the country is finally free,” von der Leyen said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

On the front line in the eastern Donetsk region, Ukrainian soldiers pleaded for ammunition.

“When the enemy comes in, a lot of our guys die. ... We are sitting here with nothing," said Volodymyr, 27, a senior officer in an artillery battery.

“In order to protect our infantry ... we need a high number of shells, which we do not have now,” said Oleksandr, 45, a commander of an artillery unit. The two officers only gave their first names, citing security concerns.

Around 100 people gathered outside St. Sophia’s Cathedral in central Kyiv Saturday, calling for the release of Azov Brigade members who were taken captive by Russia after defending the southern city of Mariupol.

Olena Petrivna, the mother of a member who was taken captive by Russian forces questioned why Russia invaded Ukraine, saying before the war people "lived our own lives, not bothering anyone, raising our children".

The Russians, she said, tried to conquer Ukraine to teach them what to say and what language to speak but, she added, "We don’t need them.” We have one destiny – victory. We must win.”

In a message on the war's second anniversary, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine's armed forces, thanked Ukrainian soldiers for their sacrifices and Western allies for their support, saying, “Every projectile, every tank, every armored vehicle is, first of all, saving the life of a Ukrainian soldier.”

Earlier this month, Zelenskyy fired top military commander Valerii Zaluzhnyi and replaced him with Syrskyi, marking the most significant shakeup of top brass since the full-scale invasion.

Authorities also pointed to successes, including the downing of a Russian early warning and control aircraft Friday.

If confirmed, it would mark the loss of the second such aircraft in just over a month. The Ukrainian military says Russia uses the aircraft to direct missile attacks.

The war has also come to Russia. Drones hit a steel plant in the Lipetsk region in southern Russia Saturday, causing a large fire, regional Gov. Igor Artamonov said, adding there are no casualties. Independent Russian media said the Novolipetsk Metallurgical Plant is the largest steel plant in Russia. Videos shared on Russian social media showed several fires burning at the plant, and an explosion could be heard.

Independent Russian news outlet Mediazona said Saturday that around 75,000 Russian men died in 2022 and 2023 fighting in the war.

A joint investigation published by Mediazona and Meduza, another independent Russian news site, indicates that the rate of Russia's losses in Ukraine is not slowing and that Moscow is losing around 120 men a day. Based on a statistical analysis of the recorded deaths of soldiers compared with a Russian inheritance database, the journalists said around 83,000 soldiers are likely to have died in the two years of fighting.

According to Mediazona and Meduza's analysis, regular Russian troops sustained the heaviest losses in the first months of the war. But, after prisoners were offered their freedom in exchange for fighting and after President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization, those groups started to sustain more casualties, particularly in the early months of 2023.

Solidarity demonstrations with Ukraine were held across Europe, including in London, Berlin and Stockholm.

In Belgrade, hundreds marched through the city center carrying Ukrainian flags. Though it has condemned the invasion of Ukraine, Serbia has not joined Western sanctions against Russia and maintains friendly relations with Moscow.

A somber mood hangs over Ukraine as the war against Russia enters its third year and Kyiv's troops face mounting challenges on the front line amid dwindling ammunition supplies and personnel challenges. Its troops recently withdrew from the strategic eastern city of Avdiivka, handing Moscow one of its biggest victories.

Russia still controls roughly a quarter of the country after Ukraine failed to make any major breakthroughs with its summertime counteroffensive. Meanwhile, millions of Ukrainians continue to live in precarious circumstances in the crossfire of battles, and many others face constant struggles under Russian occupation. Most are waiting for a Ukrainian liberation that hasn't come.

Olena Zelenska, the president's wife, said Saturday that more than 2 million Ukrainian children have left the country since the war began and that at least 528 have been killed. “The war started by Russia deliberately targets children,” she said.

Britain has pledged an additional 8.5 million pounds ($10.8 million) of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, bolstering efforts to provide medical care, food and basic services to residents as the nation marks the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion.

About 14.6 million people, or 40% of Ukraine’s population, need assistance, with many left homeless or without adequate access to food, water and electricity, Britain’s Foreign Office said in announcing the aid.

In the U.S. Congress, Republicans have stalled $60 billion in military aid for Kyiv, desperately needed in the short term. The EU recently approved a 50 billion-euro (about $54 billion) aid package for Ukraine meant to support Ukraine's economy, despite resistance from Hungary.

President Joe Biden tied the loss of the defensive stronghold of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region after months of grueling battles to the stalled U.S. aid. Fears have since spiked that Ukrainian forces will face similar difficulties across other parts of the 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front line as they come under mounting pressure from Russian assaults.

Despite a heavy crackdown on dissent, some Russians marked the anniversary by laying flowers at Moscow monuments or holding anti-war signs in the streets.

According to OVD-Info, a Russian rights group that tracks political arrests and provides legal aid, at least five people were arrested in Moscow on Saturday while holding signs saying “No to war” or attending a weekly demonstration calling for the return of mobilized Russian soldiers from Ukraine.

Police also detained a young woman who brought flowers in Ukraine’s national colors, blue and yellow, to a Moscow monument to victims of political repression, OVD-Info reported.

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