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Joy is gone but hope remains: Canadian ambassador to Ukraine on invasion anniversary

One year ago missile strikes rained down on Ukraine and Russian tanks rolled toward the Kyiv
The residents of a house and their neighbours clear the rubble from a home that was destroyed by a Russian rocket in Maxymilianivka village, Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023. Ukrainians woke up to their second year of war this morning, as the military continued to beat back invading Russian forces in the southeastern region of the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Evgeniy Maloletka

Ukraine’s capital city was eerily quiet Friday as people in Kyiv marked the start of its second year of war since the Russian invasion.

In a city of millions, the sidewalks were mostly empty and little fanfare was paid to the first anniversary of the war — partially out of anxiety the terror would be repeated.

Outside St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, Inna Voloshyna laid flowers.

“Today it was hard for me, actually, to start the day,” said Voloshyna.

She points to photos of Ukrainian soldiers, which sit around the perimeter of the church, a tribute to soldiers killed since the invasion.

“I know families of some of these people,” she said.

Many people didn’t believe it would be possible for Ukraine to defend itself for so long against the Russian invasion, she said.

“So from one point we are doing what nobody believed, but from another point it is so huge a price,” she said.

Though Voloshyna felt she should pay her respects Friday, she still feels the one-year anniversary of the invasion is not significant.

“The significance would be when we would win completely,” she said.

One year ago missile strikes rained down on Ukraine and Russian tanks rolled toward the Kyiv.

Larisa Galadza, Canada’s Ukraine ambassador, said she woke up that morning with a sense of apprehension. One year later, Galadza said most Ukrainians aren’t seeing the day as a chance for reflection. They’re still living the reality.

“There is no space for reflection,” Galadza said, from a boardroom in the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv on Friday.

“I find that for myself as well.”

Before the Russian army began its invasion, Galadza and her staff retreated 550 km west to the city of Lviv before fleeing to Poland on Feb. 24, 2022.

Some feared the city would fall to Russian occupation, but Ukrainian flags still fly over Maidan — a city square in the heart of Kyiv that represents independence.

A spokesperson for the Ukrainian air force said earlier this week the military expected several waves of Russian attacks to mark the one-year anniversary of the war, but air raid sirens in Kyiv remained silent.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly visited the city last week in a show of solidarity with Ukraine. She pledged $21 million for projects to support “Ukraine’s security, accountability, and stabilization efforts,” including buying equipment to help government works de-mine liberated territories and support victims of conflict-related sexual assaults.

On Friday, she announced another $32 million aimed at similar projects, as well as specialized equipment to mitigate potential chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents.

Galadza said the mood in Kyiv is much more sombre than before the war.

“The joy is gone. The hope is there,” she said. “The determination is there. It’s palpable.”

People are also feeling gratitude, she said.

Galadza started the day by attending a ceremony in Sofia Square where Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy paid tribute to servicemen and citizens who supported the war effort. Some of the awards were given posthumously and accepted by the parents of the fallen soldiers, she said.

“That was very meaningful to do that in the middle of Kyiv, the Kyiv that Russia thought they were going to take in a matter of hours,” she said. “It was powerful.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Canada will stand by Ukraine’s side for as long as it takes to finish the war, but Galadza said the support will likely extend beyond that to include the rebuilding effort as well.

Ukraine liberated five regions last spring, and reconstructing those communities is top of mind for the Ukrainian government, she said.

“That’s how they’re going to bring people back into their homes, bring Ukrainians back to the country, and it’s going to be an international effort,” she said.

“We’re going to do this together.”

—Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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