Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Ukraine’s armed forces “I am proud of you” and vowed his country would “defeat everyone” as he struggled to hold back tears during a ceremony marking the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
With Kyiv’s green and gold-domed cathedral in the background, Mr Zelensky paid his respects to the thousands killed in the war on Friday morning before awarding the Hero of Ukraine award to troops, including one on crutches.
Another award was given to the mother of a soldier who died at war.
“I want to say to all of you who are fighting for Ukraine … I am proud of you. We all, each and every one, are proud of you!”
Mr Zelenksy cried during the national anthem, while those present, including a small group of dignitaries, bowed their heads as a minute of silence was held in St Sophia Square.
The 45-year-old comedian-turned president, who has been receiving vital military and financial support from the West throughout the war, vowed to not back down as the war in his country rages on. Thousands of civilians have been killed and millions more displaced in the past 12 months, while 100,000 troops on both sides are thought to have either been killed or injured.
Mr Zelensky, who retains huge popularity in Ukraine with his emotive videos taken with his smartphone, released a 15-minute video titled ‘Year of Invincibility’ to mark the anniversary.
“A year ago on this day, from this same place, around seven in the morning, I addressed you with a brief statement, lasting only 67 seconds,” he said, recalling the first day of what has become Europe’s worst conflict since World War Two.
“We are strong. We are ready for anything. We will defeat everyone. This is how it began on 24 February, 2022. The longest day of our lives. The most difficult day in our recent history. We woke up early and haven’t slept since.”
Ukraine’s allies around the world have been marking the anniversary of what Russian President Vladimir Putin called a “special military operation” needed to “denazify” and “demilitarise” the nation. Ukraine and the West claim the invasion was unprovoked.
A statement from Nato allies affirmed “solidarity with the government and people of Ukraine in the heroic defence of their nation, their land, and our shared values.”
“We pay tribute to the lives lost, and we deplore the tragic human suffering and destruction, including of Ukraine’s residential areas and civilian and energy infrastructure, caused by Russia’s illegal war,” it said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country will support Ukraine “as strongly and as long as necessary” on Thursday.
“What impresses us all very much – that is the determination and courage of the Ukrainians, how they defend their freedom,” Mr Scholz said in a video message marking the anniversary. “Germany supports them in this – as strongly and as long as necessary.”
The Eiffel Tour in Paris lit up in yellow and blue, the colours of Ukraine’s flag, on Thursday night.
“There will be a life after this war, because Ukraine will win,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said in a speech.
A gathering was also held in London, where people draped in Ukraine’s flag held their hands to their heart next to a banner reading: “If you stand for freedom, stand for Ukraine”.
On Thursday, activists poured litres of yellow and blue paint outside the Russia’s embassy in London.
The campaign group “Led By Donkeys” halted traffic before spreading more than 300 litres of paint across the road using wheelbarrows and brushes to make the 500 square metre (5382 square feet) flag.
“Ukraine is an independent state and a people with every right to self-determination,” the group said in a statement.
“The existence of a massive Ukrainian flag outside (Mr Putin’s) embassy in London will serve to remind him of that.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK stood side by side outside Downing Street for a national minute of silence at 11 GMT on Friday.
Moving footage showed commuters standing still for the minute at King’s Cross station, one of London’s busiest stations.
A service was held at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in London, where 461 paper angels representing all the children killed in the war in the past year hung from above.
In Australia, the Sydney Opera House lit up blue and yellow in support of Ukraine just as the government in Canberra announced a fresh round of military aid for Kyiv and more sanctions for Russia, local media reported.
In Japan, a candlelit vigil was held at the Osaka Museum of History on Friday night.
In Italy, the Senate said it would illuminate its Palazzo Madama building in the colours of the Ukraine national flag from sunset on Friday to sunrise on Saturday.
Additional reporting by agencies