Nation falls silent for Ukraine: UK in display of solidarity one year on from Russian invasion

24 February 2023, 00:15 | Updated: 24 February 2023, 11:14

Ukraine's president said 2023 will be the year of victory
Ukraine's president said 2023 will be the year of victory. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

The UK fell silent today in a display of solidarity on the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Ukrainians they are "invincible" and vowed "2023 will be the year of victory" in a defiant message of hope delivered in Kyiv.

"We know that 2023 will be the year of our victory!" he said in a defiant video address.

He recalled the terror unleashed a year ago by the Russian assault, triggering Europe's biggest and deadliest war since the Second World War, saying February 24, 2022, the date of the Russian invasion, was "the longest day of our lives".

"We survived the first day of the full-scale war. We didn't know what tomorrow would bring, but we clearly understood that for each tomorrow, you need to fight. And we fought," he said.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told LBC this morning the 'good guys' are going to win in Ukraine.

Mr Wallace said on the anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine: “We have a very strong coalition of support. Their resolve is stronger than ever.

“Our safety in this country is delivered by our alliances.”

Asked whether the “good guys” are going to win he said: “Yes” and highlighted heavy losses suffered by Putin’s forces.

“It’s 365 days now, and [Russia] is an isolated country. Everyone, friend and foe, tried to persuade president Putin not to do this.”

He said Putin plans victory through brutality or through the international community getting ‘bored’.

“We mustn’t let that happen,” he said.

Read more: London crowds mark first anniversary of Russian invasion of Ukraine with appearances by Helen Mirren and Ben Wallace

Read more: China calls for ceasefire: Beijing unveils 12-point plan to solve Ukraine war

Ben Wallace reveals what shocked him most about the Ukrainian war

He accused Russian troops of “medieval” barbarism over reports of rape being used as a weapon of war, and the slaughter of prisoners and civilians in Ukraine.

Rishi Sunak is set to call for allies to send Ukraine fighter jets to give Kyiv the "decisive advantage" over Russia, one year on since the invasion.

The PM will also urge his fellow world leaders at a G7 meeting on Friday to speed up armed support for Ukraine as it seeks to push back Russian forces from its borders.

The UK, Germany and the US have all already committed to sending modern tanks to Ukraine, alongside many donations from other countries.

Mr Sunak will renew his offer to send Typhoon jets to any country that provides its stock of Soviet MiG-29 aircraft to Ukraine.

It comes as the US and Nato claim to have intelligence showing that China is considering supplying the faltering Russian army with weapons.

Mr Sunak is expected to say on Friday: "For Ukraine to win this war - and to accelerate that day - they must gain a decisive advantage on the battlefield. That is what it will take to shift Putin's mindset. This must be our priority now. Instead of an incremental approach, we need to move faster on artillery, armour, and air defence.

The rally took place in Trafalgar Square
The rally took place in Trafalgar Square. Picture: Getty
People gathered to mark the first anniversary of the war
People gathered to mark the first anniversary of the war. Picture: Getty
The first anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine war is on Friday
The first anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine war is on Friday. Picture: Getty

"The coming weeks will be difficult for Ukraine, but they will also be difficult for Russia. They are over-reaching once again. So now is the time to support Ukraine's plan to re-arm, regroup, and push forward."

The Prime Minister and his wife Akshata Murty are also expected to hang a blue and yellow wreath on the door of No 10.

"As we mark one year since a full-scale war broke out on our continent, I urge everyone to reflect on the courage and bravery of our Ukrainian friends who, every hour since, have fought heroically for their country", he is expted to say.

"I am proud that the UK has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine through this horrific conflict. As I stand with brave Ukrainian soldiers outside Downing Street today, my thoughts will be with all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend freedom and return peace to Europe."

Keir Starmer met Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Keir Starmer met Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Picture: Getty

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, marking the anniversary, said that the UK's support "is as firm and unstinting today as it was on that dark day one year ago".

He met Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv recently, and said on the anniversary of the invasion: "The resolve and the bravery of the Ukrainian people, supported by their allies across the world, has doomed Putin's barbaric invasion to failure. We should take inspiration from their courage and resolve to double down on our support for them.

"When I visited President Zelensky in Kyiv recently, I was deeply moved by the way people there are continuing with their lives. Despite the appalling suffering being inflicted upon them, they remain steadfast and united.

"As we mark this solemn anniversary and look ahead to the coming months, we must do the same. Regardless of what other political disagreements we may have, we stand in lockstep with the Government on this issue.

"No one should ever have to face the hardship and loss that the Ukrainian people have over the last year. Their fight for democracy, freedom and liberty in the face of tyranny is also our fight. Standing with our Nato allies, we will ensure Putin's defeat and Ukraine's victory."

People wrapped with the Ukrainian flag attend the vigil in Trafalgar Square
People wrapped with the Ukrainian flag attend the vigil in Trafalgar Square. Picture: Getty

Meanwhile thousands of people gathered in London on Thursday night to mark the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as a top official in Kyiv said that 100,000 civilians had died over the past year.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, actress Helen Mirren and US ambassador Jane Hartley all rallied the crowd at a vigil in Trafalgar Square on Thursday night.

Britain's Defence Secretary Ben Wallace delivers a speech on stage during a vigil in Trafalgar Square
Britain's Defence Secretary Ben Wallace delivers a speech on stage during a vigil in Trafalgar Square. Picture: Getty

Mr Wallace, who was met with cheers by the people gathered, said: "This time last year we weren't supposed to be here.

"President Putin had a plan that in three weeks he would have dominated Ukraine, sent people to filtration camps and eventually have turned that country, your wonderful country, into merely a pawn for his ambitions.

People, holding Ukrainian flags and banners, attend the solidarity event with Ukraine organized by the Ukrainian and US embassies in London to mark the first anniversary of the war between Russia and Ukraine
People, holding Ukrainian flags and banners, attend the solidarity event with Ukraine organized by the Ukrainian and US embassies in London to mark the first anniversary of the war between Russia and Ukraine. Picture: Getty

"All of you here from Ukraine, the bravery of your country's men and women who have stood against this aggression, this illegal war, this challenge to freedom, democracy and human rights should be incredibly proud of what you are standing for."

Mr Wallace, who told LBC this week that he expects the war to continue at least another year, told the crowd that all political parties in the UK "fully support" efforts to "make sure Putin is defeated in Ukraine and his army is sent home".

He added that Britain trained 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers last year and said it will train another 20,000.

Medics of Ukrainian Army evacuate a wounded soldier
Medics of Ukrainian Army evacuate a wounded soldier. Picture: Getty

Mr Wallace went on: "Like Ukraine, Britain remembers what it was like to stand alone against overwhelming odds when many people thought we didn't have a chance in 1939."

Labelling Ukrainian troops the "bravest of the brave", he said: "You not only showed Russia, you showed us all when you stand up for human rights and your country anything is possible."

Actress Helen Mirren, whose father was Russian, read out the English translation of a Ukrainian poem, Take Only What Is Most Important by Serhiy Zhadan.

The poem includes the line: "You will not return and friends will never come back."

Helen Mirren delivers a speech on stage during a vigil in Trafalgar Square
Helen Mirren delivers a speech on stage during a vigil in Trafalgar Square. Picture: Getty

Ms Mirren said at the end of the poem: "But I think you will be back." She added: "Peace for Ukraine, democracy for Ukraine and freedom for Ukraine."

It comes as the country's top war crimes prosecutor said that the civilian death toll in Ukraine over the past year was more than ten times higher the official tally.

“There could be 100,000 civilians killed across Ukraine, whose bodies will have to be found and identified once occupied territory is liberated," prosecutor Yuriy Belousov told the Independent.

The UN's official count is 8,000 dead civilians in Ukraine.

A Ukrainian prosecutor said 100,000 civilians have been killed
A Ukrainian prosecutor said 100,000 civilians have been killed. Picture: Getty

He added: "In terms of missing persons, the problem is we really don’t know how people there are."

Senior Fellow at Atlantic Council, Ben Judah stresses importance of arming Ukraine

Mr Wallace told LBC's Nick Ferrari on Wednesday that although he thought the war would continue for another year, Russia had already failed in its objectives.

He said: "I think Russia has shown a complete disregard, not only for the lives of the people of Ukraine, but for its own soldiers. You know, we are sitting here 12 months in and 188,000... Russian soldiers are dead or injured as a result of this catastrophic miscalculation and aggression by President Putin.

"And you know, when someone's crossed the line that they think it's okay to do that to your own people and is running effectively a meat grinder for an army, I think he's not going to stop."

Mr Wallace said that Russian president Putin had already failed in his aim of fully occupying Ukraine, with 97% of his army committed and two thirds of his tanks destroyed.

Nick Ferrari exclusively interviews Defence Secretary Ben Wallace

"I think we see signs of when the Russian army can't manage to do anything else or do very much more," he said. "So I think his original ambition last February 24 was to capture eight main objectives, all the big cities in three weeks, and he would have Kyiv in three days, and it would all be over."

Read more: War in Ukraine 'will still be going in a year's time but Putin has already failed', says defence secretary Ben Wallace

Read more: 'Every day Russia inflicts more pain': Rishi Sunak calls for world leaders to 'double down' on arming Ukraine

Mr Wallace added: "His three-day offensive is turned into his 365-day offensive and he has still not captured or held single one of objectives.

"The only objective he did capture was Kherson, which he then had to leave a few months ago. So I think the goal of a occupied, invaded, fully controlled Ukraine of Russia has failed already. I think he's failed in the long run."

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