Politics

European Leaders Flock to Ukraine on Two Year Anniversary of Invasion

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Western leaders descended on Kyiv Saturday to mark the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen traveled overnight to Kyiv by train along with Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

They arrived shortly after a Russian drone attack struck a residential building in the southern city of Odesa, killing at least one person. Three women also sustained severe burns in the attack Friday evening on a residential building, regional Governor Oleh Kiper said on his social media account. Rescue services are still combing rubble looking for survivors.

The foreign leaders are in Ukraine to express solidarity as Ukrainian forces run low on ammunition and weaponry and Western aid hangs in the balance.

“More than ever we stand firmly by Ukraine. Financially, economically, militarily, morally. Until the country is finally free,” von der Leyen said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, after she arrived in Kyiv.

Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, Italy Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky, European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen and Prime Minister Alexander De Croo pictured during a joint meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday 24 February 2024. BELGA PHOTO BENOIT DOPPAGNE (Photo by BENOIT DOPPAGNE / BELGA MAG / Belga via AFP) (Photo by BENOIT DOPPAGNE/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

But, at the front line in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian soldiers pleaded for ammunition.

“When the enemy comes in, a lot of our guys die. … We are sitting here with nothing, said Volodymyr, 27, a senior officer in an artillery battery.

“In order to protect our infantry … we need a high number of shells, which we do not have now,” said Oleksandr, 45, commander of artillery unit.

The war has also come to Russia. Drones hit a steel plant in the Lipetsk region in southern Russia Saturday, causing a large fire, regional governor Igor Artamonov said, adding there are no casualties. Independent Russian media said the Novolipetsk Metallurgical Plant is the largest steel plant in Russia. Videos shared on Russian social media showed several fires burning at the plant, and an explosion could be heard.

Independent Russian news outlet Mediazona said Saturday that around 75,000 Russian men died in 2022 and 2023 fighting in the war.

Working with journalists from other outlets, it said the rate of Russia’s losses in Ukraine is not slowing and that Moscow is losing around 120 men a day. Based on a statistical analysis of the recorded deaths of soldiers compared with a Russian inheritance database, the journalists said around 83,000 soldiers are likely to have died by Saturday, the second anniversary of the full scale invasion.

According to Mediazona’s analysis, regular Russian troops sustained the heaviest losses in the first months of the war. But, after prisoners were offered their freedom in exchange for fighting and after President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization, those groups started to sustain more casualties, particularly in the early months of 2023.

A somber mood hangs over Ukraine as the war against Russia enters its third year and Kyiv’s troops face mounting challenges on the front line amid dwindling ammunition supplies and personnel challenges. Its troops recently withdrew from the strategic eastern city of Avdiivka, handing Moscow one of its biggest victories.

Earlier this month, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fired top military commander Valerii Zaluzhnyi, replacing him with Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, marking the most significant shakeup of top brass since the full-scale invasion.

Russia still controls roughly a quarter of the country after Ukraine failed to make any major breakthroughs with its summertime counteroffensive. Meanwhile, millions of Ukrainians continue to live in precarious circumstances in the crossfire of battles, and many others face constant struggles under Russian occupation. Most are waiting for a Ukrainian liberation that hasn’t come.

Olena Zelenska, wife of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Saturday that more than 2 million Ukrainian children have left the country since the war began and that at least 528 have been killed. “The war started by Russia deliberately targets children,” she said.

In the U.S. Congress, Republicans have stalled $60 billion in military aid for Kyiv, desperately needed in the short term. The EU recently approved a 50 billion-euro (about $54 billion) aid package for Ukraine meant to support Ukraine’s economy, despite resistance from Hungary.

U.S. President Joe Biden tied the loss of the defensive stronghold of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region after months of grueling battles to the stalled U.S. aid. Fears have since spiked that Ukrainian forces will face similar difficulties across other parts of the 1000-kilometer (620-mile) front line as they come under mounting pressure from Russian assaults.

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