One year after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine believing he’d take Kyiv within days, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky struck a defiant note, insisting that he was “certain” his country would win the war.
Responding to a question from CNN’s Christiane Amanpour at a press conference in the capital city, Zelensky said: “Victory will be inevitable. I am certain there will be victory.”
“We have everything for it. We have the motivation, certainty, the friends, the diplomacy. You have all come together for this,” Zelensky said. “If we all do our important homework, victory will be inevitable.”
Russia launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine eight years after forcefully annexing the southern Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.
But its plan to wrest control from Zelensky’s pro-European government has gone badly. A year after Russian tanks rolled into the country, Ukraine is still fighting and has managed to repel Moscow’s advances north of Kyiv and in some eastern and southern parts of the country.
The Ukrainian president has repeatedly rejected the idea of negotiating a peace deal that would see Ukraine lose any of its territory. Speaking on Friday, he said he would not negotiate with Putin – even though he was prepared to speak to him before the war started.
“It is not the same man. There is nobody to talk to there,” he said.
Meanwhile in Russia, former Russian President and Deputy Chair of Russia’s Security Council of the Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday that that Russia’s aim was to “push the borders of threats to our country as far as possible, even if these are the borders of Poland.”
Zelensky used the first anniversary of the war to rally troops and renew calls for international assistance for his country. He handed out awards to soldiers and visited wounded service members before holding the rare press conference.
Earlier on Friday morning, the Ukrainian leader addressed members of the military in Kyiv. He told them it was they who would determine the future of the country.
“It is you who will decide whether we are all going to exist. Whether Ukraine is going to exist. Every day. Every hour. It is you – Ukrainian soldiers – which will decide it,” he said.
Ukraine’s international allies showed their solidarity on Friday, with landmarks around the world lit up in colors of the Ukrainian flag, and new weapons and funding announcements.
The United States announced a $2 billion dollar security package to Ukraine, which includes new funding for contracts including HIMARS rockets, 155-millimeter artillery ammunition, drones, counter-drone equipment, mine-clearing equipment and secure communications equipment.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on the international community not to let Putin’s crimes “become our new normal,” at the United Nations Security Council.
Germany said it would send a further four Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, increasing its original commitment from 14 tanks to 18. Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson also pledged to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
And Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he intends to present the idea of imposing new sanctions against Russia during a virtual meeting with G7 leaders and Zelensky.
But there was a noticeable feeling of anxiety in Kyiv on Friday, as many of its residents worried Russia might launch new attacks on the day of the anniversary.
The public transport system was less busy than usual during the morning rush-hour and many parents decided to keep their children home from school.
Security was heightened, with visibly more troops and police officers out patrolling the streets.
While air-raid sirens are a daily fixture in Kyiv, there hasn’t been a major attack on the city in a few weeks, which means that whenever the alarms are activated, people are left gauging the level of risk.
Across the country, ordinary Ukrainians marked the day in their own ways.
Kathalina Pahitsky, a 16-year old student, went to the St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery in Kyiv to lay flowers in memory of two former students from her school who lost their lives fighting in the war.
It was a bitterly cold morning in Kyiv, but Pahitsky said she felt it was her duty as the student president of her school to represent her classmates and pay her respects to the fallen heroes.
“They were defending our country on the front line. One of them died after he was wounded, the other one stepped on a mine,” she told CNN.
Holding a few red flowers adorned with blue and yellow ribbons, she said those killed in the war must be remembered and celebrated.
“Their photographs are here on the main street. It’s a great honor. They died as heroes. So it’s very important for us. And it would have been for them,” she said.
Olexander Atamas, who was an IT worker before the war and now serves with the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said it was hard to describe his feelings on Friday.
“I would prefer to describe what I don’t feel now, I don’t feel a fear, but [I] feel confidence in my abilities,” he told CNN. “One year ago … I felt fear, I was stressed, psychologically it unsettled me. But currently there is no fear at all.”