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

23 February 2023, 22:42 | Updated: 24 February 2023, 01:00

Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine
Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

Thousands of people gathered in London 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.

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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.

It came as Rishi Sunak is set to call for his fellow world leaders to speed up armed support for Ukraine as it seeks to push back Russian forces from its borders.

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

At Trafalgar Square 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

But 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."

Meanwhile Mr Sunak is expected to urge his fellow G7 leaders to send weapons to Ukraine faster to help them defeat Russia. 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 say: "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 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."

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

It comes after Mr Wallace told LBC's Nick Ferrari 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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