U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schume
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov, Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy, and Senators Michael Bennet and Maggie Hassan visit the Cemetery of the Defenders in Lviv, Ukraine, on February 23.

At Invasion’s Two-Year Mark, Kyiv And Western Leaders Unite In ‘Clear Message’ To Russia

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrived in Kyiv early on February 24 along with other foreign leaders and dignitaries eager to send a defiant message on the second anniversary of Russia’s launch of its all-out invasion of Ukraine, while Moscow sought to capitalize on its recent gains by announcing a visit by Russia’s defense minister to occupied Ukrainian territory.

Von der Leyen traveled to the Ukrainian capital from Poland by train along with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, according to a statement by the Italian government.

Meloni is scheduled to host a videoconference involving Group of Seven (G7) democracy leaders during which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is expected to encourage ongoing support to beat back Europe’s first full-scale military invasion since World War II.

On her arrival, von der Leyen said alongside a photo of herself on a train platform in Kyiv that she was there to mark the grim anniversary “and to celebrate the extraordinary resistance of the Ukrainian people.”

“More than ever, we stand firmly by Ukraine,” she said, “Financially, economically, militarily, morally…[u]ntil the country is finally free.”

Before arriving in Ukraine, Trudeau shared his Foreign Minister Melanie Joly’s sentiment via X, formerly Twitter, that Canada and its allies were “sending a clear message to [Russia]: Ukraine will not be defeated in the face of Putin’s illegal war.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged in a statement to mark the anniversary that by attacking Ukraine Russia is “also destroying peace in Europe.” He urged Germans and all Europeans to “do even more — so that we can defend ourselves effectively.”

Scholz said that Germany was completely fulfilling its NATO target of 2 percent investment of total economic output into its military for the first time in decades.

The visit comes one day after the United States and European Union announced new rounds of hundreds of sanctions targeting Russia and officials responsible for the war, but with Ukrainian officials desperately pleading with the international community to avoid cutoffs in support or a “depletion of empathy.”

Ukrainians have battled fiercely since a Russian invasion of hundreds of thousands of troops began on February 24, 2022, after Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to cast doubt on Ukrainian nationhood and eventually said Moscow’s goal was the “denazification” and demilitarization of Ukraine’s government.

But it was also the culmination of a land grab that had begun eight years earlier in 2014, when Russia covertly invaded and then annexed Crimea from Ukraine and began intensive support of armed Ukrainian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The United Nations has overwhelmingly voted to back Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty.

WATCH: Current Time correspondents Borys Sachalko, Andriy Kuzakov, and Oleksiy Prodayvod reflect on their wartime experiences together with the cameramen and drivers who form a critical part of their reporting teams.

But a massive assistance package proposed by U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has been blocked primarily by Republicans in Congress.

The European Union managed to pass its own $54 billion aid package for Ukraine earlier this month despite reluctance from member Hungary and talk of Ukraine fatigue.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a recorded statement for the anniversary that “the situation on the battlefield remains extremely serious” and “President Putin’s aim to dominate Ukraine has not changed, and there are no indications that he is preparing for peace. But we must not lose heart.”

Earlier this week, Stoltenberg told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service that the alliance was an advantage that neither Russia nor China could match.

At the UN General Assembly on February 23, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said “Russia’s aim is to destroy Ukraine and they are quite outspoken about it,” adding that “The only reason for this war has been and remains Russia’s denial of Ukraine’s right to exist and its continued colonial conquest.”

Russian forces last week captured the mostly destroyed eastern city of Avdiyivka as remaining Ukrainian troops withdrew amid reported ammunition shortages to hand Moscow its first significant gain of territory in nearly a year.

The Russian military said on February 24 that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited troops in occupied Ukraine in a clear effort to send a message to Ukraine and its defenders, as well as to a Russian public subjected to heavy censorship and punishments for anti-war dissenters as the “special military operation” has ground on.

“Today, in terms of the ratio of forces, the advantage is on our side,” officials quoted Shoigu as telling troops at a Russian command center.

The Russian military further said its troops were on the offensive after having taken Avdiyivka, in the Donetsk region.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy used an interview on the conservative Fox News channel to urge the U.S. Congress to pass a $60 billion aid package to help his country defend itself, saying it is cheaper than the consequences of a Russian victory.

Zelenskiy echoed warnings among Russia’s other neighbors that Putin will push further into Eastern Europe if he conquers Ukraine.

Zelenskiy was speaking from a bombed-out building in the eastern city of Kharkiv with explosions sounding in the background.

“Will Ukraine survive without Congress’s support? Of course. But not all of us,” Zelenskiy said.

The Ukrainian military said it had destroyed a Russian A-50 surveillance aircraft after a new round of Russian drone and missile strikes on several Ukrainian regions on February 23, which if confirmed would mark the loss of the second A-50 in just over a month.

The general appointed recently by Zelenskiy as commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, Oleksandr Syrskiy, said on February 24 that he is “convinced that unity is our victory.”

“It will definitely happen,” he said, “because light always conquers darkness!”

Noting the two-year mark in the invasion, Ukraine’s General Staff asserted that Russia had suffered troop casualties of around 409,000 since February 24, 2022.

Both sides classify casualty figures, and RFE/RL cannot confirm the accuracy of accounts by either side of battlefield developments in areas of heavy fighting or of casualty claims.

With reporting by dpa, AFP, and Reuters

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