King Charles hails 'heroism' of Ukrainians as world leaders mark second anniversary of Russian invasion in Kyiv

24 February 2024, 12:19 | Updated: 24 February 2024, 14:28

Charles has shared a message of support for Ukraine
Charles has shared a message of support for Ukraine. Picture: Twitter/Getty

By Kit Heren

King Charles has praised the "valour" of Ukrainians in the war against Russia, as world leaders gathered in Kyiv to mark the second anniversary of the invasion.

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Charles said that he was "greatly encouraged" by the UK's support for Ukraine, after the government announced a further £245 million in artillery munitions aid for the war-torn country.

The King also shared a photo of himself lighting a candle in an Orthodox church.

He said: "The determination and strength of the Ukrainian people continues to inspire, as the unprovoked attack on their land, their lives and livelihoods enters a third, tragic, year.

"Despite the tremendous hardship and pain inflicted upon them, Ukrainians continue to show the heroism with which the world associates them so closely. 

"Theirs is true valour, in the face of indescribable aggression.  I have felt this personally in the many meetings I have had with Ukrainians since the start of the war, from President Zelenskyy and Mrs Zelenska, to new army recruits training here in the United Kingdom."

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The King added: "I continue to be greatly encouraged that the United Kingdom and our allies remain at the forefront of international efforts to support Ukraine at this time of such great suffering and need. My heart goes out to all those affected, as I remember them in my thoughts and prayers."

Boris Johnson is in Kyiv to mark the occasion, alongside European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and the prime ministers of Italy, Canada and Belgium.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that everyone in Ukraine wanted peace - but that they should only end the war on their terms.

The president said in a message to Ukrainians: "Dear great people of a great country, I am immensely proud of each of you. I admire each one of you. I believe in each one of you. Any normal person wants the war to end. But none of us will allow Ukraine to end. That is why when it comes to ending the war, we always add: on our terms.

"That is why, along with the word peace, there is always another word: just. That is why, in the future, the word independent will always appear alongside the word Ukraine. This is what we fight for. And we will prevail. On the greatest day of our lives.

"I thank all of our soldiers, our people, and everyone around the world who stands with us and the truth. Glory to Ukraine!"

Meanwhile British and Ukrainian politicians and diplomats were among those at a service at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in central London to mark the anniversary.

The congregation was set to march to Trafalgar Square, where a vigil is planned for Saturday afternoon.

London mayor Sadiq Khan said: "The people of Ukraine have been through unimaginable pain and suffering over the last two years because of Putin’s illegal invasion. So many innocent lives have been needlessly taken away because of this ongoing war and, as we reach this horrendous second anniversary, my thoughts and prayers are with all those under attack, the millions who have had to flee their homes and everyone affected.

"Every day London stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. We will continue to stand side-by-side with you in the face of this barbaric oppression and I will do all I can to support and stand up for Ukrainians who have sought refuge in our city."

Watch Again: Defence Secretary Grant Shapps joins Matthew Wright | 24/02/24

Ukraine has defied the odds by holding Russia off for two years, but there are signs of war fatigue among some allies, including the US, as the human and financial costs grow ever higher.

But Joe Biden said that NATO was "stronger, larger, and more united than ever" in comments marking the second anniversary. 

The US president said: "The unprecedented 50-nation global coalition in support of Ukraine, led by the United States, remains committed to providing critical assistance to Ukraine and holding Russia accountable for its aggression.

"The American people and people around the world understand that the stakes of this fight extend far beyond Ukraine."

Meanwhile, announcing the 245 million in aid on Saturday, Mr Shapps denied that Britain was also wavering in its support of Ukraine, whose citizens he described as "incredibly brave". But he added that they are “urgently in need of more munitions, and that’s why we’re stepping up today."

Paraphrasing Mr Zelenskyy, he said that "the UK has been first and foremost in its support, has been solid right there from day one, actually before the start, and will be right there till the end, because in Britain it’s in our interests not to have countries, neighbouring countries, walked in to - invaded - by a despotic leader like Putin, and to then turn a blind eye.

"Eventually that cost and the own misery will appear for our own citizens as well - quite apart from the fact that it’s clearly wrong to see a country invaded.

"So I think… Brits are very proud of this country’s absolutely leading role in ensuring Putin can’t walk across Europe."

Making the announcement earlier, Mr Shapps said that Ukraine's "steadfast determination and resilience" continued to "inspire the world".

A woman next to flags bearing symbols and colours of Ukraine set to commemorate fallen Ukrainian army soldiers at Independence Square in Kyiv, on February 24, 2024, on the second anniversary of Russia's invasion
A woman next to flags bearing symbols and colours of Ukraine set to commemorate fallen Ukrainian army soldiers at Independence Square in Kyiv, on February 24, 2024, on the second anniversary of Russia's invasion. Picture: Getty

He said: "Against all odds, the armed forces of Ukraine have pushed back the Russian invaders to recapture half of the land Putin stole, while significantly degrading Russia's capabilities - with around 30% of Russia's Black Sea Fleet destroyed or damaged, and thousands of tanks and armoured vehicles reduced to scrap.

"But they cannot win this fight without the support of the international community - and that's why we continue to do what it takes to ensure Ukraine can continue to fight towards victory.

"Nearly a quarter of a billion pounds' worth of UK funding will boost their critical stockpiles of artillery ammunition, while the Royal Air Force completes a further delivery of advanced tank-busting missiles.

"Together, we will ensure Putin fails, and a victory for democracy, the rules-based international order, and the Ukrainian people."

Ukrainian servicemen ride on tanks towards the front line nearly two years ago
Ukrainian servicemen ride on tanks towards the front line nearly two years ago. Picture: Getty

Saturday's announcement follows confirmation on Thursday that the UK had delivered a further 200 Brimstone anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

Other military equipment provided by the UK includes Challenger 2 tanks and long-range Storm Shadow missiles, while British forces have given training to Ukrainian soldiers in the UK and the Government continues to provide humanitarian assistance.

Marking the second anniversary of the conflict, Rishi Sunak said it was "the moment to show that tyranny will never triumph and to say once again that we will stand with Ukraine today and tomorrow".

Watch again: Sir Richard Dearlove takes your calls with Nick Ferrari

He said: "I was in Kyiv just a few weeks ago and I met wounded Ukrainian soldiers. Each harrowing story was a reminder of Ukraine's courage in the face of terrible suffering.

"It was a reminder of the price they are paying not only to defend their country against a completely unjustified invasion, but also to defend the very principles of freedom, sovereignty and the rule of law, on which we all depend.

"The UK is going further in our support. I announced last month the biggest single package of defence aid to Ukraine, taking our total support to £12 billion and signed a ten-year agreement on security co-operation - the first of its kind."

Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Picture: Getty

Also speaking on the second anniversary of the conflict, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer praised Ukraine's "strength, resilience and courage" and recommitted his party to supporting their resistance to the Russian invasion.

He said: "When I met President Zelensky in Kyiv one year ago, I assured him that Britain stands united with Ukraine.

"That promise stands firm. No matter who is in power in this country, Britain will always back Ukraine.

"We will stand with them for as long as it takes to win, because we know it is not just the future of Ukraine at stake, but the future of democracy and global stability. We cannot and will not allow the cowardice and barbarity of Putin to prevail."

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