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Ukraine defiant two years on: Zelensky's rallying cry as he pleads for US to lift military aid block

Ukraine defiant two years on: Zelensky's rallying cry as he pleads for US to lift military aid block

President Volodymyr Zelensky declared “we must win” as Ukraine’s defiant stand against Vladimir Putin’s invading army enters a third year.

Touring a military hospital, the actor-turned-wartime leader urged US Republicans to lift their block on billions in fresh military aid or face the risk of more Ukrainian soldiers falling on the battlefield.

"You understand that this help is crucial. So without it, sorry, we will have more and more such heroic guys who will be in the hospitals,” he told the US network Fox News in an interview airing on Thursday.

There is increasing deadlock on many of the frontlines, and signs of Ukrainian retreat on others. Mr Zelensky played down the loss last week of the eastern town of Avdiivka, and his army denied Russian claims that it had lost a key bridgehead at Krynky on the Dnipro river.

In an overnight address, Mr Zelensky praised “the resilience and bravery of our warriors” and added: “Believing in Ukraine means believing in yourself and working for common strength. We must achieve our Ukrainian goals. We must win.”

The war has seen an unprecedented mobilisation of support in the West both from governments and from ordinary people. Almost seven million Ukrainians have been helped by funds raised by the British public through the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC).

Thursday’s Standard front page (Evening Standard)
Thursday’s Standard front page (Evening Standard)

The DEC said today that donations to the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal amounted to £426 million – £6.35 for every Briton. Just over 250,000 Ukrainian refugees meanwhile have been given UK visas, with many taken in by British families.

But the Home Office faces pressure over its decision this week to abruptly close a visa scheme that let Ukrainians including children to join their family members already in the UK.

Labour said the move sent “the wrong message” ahead of the invasion anniversary. A Home Office spokesperson said it was right to review visa routes “to ensure they remain as efficient and sustainable as possible”.

There has been no slackening in UK military aid to Ukraine. Rishi Sunak has unveiled another £2.5 billion for this year, the largest package yet, telling his Cabinet this week that “two years in, Putin is not winning” but stressing: “We cannot be complacent.”

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron on Thursday announced a new raft of 50 sanctions on Russian companies including Sverdlov State Owned Enterprise, the biggest player in its ammunition industry.

“Ukraine has shown that it can and will defend itself. Putin mistakenly thought that because Russia’s economy is bigger than Ukraine’s, he would gain a quick victory. But the economies of Ukraine’s friends are 25 times bigger than Russia’s,” he said.

“And two years on, we stand united in support for Ukraine. Together, we will not let up in the face of tyranny. We will continue to support Ukraine as it fights for democracy - for as long as it takes.”

In an update on Thursday, UK military chiefs noted recent remarks by Putin’s chief propagandist Dmitry Peskov that entering its third year, the conflict “has taken on the form of a war against the collective West”.

The Ministry of Defence tweeted: “This forms part of the Russian official narrative almost certainly aimed at situating the domestic population for a long-term conflict and the associated decline in domestic living standards, while providing reassurance of ultimate Russian victory.”

Volodymyr Zelensky visiting servicemen in the Zaporizhzhia region on February 4 (UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SER)
Volodymyr Zelensky visiting servicemen in the Zaporizhzhia region on February 4 (UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SER)

Saturday marks the second anniversary of Putin launching his “special military operation” to annex the rest of Ukraine, years after he grabbed the east, after weeks of Kremlin lies that any invasion was on the cards.

His confidence that Kyiv would fall quickly turned out to be wildly misplaced as Ukraine’s army, boosted by British, US and allied arms and training, fought back ferociously.

Putin’s regiments - bolstered by released convicts and Wagner mercenaries - turned their own savagery on Ukrainian civilians, sparking a UN war crimes investigation, after a roll call of horror in places such as Bucha, Mariupol and Kharkiv.

But two years on, foot-dragging by Donald Trump’s hardline supporters in Congress is holding up more than $60 billion in US aid for Ukraine promised by President Joe Biden, including desperately needed artillery ammunition and anti-tank weapons to replenish exhausted stocks.

Much of Ukraine’s outnumbered army is also exhausted, with individual regiments lacking the numbers needed to rotate out for leave. With draft-dodging becoming an increasing concern, the parliament in Kyiv is debating widening conscription.

But at the hospital in the Fox News interview, Mr Zelensky relayed the words of one Ukrainian soldier who was recovering from an amputation: “Russians took my leg. They can’t take my soul.”