Western leaders visit Ukraine to show solidarity as war enters third year

Visit comes as Kyiv is on the defensive amid flagging Western aid and Russian territorial gains.

Western leaders in Ukraine
From right to left, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Italy's Premier Giorgia Meloni and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pay tribute to fallen Ukrainian soldiers, in Kyiv, on the two-year anniversary of the war [Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP]

Western leaders including the European Commission’s Ursula von der Leyen and Canada’s Justin Trudeau have visited Kyiv to show solidarity with Ukraine as it enters the third year of its war with Russia.

Von der Leyen, Trudeau, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, and Belgium Prime Minister Alexander De Croo arrived in the country on Saturday on an overnight train from neighbouring Poland as Ukraine marks the second anniversary of Moscow’s invasion on the defensive amid flagging Western aid and Russian territorial gains.

“We have been fighting for this for 730 days of our lives. We will win on the best day of our lives,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said at an anniversary event at Kyiv’s Gostomel Airport, which was targeted by Russia in the first days of its invasion.

Oleksandr Syrskii, the chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said: “I am convinced that unity is our victory. And it will definitely happen. Because light always conquers darkness.”

Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) major democracies, chaired this year by Italy, also held a videoconference with Zelenskyy later on Saturday, vowing to continue supporting Ukraine.

“As Ukraine enters the third year of this relentless war, its government and its people can count on the G7’s support for as long as it takes,” the group said in a statement.

It added that it would look for ways to make Moscow pay for the damage inflicted by its invasion: “We will continue to raise the cost of Russia’s war, degrade Russia’s sources of revenue and impede its efforts to build its war machine.”

In a post on the social media platform X, von der Leyen said: “More than ever, we stand firmly by Ukraine. Financially, economically, militarily, morally. Until the country is finally free”.

Trudeau said that Ukrainians were fighting for “our collective future”.

“They are fighting to remind the world that democracy is both important enough to die for and strong enough to win,” he said in a statement before arriving in Kyiv.

“As the war continues, that is what is at stake. And that is why Canada has stood with Ukraine since day one.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg expressed confidence that Ukraine will join the transatlantic military alliance.

“It is not a question of if, but of when. As we prepare you for that day, NATO will continue to stand with Ukraine,” he said.

‘Ukraine will win’

On Saturday in Kyiv, Zelenskyy also signed security agreements with Canada’s Trudeau and Italy’s Meloni intended to shore up Ukraine’s security until it can reach its aim of becoming a NATO member.

Trudeau’s office said Canada would provide more than 3 billion Canadian dollars ($2.22bn) in financial and defence aid to Ukraine in 2024, while Meloni gave no financial details about the Italian accord.

Earlier, the United Kingdom announced a new $311m defence package to help boost the production of “urgently needed artillery ammunition” for Ukraine.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised: “We will stand with Ukraine today and tomorrow, prepared to do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, until they prevail.”

Kyiv’s fortunes have suffered in recent weeks amid shortages of military supplies, with Russia this month capturing the eastern town of Avdiivka in its biggest victory on the battlefield in months.

United States President Joe Biden has blamed Republicans in Congress for holding up a $61bn package of military funding, casting the support as crucial to Kyiv’s efforts to repel Moscow.

Biden on Friday announced Washington’s largest package of sanctions against Russia, pledging to keep up pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “war machine”.

On Friday, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba delivered a rebuke to sceptics who doubt Kyiv’s ability to defeat Moscow, insisting that “Ukraine will win the war” and victory would come “sooner rather than later” with international support.

Zelenskyy earlier this week told diplomats in an emotional address that he remained “convinced that victory awaits us”.

While neither Ukraine nor Russia has provided official estimates of the number of military casualties in the war, both sides claim to have inflicted heavy losses.

The New York Times in August cited US officials who estimated that about 70,000 Ukrainian troops had been killed and a further 100,000-120,000 wounded.

In December, leaked US intelligence suggested that about 315,000 Russian troops had been killed or injured.

In its latest report, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine said this week that it been able to corroborate the conflict-related deaths of 10,582 civilians since February 2022. It had verified that 19,875 civilians had been wounded.

“The actual numbers are likely significantly higher,” it said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies