Ukraine Marks 2d Anniversary of Russian Invasion Determined Despite Setbacks

In solemn ceremonies and small vigils, state visits, stirring speeches and statements of solidarity, Ukraine and its allies marked the dawn of the third year of Russia’s unprovoked invasion with a single message: Believe.

“When thousands of columns of Russian invaders moved from all directions into Ukraine, when thousands of rockets and bombs fell on our land, no one in the world believed that we would stand,” said Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, Ukraine’s newly named top military commander. “No one believed, but Ukraine did!”

On the 731st day of the war, Ukrainian soldiers once again find themselves outmanned and outgunned, fighting for their nation’s survival while also trying to convince a skeptical world that they can withstand the relentless onslaught, even as they suffer losses on the battlefield and are challenged up and down the front line by Russian forces.

The leaders of Canada, Belgium and Italy, as well as the head of the European Union, Ursula von der Leyen, were among the dignitaries who traveled to Kyiv in a show of solidarity. While many analysts at the outbreak of the war believed that European nations would go wobbly in their support of Ukraine in a prolonged struggle, these countries are now stepping up, trying to help fill the void left by the U.S., where Republicans in Congress have for months blocked any new military assistance to Kyiv.

With Ukraine’s allies by his side outside the wrecked hangar that once housed a gigantic Mriya cargo plane, President Volodymyr Zelensky presented awards to soldiers at Hostomel Airport, where a pivotal early battle played out two years ago.

“When our soldiers destroyed the Russian killers’ landing and didn’t allow Russia to create its foothold here, the world saw the most important thing,” he said. “It saw that any evil can be defeated, and Russian aggression is no exception.”

However, Ukrainians needed no reminders about why they are fighting or the cost of a defeat.

In Bucha — where a massacre of civilians, one of the first widely documented atrocities of the war, has became emblematic of Russia’s brutal occupation, — residents gathered at a memorial where a mass grave holding the remains of 117 people was discovered. Some of the victims had been burned to death. Others had been shot. Many showed signs of torture.

“Two years of fear, two years of Russia mocking us,” Oleksandr Hrytsynenko, 77, said as he paid his respects to his fallen neighbors. “We need to arm ourselves with infinite patience.”

As people gathered outside, Vira Katanenko was inside the church preparing to bury her son, Andrii, 39. He was killed along with two other soldiers this week by a Russian missile in a village outside Avdiivka, a stronghold of Ukrainian defenses that fell last week to Russian troops.

“The Russians killed my son,” she said. “Will America help us get rid of the Russians?”

That is a question on the minds of many. But as Kyiv waits for an answer, the Ukrainian military pointed to the sky on Saturday as evidence that it can still cause Moscow pain.

Lt. Gen. Mykola Oleshchuk said on Saturday that a Russian A-50 early warning and control aircraft had been shot down by Ukrainian forces near Yeysk in Russia, some 250 miles from the Ukrainian border.

The claim could not be independently confirmed, but the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington based research group, confirmed that a plane had crashed in the region, saying “Footage posted on February 23 shows a fixed-winged aircraft falling, and geolocated footage shows a significant fire with secondary detonations.”

The A-50, with its distinct circular radar arrays rising from the fuselage, is critical in coordinating aerial Russian bombardments of Ukrainian positions on the front, where its forces have used powerful guided bombs to devastating effect. The loss of two A-50s in recent weeks, military analysts said, would be a significant blow that could help temporarily relieve pressure on the troops at the front.

General Syrsky, who has conceded that Russia has the initiative across the front, said Ukrainian attacks on planes reflected a broader effort to use asymmetric tactics against a far larger enemy.

As part of that campaign, the Ukrainians have also vowed to take the fight to inside Russia itself.

Two years after the Kremlin directed missiles and rockets at cities across Ukraine, Ukrainian intelligence officials said on Saturday they orchestrated a drone assault on one of Russia’s largest steel plants, one that provided raw materials for Russian companies involved in the production of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

Igor Artamonov, the governor of Russia’s Lipetsk region, confirmed that there was a fire at the main plant of Russian metallurgy company, Novolipetsk Steel, and said preliminary reports indicated it was caused by a drone, according a statement he released on Telegram.

Ukraine’s claims could not be independently confirmed.

The Ukrainian military has said such strikes are a central part of its effort to degrade the Kremlin’s military-industrial complex, undermine key industries that finance its war effort and make Russians feel the cost of the war on their territory. But Russia has shown an ability to overcome the effects of sanctions to boost its armaments production.

The Ukrainian drones targeted installations at the plant designed for the primary cooling of raw coke gas, in an effort to halt production at the plant for a prolonged period, according to Ukrainian security officials speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive military operations.

For the Ukrainian soldiers fighting on the front, anything that can degrade the Russian war machine is welcome, but they are under no illusions. The road ahead will be as long as it is likely to be deadly.

“Every anniversary comes with the thought that it should finish,” said Shaman, 40, a battalion commander fighting in eastern Ukraine. “Every year that goes by is another year stolen from us. The time is spent away from your wife and children. All life is on hold.”

Lana Chupryna, 15, has lived most of her life in the shadow of war. On Saturday, she joined other schoolchildren under a bridge in Irpin that was blown up by Ukrainian soldiers desperate to slow the Russian advance on Kyiv in the opening days of the war.

“Feb. 24 was just an ordinary day,” she said of the start of Russia’s invasion. “I was supposed to go to school, but at five in the morning, shelling began. I went to my mom, and she said that war had started.”

She still struggles to understand how her life had been turned upside down, but the memories of those first days, she said, “will remain in my soul, I think, forever.”

Wrapped in a Ukrainian flag, she sang a heartbreaking song written by her mother to the crowd gathered as the river flowed past the wreckage of war all around her.

“My land will never become the land of the strangers,” she sang. “Together with you, I will pass through cannons and smoke.”

Liubov Sholudko contributed reporting from Kyiv, Bucha and Irpin and Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from eastern Ukraine.