Hundreds of Ukrainians marched in the centre of Athens on Friday to mourn the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of their country.
People of all ages – including children dressed in traditional costumes – held their country's flags and placards calling for peace and an end to brutality.
"Mariupol will be ours again and we will rebuild it from scratch," read one of the protesters' placards.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s leader has pledged to push for victory in 2023 as Ukrainians marked the sombre anniversary of the Russian invasion while Moscow told the world to accept “the realities” of its war.
At a ceremony in Kyiv’s St Sophia Square, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy bestowed medals on soldiers and the mother of one killed. He fought back tears at the national anthem.
“We have become one family … 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 … And we will do everything to gain victory this year.”
Zelenskyy, who has himself become a symbol of Ukraine’s refusal to bow to Moscow, said Ukrainians proved themselves to be invincible during “a year of pain, sorrow, faith and unity”.
“We have been standing for exactly one year,” Zelenskyy said. February 24, 2022, he said, was “the longest day of our lives. The hardest day of our modern history. We woke up early and haven’t fallen asleep since.”
Around the country, Ukrainians looked back at a year that changed their lives and at the clouded future. They wept at memorials for their tens of thousands of dead — a toll growing inexorably as fighting rages in eastern Ukraine in particular.
“I can sum up the last year in three words: Fear, love, hope,” Oleksandr Hranyk, a school director in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, said.
Lining up in the capital, Kyiv, to buy anniversary commemorative postage stamps, Tetiana Klimkova described her heart as “falling and hurting”.
Still, “this day has become a symbol for me that we have survived for a whole year and will continue to live,” she said. “On this day, our children and grandchildren will remember how strong Ukrainians are mentally, physically, and spiritually.”
Speaking from Kyiv, Ukrainian member of parliament Sviatoslav Yurash said that his countrymen felt as defiant as they did a year ago.
“We want an independent and democratic Ukraine and we will certainly get that. We have been strengthened throughout this year.”
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers on both sides are believed to have died since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion, 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 swaths of occupied territory. But Moscow still occupies nearly a fifth of Ukraine, which it claims to have annexed.
Russia’s foreign ministry said the world should recognise “new territorial realities” in Ukraine to achieve peace.
Although China called for a ceasefire on Friday, peace was nowhere in sight. Ukraine previously rejected a pause in the fighting for fear it would allow Russia to regroup militarily after bruising battlefield setbacks.
Zelenskyy gave qualified support to China’s apparent new interest in playing a diplomatic role, saying, “The fact that China started talking about Ukraine is not bad.”
“But the question is what follows the words,” he said during a wide-ranging news conference. “The question is in the steps and where they will lead to.”
A 12-point paper issued by China’s foreign ministry also urged an end to sanctions that aim to squeeze Russia’s economy.
As a ceasefire appeared unlikely, Ukrainian defence minister Oleksii Reznikov said that Ukraine was “entering a new period, with a new task – to win.”
“It will not be easy. But we will manage,” he added. “There is rage and a desire to avenge the fallen.”