Ukrainians mourn and vow to fight on, a year after Russia invaded
KYIV (Reuters) -Ukrainians paid tribute to fallen loved ones on Friday and vowed to fight on to victory, while Russia said its forces were making gains in battle in the east as its invasion entered a second year with no end in sight.
At a ceremony on Kyiv's St Sophia Square, a visibly emotional President Volodymyr Zelenskiy bestowed medals on soldiers, one on crutches, and the mother of one killed. He fought back tears when a band played the national anthem.
"We have become one family. There are no more strangers among us ... Ukrainians have sheltered Ukrainians, opened their homes and hearts to those who were forced to flee the war," he said in a televised address.
"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."
Zelenskiy was due later to attend an online summit with U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies, expected to pledge more support for Ukraine and tighten sanctions against Russia.
For ordinary Ukrainians who have spent much of the year hiding in bomb shelters and supporting the war effort any way they can, the anniversary meant reflection.
"I buried my son who died in military service. I also buried my husband. I think it's very clear to you, I'm on my own now and it's very, very hard," said Valentyna Krysan, 75, a shop employee in Kyiv. "I wish you a nice, peaceful day, and that such a thing will never be repeated in your lives."
BLUE AND YELLOW FLAGS
Allies around the world showed their support. Ukraine's blue and yellow colours lit up the Eiffel Tower, the Brandenburg Gate and the Empire State Building, and were painted on the street outside the Russian embassy in London.
"There will be a life after this war, because Ukraine will win," Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, in a video message, hailed "the determination and courage of the Ukrainians, how they defend their freedom. Germany supports them in this - as strongly and as long as necessary".
There were no major public events to mark the anniversary in Russia, which set off fireworks on Thursday for the annual "Defenders of the Fatherland" holiday and held a pop concert on Wednesday attended by President Vladimir Putin.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians are feared to have been killed along with many more soldiers on both sides since Putin ordered the invasion a year ago, saying it was necessary to protect Russia's security.
Ukraine sees it as a bid to subjugate an independent state. Its outnumbered and outgunned forces repelled Russia's attempt to seize the capital Kyiv early in the war and later recaptured swathes of occupied territory. But Moscow still occupies nearly a fifth of Ukraine, which it claims to have annexed.
Russian troops have destroyed Ukrainian cities, set a third of the population to flight and left streets filled with corpses in towns they occupied and lost. Moscow denies war crimes.
In recent weeks, Russian forces, replenished with hundreds of thousands of conscripts in the first mobilisation since World War Two, have launched a winter offensive of intense trench warfare, making only small gains despite fighting that both sides say has been the bloodiest of the war.
There is no sign of any peace process. Putin says he is battling the combined might of the West in what he now depicts as a fight for Russia's survival. Kyiv says there can be no peace until Russia withdraws.
In the latest reports from the battlefield, Russia's Wagner private army, run by a Putin ally who has quarrelled with the regular military brass, claimed on Friday to have captured another village on the outskirts of Bakhmut, the small mining city in the east that is the focus of Moscow's offensive.
Russia has made clear, if slow, progress attempting to encircle Bakhmut, but failed to capture it in time to deliver a victory for Putin to announce on the anniversary.
Costly Russian assaults have made little or no progress elsewhere on the front. Ukraine, for its part, is awaiting new Western weapons before starting a counter-attack.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, visiting Kyiv, said a first batch of several dozen German Leopard tanks - promised a month ago in a breakthrough - were already in Ukraine.
Britain announced new sanctions on Russia on Friday, and other Western powers were expected to do so around the G7 online summit, led by Biden, who journeyed to Kyiv and gave a landmark speech in Warsaw this week to mark the anniversary.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States would provide an additional $2 billion in assistance, and new G7 measures would target countries seeking to backfill products denied to Russia because of sanctions.
"The international community must come together and show solidarity and impose strong sanctions against Russia," Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, holder of the G7 rotating presidency, told a news conference.
China, which signed a "no limits" partnership with Russia just before the war and signalled support by sending its top diplomat to Moscow this week, issued a peace plan, sticking to its principle of public neutrality. Washington has said in recent days it believes China may supply weapons to Russia; Beijing denies this.
The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution on Thursday demanding Russia pull out.
There were 141 votes in favour and 32 abstentions, including China. Six countries joined Russia to vote 'no' - Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, Mali, Nicaragua and Syria. Russia's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy dismissed the vote as "useless".
Click on the link to listen to the Reuters World News Podcast Special anniversary episode: The Ukraine war
(Additional reporting by Dan Peleschuk and Mike Collett-White in Kyiv and Yiming Woo near Bakhmut; Writing by Peter Graff)