China has urged for the end of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – as its foreign ministry called for a cease-fire and peace talks on Thursday.

The communist state said it wants to prevent the crisis from getting out of control, noting that dialogue and negotiation are the only viable ways to resolve the conflict, a position paper from the Chinese foreign ministry released on Friday said.

On the one-year anniversary of Russia invading Ukraine, China called for a comprehensive ceasefire to the fighting and gradually promotes de-escalation and easing of the situation.

‘Conflict and war benefit no one. All parties must stay rational and exercise restraint, avoid fanning the flames and aggravating tensions, and prevent the crisis from deteriorating further or even spiraling out of control,’ the statement said.

The plan issued Friday morning by the Foreign Ministry also urges the end of Western sanctions imposed on Russia, measures to ensure the safety of nuclear facilities, the establishment of humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of civilians, and steps to ensure the export of grain after disruptions caused global food prices to spike. 

The Russian despot smiled as he shook hands with Wang Yi inside the Kremlin yesterday during their impromptu meeting - proudly showcasing his deepening ties with China amid his barbaric invasion of Ukraine

The Russian despot smiled as he shook hands with Wang Yi inside the Kremlin yesterday during their impromptu meeting – proudly showcasing his deepening ties with China amid his barbaric invasion of Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin has set out aims for the second year of the invasion and after a series of speeches in the run up to the anniversary, he announced plans to deploy the new Sarmat multi-warhead intercontinental ballistic missiles this year.

DAILY MAIL COMMENT: Make this Ukraine’s last year of horror 

War, said Leon Trotsky, is the locomotive of history. To make sure it is the West in the driving seat of that locomotive and not Vladimir Putin, Ukraine must be saved.

Thanks to their heroic bravery and the provision of Nato weapons, President Zelensky‘s forces have secured victories few thought possible when Russia launched its unprovoked and barbaric invasion.

But a year on from the unleashing of horrors so recently unthinkable in Europe, the war hangs in the balance. The free world is at a fork in the track.

How the West continues supporting Ukraine is critical. Does it supply just enough weapons for our friends to survive repeated Russian onslaughts, but not enough to win on the battlefield and bring the carnage to an end?

Or do we step up support, sending more tanks, long-range missile systems and, yes, fighter planes, to give Ukraine the wherewithal to push the invaders back?

President Zelensky's forces have secured victories few thought possible when Russia launched its unprovoked and barbaric invasion. Pictured: Ukrainian soldiers help a wounded comrade, Bakhmut, Ukraine, February 20, 2023

President Zelensky’s forces have secured victories few thought possible when Russia launched its unprovoked and barbaric invasion. Pictured: Ukrainian soldiers help a wounded comrade, Bakhmut, Ukraine, February 20, 2023

The answer is obvious. As Boris Johnson, who galvanised the West when other leaders wrung their hands, says pointedly: ‘The world is facing the decisive moment of the early 21st Century.’

There is only one option: To give the Ukrainians all the tools they need to defeat Putin – and give them now. The tyrant cannot be permitted to succeed in his brutal expansionism.

He has proved himself to be a colossal blunderer who’s succeeded in delivering his own worst nightmare. His aggression has united the West, strengthened Nato and reinvigorated liberal democracy.

We should be doing everything in our power to hasten Putin’s defeat, end his atrocities, preserve the global order – and send a warning to other dictators.

A year ago, this column said that Britain had a solemn duty to offer the Ukrainian people our steel and succour. We must continue to do so.

‘Nuclear weapons must not be used and nuclear war cannot be fought,’ the statement said. ‘We oppose development, use of biological and chemical weapons by any country under any circumstances.’

China has claimed to be neutral in the conflict, but it has a ‘no limits’ relationship with Russia and has refused to criticize its invasion of Ukraine over even refer to it as such, while accusing the West of provoking the conflict and ‘fanning the flames’ by providing Ukraine with defensive arms.

Russia and China have increasingly aligned their foreign policies to oppose the U.S.-led liberal international order. 

Foreign Minister Wang Yi reaffirmed the strength of those ties when he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a visit to Moscow this week.

China has also been accused by the U.S. of possibly preparing to provide Russia with military aid, something Beijing says lacks evidence.

Given China’s positions, that throws doubt on whether its 12-point proposal has any hope of going ahead – or whether China is seen as an honest broker.

Before the proposal was released, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called it an important first step. 

‘I think that, in general, the fact that China started talking about peace in Ukraine, I think that it is not bad. It is important for us that all states are on our side, on the side of justice,’ he said at a news conference Friday with Spain’s prime minister.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said earlier Thursday that the U.S. would reserve judgment but that China´s allegiance with Russia meant it was not a neutral mediator. 

‘We would like to see nothing more than a just and durable peace … but we are skeptical that reports of a proposal like this will be a constructive path forward,’ he said.

Price added that the U.S. hopes ‘all countries that have a relationship with Russia unlike the one that we have will use that leverage, will use that influence to push Russia meaningfully and usefully to end this brutal war of aggression. (China) is in a position to do that in ways that we just aren´t.’

The peace proposal mainly elaborated on long-held Chinese positions, including referring to the need that all countries’ ‘sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity be effectively guaranteed.’

It also called an end to the ‘Cold War mentality’ – it’s standard term for what it regards as U.S. hegemony and interference in other countries.

‘A country´s security cannot be at the expense of other countries´ security, and regional security cannot be guaranteed by strengthening or even expanding military blocs,’ the proposal said. ‘

The legitimate security interests and concerns of all countries should be taken seriously and properly addressed.’

China abstained Thursday when the U.N. General Assembly approved a nonbinding resolution that calls for Russia to end hostilities in Ukraine and withdraw its forces. It is one of 16 countries that either voted against or abstained on almost all of five previous resolutions on Ukraine.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during the New Year gathering organized by the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during the New Year gathering organized by the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing

China's deputy United Nations Ambassador Dai Bing address the U.N. General Assembly before a vote for a U.N. resolution upholding Ukraine's territorial integrity and calling for a cessation of hostilities after Russia's invasion

China’s deputy United Nations Ambassador Dai Bing address the U.N. General Assembly before a vote for a U.N. resolution upholding Ukraine’s territorial integrity and calling for a cessation of hostilities after Russia’s invasion

A teenager takes a photo on top of the remains of a Russian tank destroyed at the beginning of the war as the first anniversary of the war between Russia and Ukraine nears in Bucha

A teenager takes a photo on top of the remains of a Russian tank destroyed at the beginning of the war as the first anniversary of the war between Russia and Ukraine nears in Bucha

People hold a candlelight vigil outside of the Russian Consulate to show support for Ukraine on the eve of the one year anniversary

People hold a candlelight vigil outside of the Russian Consulate to show support for Ukraine on the eve of the one year anniversary

Several people held vigil outside the Manhattan consulate

Several people held vigil outside the Manhattan consulate

Signs in English, Russian and Ukrainian all were adorned with signs begging to stop Putin

Signs in English, Russian and Ukrainian all were adorned with signs begging to stop Putin

Protesters against the war in Ukraine stand shoulder to shoulder

Protesters against the war in Ukraine stand shoulder to shoulder

One protester with a sign saying: 'I'm Russian. I stand with Ukraine. Putin is a killer'

One protester with a sign saying: ‘I’m Russian. I stand with Ukraine. Putin is a killer’

A woman looks on as the vigil in Manhattan continues

A woman looks on as the vigil in Manhattan continues

US gives Ukraine an extra $2BILLION in security aid 

The United States will provide Ukraine an additional $2 billion in security assistance, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Thursday.

‘We’re going to continue to look at what is necessary, and make sure that we provide what is necessary that Ukraine has what it needs to succeed on the battlefield,’ Sullivan said at a CNN town hall event, where he announced the additional aid.

He said the G7 nations will announce on Friday a new round of sanctions that will include countries that are trying to backfill products that are denied to Russia because of Ukraine-related sanctions on Moscow.

‘You will see as time goes on the continued erosion of the quality and capacity of the Russian economy, even as Vladimir Putin races to spend money in an effort to prop it up,’ Sullivan said.

 The resolution, drafted by Ukraine in consultation with its allies, passed 141-7 with 32 abstentions, sending a strong message on the eve of the first anniversary of the invasion that appears to leave Russia more isolated than ever.

While China has not been openly critical of Moscow, it has said that the present conflict is ‘not something it wishes to see,’ and has repeatedly said any use of nuclear weapons would be completely unacceptable, in an implied repudiation of Putin´s statement that Russia would use ‘all available means’ to protect its territory.

‘There are no winners in conflict wars,’ the proposal said.

‘All parties should maintain rationality and restraint … support Russia and Ukraine to meet each other, resume direct dialogue as soon as possible, gradually promote the de-escalation and relaxation of the situation, and finally reach a comprehensive ceasefire,’ it said.

Putin met with China’s top diplomat in Moscow yesterday and declared ‘other countries will not influence our relations’ as he doubles down on forging ties with Beijing amid the West’s condemnation of his war in Ukraine.

In a clear sign of his desire to cosy up to the eastern superpower, Putin warmly greeted Wang Yi at the Kremlin today before the pair sat down to talk business face-to-face, mere feet from one another.

It was a stark contrast to Putin’s treatment of other world leaders which has seen the likes of French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban forced to sit at the opposite end of the room, separated by a humungous table.

Even some of the Kremlin’s top insiders, including loyal foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, hapless defence minister Sergei Shoigu and Ukraine war architect Valery Gerasimov are subjected to extreme social distancing – yet Wang was allowed direct contact with the Russian despot.

Putin told Wang, the Chinese Communist Party’s most senior foreign policy official, that he looked forward to President Xi Jinping visiting him in Moscow. 

The Russian President said ties between Russia and Beijing are important to ‘stabilise the international situation’ amid crippling Western sanctions against Moscow in response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago.

The pair insisted that relations between Russia and China could not be influenced by other countries in a two-fingered salute to the West and Ukrainians.

Wang meanwhile told Putin told that Beijing will play a constructive role in reaching a political settlement of the crisis in Ukraine, the TASS news agency reported.

A doll made to look like Vladimir Putin with 'MURDERER' around its neck at the protest

A doll made to look like Vladimir Putin with ‘MURDERER’ around its neck at the protest

People of all ages came to hold vigil

People of all ages came to hold vigil

Even the youngest people came out to call for an end to the war

Even the youngest people came out to call for an end to the war

A woman is brought to tears by the vigil, held ahead of the war's first anniversary

A woman is brought to tears by the vigil, held ahead of the war’s first anniversary

Russians were coming out to support the vigil in Manhattan

Russians were coming out to support the vigil in Manhattan

A protester holds a heart colored in the Ukrainian flag's blue and yellow

A protester holds a heart colored in the Ukrainian flag’s blue and yellow

WHAT IS CHINA’S 12-POINT CEASE-FIRE PROPOSAL? 

 1. Respecting the sovereignty of all countries. 

Universally recognized international law, including the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, must be strictly observed. The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries must be effectively upheld. All countries, big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, are equal members of the international community. All parties should jointly uphold the basic norms governing international relations and defend international fairness and justice. Equal and uniform application of international law should be promoted, while double standards must be rejected.

2. Abandoning the Cold War mentality. 

 The security of a country should not be pursued at the expense of others. The security of a region should not be achieved by strengthening or expanding military blocs. The legitimate security interests and concerns of all countries must be taken seriously and addressed properly. There is no simple solution to a complex issue. All parties should, following the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security and bearing in mind the long-term peace and stability of the world, help forge a balanced, effective and sustainable European security architecture. All parties should oppose the pursuit of one’s own security at the cost of others’ security, prevent bloc confrontation, and work together for peace and stability on the Eurasian Continent. 

3. Ceasing hostilities. 

Conflict and war benefit no one. All parties must stay rational and exercise restraint, avoid fanning the flames and aggravating tensions, and prevent the crisis from deteriorating further or even spiraling out of control. All parties should support Russia and Ukraine in working in the same direction and resuming direct dialogue as quickly as possible, so as to gradually deescalate the situation and ultimately reach a comprehensive ceasefire. 

4. Resuming peace talks. 

Dialogue and negotiation are the only viable solution to the Ukraine crisis. All efforts conducive to the peaceful settlement of the crisis must be encouraged and supported. The international community should stay committed to the right approach of promoting talks for peace, help parties to the conflict open the door to a political settlement as soon as possible, and create conditions and platforms for the resumption of negotiation. China will continue to play a constructive role in this regard. 

5. Resolving the humanitarian crisis. 

All measures conducive to easing the humanitarian crisis must be encouraged and supported. Humanitarian operations should follow the principles of neutrality and impartiality, and humanitarian issues should not be politicized. The safety of civilians must be effectively protected, and humanitarian corridors should be set up for the evacuation of civilians from conflict zones. Efforts are needed to increase humanitarian assistance to relevant areas, improve humanitarian conditions, and provide rapid, safe and unimpeded humanitarian access, with a view to preventing a humanitarian crisis on a larger scale. The UN should be supported in playing a coordinating role in channeling humanitarian aid to conflict zones. 

6. Protecting civilians and prisoners of war (POWs). 

Parties to the conflict should strictly abide by international humanitarian law, avoid attacking civilians or civilian facilities, protect women, children and other victims of the conflict, and respect the basic rights of POWs. China supports the exchange of POWs between Russia and Ukraine, and calls on all parties to create more favorable conditions for this purpose. 

7. Keeping nuclear power plants safe. 

China opposes armed attacks against nuclear power plants or other peaceful nuclear facilities, and calls on all parties to comply with international law including the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS) and resolutely avoid man-made nuclear accidents. China supports the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in playing a constructive role in promoting the safety and security of peaceful nuclear facilities.

8. Reducing strategic risks. 

 Nuclear weapons must not be used and nuclear wars must not be fought. The threat or use of nuclear weapons should be opposed. Nuclear proliferation must be prevented and nuclear crisis avoided. China opposes the research, development and use of chemical and biological weapons by any country under any circumstances.

9. Facilitating grain exports. 

All parties need to implement the Black Sea Grain Initiative signed by Russia, Türkiye, Ukraine and the UN fully and effectively in a balanced manner, and support the UN in playing an important role in this regard. The cooperation initiative on global food security proposed by China provides a feasible solution to the global food crisis.

10. Stopping unilateral sanctions.

 Unilateral sanctions and maximum pressure cannot solve the issue; they only create new problems. China opposes unilateral sanctions unauthorized by the UN Security Council. Relevant countries should stop abusing unilateral sanctions and “long-arm jurisdiction” against other countries, so as to do their share in deescalating the Ukraine crisis and create conditions for developing countries to grow their economies and better the lives of their people.

11. Keeping industrial and supply chains stable. 

All parties should earnestly maintain the existing world economic system and oppose using the world economy as a tool or weapon for political purposes. Joint efforts are needed to mitigate the spillovers of the crisis and prevent it from disrupting international cooperation in energy, finance, food trade and transportation and undermining the global economic recovery.

12. Promoting post-conflict reconstruction. 

The international community needs to take measures to support post-conflict reconstruction in conflict zones. China stands ready to provide assistance and play a constructive role in this endeavor.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China 

‘Before the war, we saw Russians alive. Now we only see them dead’: IAN BIRRELL spends two frozen days dug in with a heavy gun unit in Ukraine… read his vivid dispatch and you’ll almost feel the earth shake beneath your feet

The Ukrainian soldiers were hiding among the trees and buried in hobbit-like holes beneath the snow. But the Russian drones were still buzzing overhead.

Over the past two days, the troops had managed to shoot down six of these aircraft — often packed with explosives. The team’s medic offered me a set of wings as a souvenir.

Shells were also landing in this wooded encampment by the frontline. Three men had been wounded by shrapnel and the back wheels off a lorry had been blown off.

Several trees bore the scars of war, with splintered trunks and branches ripped off. ‘Now we have lots of wood for the fire,’ joked one soldier, wearing a fleece over his camouflage gear.

But then, soon after breakfast on Monday, an enemy drone evaded all their efforts to bring it down and it dropped a bomb directly onto one of the Ukrainians’ precious U.S.-made howitzers. The long barrel was ripped open near the base, the targeting mechanism ruined — so after one week in this frontline position, firing up to 150 rounds a day, the unit hastily moved two miles away to protect their remaining two field guns.

The Team's medic showed a set of Russian wings of the drone they have hit early in the morning that day

The Team’s medic showed a set of Russian wings of the drone they have hit early in the morning that day

The only way for Ukrainians to escape the Russian drone or winter cold is to hide in the dugout

The only way for Ukrainians to escape the Russian drone or winter cold is to hide in the dugout

Over the past year of Vladimir Putin¿s war, they have swept more than 100 miles east, from Ukraine¿s second city of Kharkiv to their current position attacking enemy forces in occupied Luhansk

Over the past year of Vladimir Putin’s war, they have swept more than 100 miles east, from Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv to their current position attacking enemy forces in occupied Luhansk 

The war in Ukraine has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands and displaced millions more

The war in Ukraine has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands and displaced millions more

‘It’s difficult to relocate all the time and dig new dugouts in this solid winter ground,’ admitted Vitaly, their 23-year-old commander, as his men packed up their few possessions and the ammunition scattered around us in the snow and mud.

‘Now we need to move again. Go to the new place, dig new dugouts. We’ll try to move closer, to reach the enemy with our shells. We can target anything: tanks, infantry, drones. Sometimes we know the results, but not often.’

Earlier this week, I spent two days with the 76 soldiers in this Ukrainian artillery team. Over the past year of Vladimir Putin’s war, they have swept more than 100 miles east, from Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv to their current position attacking enemy forces in occupied Luhansk.

Distant explosions — the drumbeat of battle — echoed around the frozen landscape. At one point, while we were speaking, the men suddenly went silent. ‘You need constantly to listen to the surroundings. Where do the sounds come from?’ one told me later.

Earlier this week, I spent two days with the 76 soldiers in this Ukrainian artillery team

Earlier this week, I spent two days with the 76 soldiers in this Ukrainian artillery team

Distant explosions ¿ the drumbeat of battle ¿ echoed around the frozen landscape. At one point, while we were speaking, the men suddenly went silent. 'You need constantly to listen to the surroundings. Where do the sounds come from?' one told me later

Distant explosions — the drumbeat of battle — echoed around the frozen landscape. At one point, while we were speaking, the men suddenly went silent. ‘You need constantly to listen to the surroundings. Where do the sounds come from?’ one told me later

Several trees bore the scars of war with splintered trunks and branches ripped off. 'Now we have lots of wood for the fire,' joked one man

Several trees bore the scars of war with splintered trunks and branches ripped off. ‘Now we have lots of wood for the fire,’ joked one man

On the first day, thick snow fell. The next, it turned to slush and mud. My hands froze on both days as a biting wind whipped over fields of unharvested sunflowers, their blackened heads drooping as if in mourning for this terrible war.

On the stove in the makeshift kitchen, a pan had been filled with snow, which was being melted for water. One middle-aged soldier told me how he wished he was back home. ‘I’m from Odesa and it’s 4C there,’ he said.

Yet for this band of Ukrainian brothers, there was no rest from their relentless mission to move, dig fresh bunkers, fire at their Russian foes and then move on again. ‘It’s a war, so what can you do?’ said one. ‘It feels like eternal migration with digging.’

We stopped at a field hospital to deliver medicine and clean clothes to the unit's men hurt in recent shelling

We stopped at a field hospital to deliver medicine and clean clothes to the unit’s men hurt in recent shelling

The men have a loathing of the Russian invasion and a fierce desire for freedom

 The men have a loathing of the Russian invasion and a fierce desire for freedom

With two volunteers, I drove to their frontline position — about 20 miles from the recaptured town of Kupiansk, now coming under heavy Russian bombardment. They were delivering a generator, along with supplies of food, toilet paper and wet wipes.

Our journey was complicated: many bridges have been destroyed and a dam blown up. At the edge of one broken crossing I saw five men fishing through the thick ice below.

We stopped at a field hospital to deliver medicine and clean clothes to the unit’s men hurt in recent shelling. A young soldier collected them, his discoloured fingers sticking out of a bandaged arm as he showed us a wound on the back of his head.

Little wonder the troops enduring such challenging conditions on the frontline all said they were motivated by patriotism and a desperate desire to protect their people

Little wonder the troops enduring such challenging conditions on the frontline all said they were motivated by patriotism and a desperate desire to protect their people

For this band of Ukrainian brothers, there was no rest from their relentless mission to move, dig fresh bunkers, fire at their Russian foes and then move on again. 'It's a war, so what can you do?' said one. 'It feels like eternal migration with digging'

For this band of Ukrainian brothers, there was no rest from their relentless mission to move, dig fresh bunkers, fire at their Russian foes and then move on again. ‘It’s a war, so what can you do?’ said one. ‘It feels like eternal migration with digging’

It was a bleak place in winter: desolate-looking villages studding the open, flat fields ¿ many filled with mines ¿ and fringed with straggly lines of trees. Inside one such thicket, we found our battery

It was a bleak place in winter: desolate-looking villages studding the open, flat fields — many filled with mines — and fringed with straggly lines of trees. Inside one such thicket, we found our battery

Then, as we turned off the icy track and crossed snowy fields to our destination, we passed two self-propelled artillery that had been crunched into piles of burnt and twisted metal. ‘They’re ours,’ said Andriy, one of the volunteers.

It was a bleak place in winter: desolate-looking villages studding the open, flat fields — many filled with mines — and fringed with straggly lines of trees. Inside one such thicket, we found our battery.

After we parked the car, I came across a soldier digging out a new bunker. Even the commander, who joined a military academy in his teens and took charge of the unit five months ago, told me he dug out his own holes in the ground for survival.

The artillery team is hidden in trees beside frozen fields as they search for the enemy

The artillery team is hidden in trees beside frozen fields as they search for the enemy

¿These are antiques,¿ said Mykhailo, 41, a businessman before mobilisation last June and another of the commanders

‘These are antiques,’ said Mykhailo, 41, a businessman before mobilisation last June and another of the commanders

The men explained how they use a small bit of explosive to blow off frozen topsoil. Then, after hollowing out their burrows in the earth, they cover the roof with chopped logs, cardboard wrapping from shells, sheets of plastic and finally soil.

‘If you want to live, you need to dig,’ said Ivan, 37, a father of two young children who first joined the army eight years ago. ‘I’m a good digger since I’m a builder. If I had to choose between a spade and a gun, I’d definitely chose the spade.’

Yet he admitted their nomadic lifestyle was tough. ‘You just settle down, build a little kitchen, dig the dugouts and suddenly need to leave. You can’t really get used to it.’

He has been unable to visit his family for five months. ‘My wife misses me so much, she wants me home. I call her every day,’ he said. ‘It’s good that it’s not 1943 when you had to write letters to your family —at least we can talk with video.’

Ivan admitted he was lucky to survive the latest attack, since he was close to the targeted howitzer. ‘When it hit us, I’d gone for a cigarette in the dugout,’ he said. ‘So you see, smoking can actually save your life.’

A former infantryman, this soldier admitted it was easier in the artillery since they did not actually see the Russians. ‘Mentally, it’s much tougher in the infantry. You need to kill people face-to-face, but here you just shoot and don’t see anybody.’ Or as one of his comrades later put it: ‘Before the war, we saw Russians alive. After the war, we only see them dead.’

Walking between the trees, I saw men chopping wood for fires. Piles of logs had been cut with chainsaws. It looked almost like a forestry encampment — apart from the clusters of unfired shells and snouts of artillery sticking out from under netting.

Chimneys poked through the snow, puffing smoke. Descending some roughly hewn steps, I found a burrow for eight troops that was surprisingly warm. ‘We have food, internet, water — who could ask for anything more?’ said one soldier, laughing.

¿It¿s difficult to relocate all the time and dig new dugouts in this solid winter ground,¿ admitted Vitaly, their 23-year-old commander, as his men packed up their few possessions and the ammunition scattered around us in the snow and mud

‘It’s difficult to relocate all the time and dig new dugouts in this solid winter ground,’ admitted Vitaly, their 23-year-old commander, as his men packed up their few possessions and the ammunition scattered around us in the snow and mud

Before the war, this man — also the father of a young child — made heating briquettes. But he was mobilised after the full-scale invasion. ‘When the heavy hitting starts, we hide here in the dugout,’ he said. ‘But we always have the feeling of danger.’

Earlier, I met an infantryman who told me his comrades had been facing more confrontations with enemy sabotage and reconnaissance units in recent weeks. He presumed this was ahead of the anticipated Russian offensive. ‘They’re coming closer, sneaking for weak points to break through. We’re in woods, so the fights can be very tight over 30 or 40 metres,’ he told me.

In this war, artillery has become strategically vital, after an era of U.S.-led conflicts in which control of the skies rendered shelling on the ground less effective.

‘Artillery was the dominant weapon on the battlefields of both the First and Second World Wars, but then it played a lesser role in Vietnam and Iraq,’ said Phillips O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at St Andrews University in Scotland.

The Ukrainian soldiers said while they had enough shorter-range shells, which can travel about five miles, they were down to just nine longer-range ones that can hit both targets 25 miles away and anti-aircraft defences

The Ukrainian soldiers said while they had enough shorter-range shells, which can travel about five miles, they were down to just nine longer-range ones that can hit both targets 25 miles away and anti-aircraft defences

‘But in this war, neither side controls the air, tanks seem so vulnerable and moving forward so difficult. This means that artillery has become more significant and the artillery duel is hugely important.’

But Vitaly, the impressive young commander of one of Ukraine’s biggest batteries, said his troops lacked sufficient artillery after suffering ‘lots of losses’ to Russia’s Lancets, a sophisticated new ‘loitering’ drone with a range of 25 miles. ‘We would like Great Britain to send us more weapons,’ he told me.

Later, their quartermaster explained how they started the war using Soviet-made Giatsints, which were heavier, harder to calibrate but tougher than their U.S.-made Excaliburs. ‘You can beat them with a hammer and they’d still work,’ said Anton.

‘With the American ones, you must care more for them, which is difficult in these conditions. The Excaliburs can shoot four times a minute while the Giatsints go six or seven times a minute. But of course, the American ones are better.’

Other soldiers said many of their donated shells were very old, showing me pictures of an American missile dated 1958 — when Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House and Elvis Presley had released Jailhouse Rock.

‘These are antiques,’ said Mykhailo, 41, a businessman before mobilisation last June and another of the commanders. ‘But the problem is not the age of the weapons but the range of shooting. The older weapons are short-range. We have to move close and become like the infantry — and the closer we go, the more dangerous it is. It is like a suicide mission. When we go so close, even the mortar can reach us.’

The Ukrainian soldiers said while they had enough shorter-range shells, which can travel about five miles, they were down to just nine longer-range ones that can hit both targets 25 miles away and anti-aircraft defences.

Many of the men told me they had lost friends fighting in this war and all admitted to being scared at times. ‘We’re humans, after all,’ said one.

When we left, the volunteers gave a lift back to Kharkiv to a soldier who was bunking off for the night after being refused permission to see his pregnant wife. He bought her a big bunch of flowers and a teddy bear in the national colours of blue and yellow.

These volunteers — working out of a cafe that’s been turned into a field kitchen churning out 1,500 meals a day — have followed this unit on its advance in the region, visiting the men up to three times a week with supplies to keep up morale.

Among the chefs peeling mountains of beetroot, potatoes and onions, I found one man who had served in Russia’s army during its brutal war in Chechnya, which was infamous for atrocities.

On the stove in the makeshift kitchen, a pan had been filled with snow, which was being melted for water

On the stove in the makeshift kitchen, a pan had been filled with snow, which was being melted for water

Even the commander, who joined a military academy in his teens and took charge of the unit five months ago, told me he dug out his own holes in the ground for survival

Even the commander, who joined a military academy in his teens and took charge of the unit five months ago, told me he dug out his own holes in the ground for survival

‘I knew what would happen if they came here,’ said Adalyat Vezirov, 47, a builder originally from Azerbaijan. ‘I heard what the soldiers talked about when they went there, hearing about lots of murder and raping. I knew it would be the same here.’

Little wonder the troops enduring such challenging conditions on the frontline all said they were motivated by patriotism and a desperate desire to protect their people, fused with loathing of the Russian invasion and a fierce desire for freedom.

‘I don’t hate Russians — I just want them to disappear from the political map,’ said one. ‘My conscience is clear. I’m defending my country and my family. I am fighting for freedom.’

Yet Anton, the 29-year-old quartermaster from Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, underscored the strange complexities of this epochal conflict. As we sat in an underground burrow on the frontline, he told me how his Russian-speaking grandmother so inspired him to love Ukraine with its traditional poetry that he joined the pro-democracy protests that sparked Russia’s attack on Crimea in 2014.

Yet, at the same time, his own mother misses the Soviet Union and admires the despotic Putin.

‘We have lots of conflicts since I’m a patriot and she is pro-Russian,’ he said. ‘Now she doesn’t know what to think. She tells me ‘it is most important that you stay alive, all the rest is nothing.’

He added with a shrug that he had become so used to the conditions that if the war dragged on for many years, ‘maybe I will even miss it’.

Then came the successful drone attack — and the dutiful men in this artillery battery packed up their missiles. They moved on with their guns to dig a fresh warren of survival holes in another freezing stretch of woodland on the frontline of this terrible war. 

Additional reporting: Dzvinka Pinchuk

‘Freedom for Ukraine’: Dame Helen Mirren leads Trafalgar Square vigil tonight on the anniversary of Putin’s invasion as the world goes blue and yellow to highlight the plight

Dame Helen Mirren has led a vigil marking the one-year anniversary of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.

Deranged despot Vladimir Putin‘s Russian army invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, starting a war in Europe that has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and forced millions to flee their homes.

Ukraine’s allies across the world marked the eve of the anniversary in a show of strength against Moscow’s illegal invasion, which has led to copious allegations of war crimes by Russian soldiers. 

On Thursday evening the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to demand Russia ‘immediately’ and ‘unconditionally’ withdraw its troops from Ukraine and called for a ‘just and lasting’ peace.

In London, Oscar-winning actress Mirren recited a Ukrainian poem as she addressed the crowds in Trafalgar Square today.

Helen Mirren led a vigil on Thursday marking the one-year anniversary of Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine

Helen Mirren has led a vigil marking the one-year anniversary of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine 

Hundreds of people gathered to show their support for the people of Ukraine, who have battled heroically against the illegal Russian invaders

Hundreds of people gathered to show their support for the people of Ukraine, who have battled heroically against the illegal Russian invaders

People were visibly emotional during the vigil in Trafalgar Square in central London on Thursday evening

People were visibly emotional during the vigil in Trafalgar Square in central London on Thursday evening

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace also spoke at the vigil, which was called United With Ukraine

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace also spoke at the vigil, which was called United With Ukraine

The Minister was seen talking to Oscar-winning actress Mirren during the moving vigil

The Minister was seen talking to Oscar-winning actress Mirren during the moving vigil

Mirren raised a gloved hand to her eye during the vigil United With Ukraine on Thursday evening as she spoke with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace

Mirren raised a gloved hand to her eye during the vigil United With Ukraine on Thursday evening

A woman and her daughter stand as they listen to a prayer for fallen soldiers at Lviv cemetery, western Ukraine, on Thursday. Family members gathered at the military cemetery in Lviv for a "lights of memory" event to honor those who died fighting the Russians

A woman and her daughter stand as they listen to a prayer for fallen soldiers at Lviv cemetery, western Ukraine, on Thursday. Family members gathered at the military cemetery in Lviv for a ‘lights of memory’ event to honor those who died fighting the Russians

In Paris the Eiffel Tower was illuminated in the colors of the Ukrainian flag to mark the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine

In Paris the Eiffel Tower was illuminated in the colors of the Ukrainian flag to mark the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine

A giant peace sign was formed with candles in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin marking the anniversary of deranged despot Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine a year ago

A giant peace sign was formed with candles in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin marking the anniversary of deranged despot Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago

She read out the English translation of Take Only What Is Most Important by Serhiy Zhadan. 

The poem included the line: ‘You will not return and friends will never come back.’

At the end of the recitation, Mirren added: ‘But I think you will be back.’

She said: ‘Peace for Ukraine, democracy for Ukraine and freedom for Ukraine.’

At the same vigil, US ambassador Jane Hartley told the crowd that the event is a reminder the US and the UK will ‘always stand by our friends in Ukraine’.

A woman looks on as she attend a vigil in Trafalgar Square, central London, on February 23, 2023

A woman looks on as she attend a vigil in Trafalgar Square, central London, on February 23, 2023

Two men and a woman, each wrapped in the Ukrainian flag, attend the vigil in Trafalgar Square

Two men and a woman, each wrapped in the Ukrainian flag, attend the vigil in Trafalgar Square

A woman with a tiara of roses appeared to have tears in her eyes as she listened to the vigil in London

A woman with a tiara of roses appeared to have tears in her eyes as she listened to the vigil in London

Throughout the evening there were moments of contemplation for many people attending

Throughout the evening there were moments of contemplation for many people attending

Although the vigil had its sombre moments, there was still time for Brits to show their rapturous support for the UK's ally Ukraine

Although the vigil had its sombre moments, there was still time for Brits to show their rapturous support for the UK’s ally Ukraine

She said: ‘It’s been one year since Russia invaded Ukraine — a shocking and brutal act committed by a remorseless tyrant.

‘Through this entire war the Ukrainian people have shown the world their strength and incredible courage.

‘That’s what Putin underestimated all along.’

US ambassador Jane Hartley told the crowd that the event is a reminder the US and the UK will 'always stand by our friends in Ukraine'

US ambassador Jane Hartley told the crowd that the event is a reminder the US and the UK will ‘always stand by our friends in Ukraine’

Londoners wrapped up warm, with many having the Ukrainian flag around their shoulders, as they attended the vigil

Londoners wrapped up warm, with many having the Ukrainian flag around their shoulders, as they attended the vigil

People waved Ukrainian flags as they listened to speakers including Dame Helen Mirren

People waved Ukrainian flags as they listened to speakers including Dame Helen Mirren

She added: ‘Blinded by arrogance, Putin believed the Ukrainian army was weak. 

‘He believed that the international community would look the other way. 

‘He believed that the war would be over in days. Well, how wrong was he?’

The Eiffel Tower was illuminated in the colours of the Ukrainian flag, blue and yellow, in a show of French support

The Eiffel Tower was illuminated in the colours of the Ukrainian flag, blue and yellow, in a show of French support

Meanwhile, similar support was shown in Brussels, Belgium, where charity workers placed children's toys and candles in front of a sign reading 'Justice For Ukraine'

Meanwhile, similar support was shown in Brussels, Belgium, where charity workers placed children’s toys and candles in front of a sign reading ‘Justice For Ukraine’

Teddy bears and toys, representing children abducted during the war in Ukraine, are seen on the ground during an event organised by Avaaz NGO and Ukranian refugees at the Rond-point Schuman in Brussels

Teddy bears and toys, representing children abducted during the war in Ukraine, are seen on the ground during an event organised by Avaaz NGO and Ukranian refugees at the Rond-point Schuman in Brussels 

The Europa, headquarter of the EU Council is lighted with an Ukrainian flag for the anniversary

The Europa, headquarter of the EU Council is lighted with an Ukrainian flag for the anniversary

A light installation by Swiss artist Gerry Hofstetter is projected on the National Opera House of Ukraine in Kyiv on February 23

A light installation by Swiss artist Gerry Hofstetter is projected on the National Opera House of Ukraine in Kyiv on February 23

Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost already in the war that has raged for a year in Ukraine

Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost already in the war that has raged for a year in Ukraine

More than 10 million people have been forced to flee their homes after Putin and his Russian army's invasion

More than 10 million people have been forced to flee their homes after Putin and his Russian army’s invasion

However, Ukrainian President Zelensky’s wife Olena said Ukraine will not be commemorating the first anniversary of the Russian invasion but a year of successful resistance.

Remotely addressing an anniversary event in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Thursday evening, she said Ukraine had suffered ‘a year of hell.’

She said: ‘A year of full-scale war is a terrible date to mark. Because it is a year of attack, aggression, and murders.

‘Today we are not commemorating a year of war, but we are celebrating a year of resistance to aggression, a year of courage, a year of mutual assistance and rescue of each other, a year of humanity, and a year of friendship.

‘I am sure that soon we will be able to share with you the most valuable thing: the victory.’

The event in Vilnius was attended by several dozen Ukrainian refugees, mostly women and children, and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda.

Viktoriia Dolbitseva, 54, a refugee from Kharkiv now living in Vilnius, said: ‘It’s a year of horror that we have all experienced.   

‘The next year will definitely be victorious.’

Ukraine's central bank marked the invasion anniversary by issuing a new banknote commemorating resistance in the war

Ukraine’s central bank marked the invasion anniversary by issuing a new banknote commemorating resistance in the war

One side depicted three soldiers raising the national flag while a person's bound hands are on the opposite side

One side depicted three soldiers raising the national flag while a person’s bound hands are on the opposite side

Maria Kolomiets, 43, another Ukrainian from Kharkiv, now living in Wroclaw, said: ‘Where horror is happening, alongside it, humanity is revealing itself. 

‘It is really incredible. I saw how ordinary people become heroes because they had no other choice.’ 

Ukraine’s central bank marked the invasion anniversary by issuing a new banknote commemorating resistance in the war, with one side depicting three soldiers raising the national flag.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday expressed confidence in his country’s victory over invading Russian forces as fears mounted of strikes on the war’s first anniversary.

The war has seen Western leaders step up their support for Kyiv, and on Thursday, the eve of the anniversary, G7 ministers discussed new sanctions on Russia as the UN General Assembly prepared to vote on a motion calling for ‘lasting’ peace.

Despot Vladimir Putin laid flowers at a memorial to the Hero Cities of the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany, by the Kremlin Wall on the Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow today

Despot Vladimir Putin laid flowers at a memorial to the Hero Cities of the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany, by the Kremlin Wall on the Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow today

A boy watches fireworks standing at a gun installed at the Artillery museum during the national celebration of "Defender of the Fatherland Day" in St. Petersburg on Thursday

A boy watches fireworks standing at a gun installed at the Artillery museum during the national celebration of ‘Defender of the Fatherland Day’ in St. Petersburg on Thursday

Putin and his Russian generals have told the people of Russia that the invasion was to fight Nazism in Europe

Putin and his Russian generals have told the people of Russia that the invasion was to fight Nazism in Europe

Fireworks illuminate the sky over Moscow's University building, in Moscow. Meanwhile, 620 miles away in Ukraine, many are preparing for a Russian missile strike expected tomorrow

Fireworks illuminate the sky over Moscow’s University building, in Moscow. Meanwhile, 620 miles away in Ukraine, many are preparing for a Russian missile strike expected tomorrow 

Fireworks burst behind cathedrals of the Novodevichy Convent during an event marking Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow on February 23

Fireworks burst behind cathedrals of the Novodevichy Convent during an event marking Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow on February 23

In the UN General Assembly this evening, 141 members voted in favor of a resolution, that reaffirmed support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, seven opposed it, and 32 abstained, including China and India. 

Meanwhile, the White House said the United States will announce ‘sweeping’ new sanctions.

Zelensky vowed to keep up the fight as Ukraine prepared to mark one year since the invasion on Friday.

‘We have not broken down, we have overcome many ordeals and we will prevail,’ Zelensky said on social media.

‘We will hold to account all those who brought this evil, this war to our land.’

In the capital Kyiv, which saw Russian troops at its doorstep at the start of the invasion last February and relentless attacks on energy infrastructure since, residents remained defiant.

‘This has been the most difficult year of my life and that of all Ukrainians,’ said Diana Shestakova, 23, whose boyfriend has spent the last year away in the army.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country's 'unbreakable unity is the key to our victory'

Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country’s ‘unbreakable unity is the key to our victory’ 

Yesterday Russians waved national flags during the ''Glory to the Defenders of the Fatherland'' concert waiting for Russian President Vladimir Putin, a day before the Defender of the Fatherland Day, a holiday honouring Russia's armed forces at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow

Yesterday Russians waved national flags during the ”Glory to the Defenders of the Fatherland” concert waiting for Russian President Vladimir Putin, a day before the Defender of the Fatherland Day, a holiday honouring Russia’s armed forces at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, addresses the crowd during the ''Glory to the Defenders of the Fatherland'' concert

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, addresses the crowd during the ”Glory to the Defenders of the Fatherland” concert

‘I am sure that we will be victorious, but we don’t know how long we will have to wait and how many victims there are still to come,’ said Shestakova, who works for a publishing house.

Ukraine’s military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov warned that Russia was planning a missile attack on Friday to mark the first year of the war.

In Moscow, crazed tyrant Vladimir Putin promised victory as he laid flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before meeting soldiers in Red Square under blue skies and brisk temperatures.

He said Russia’s ‘unbreakable unity is the key to our victory.’ 

The year-long conflict has devastated swathes of Ukraine and turned Russia into a pariah in the West.

G7 finance ministers met in Bengaluru, India, to discuss further sanctions and more financial aid for Ukraine.

The G7 said that for 2023, based on Ukraine’s needs, it had increased its commitment of budget and economic support to $39billion.

It said sanctions so far have ‘significantly undermined Russia’s capacity to wage its illegal war’ and the G7 would ‘take further actions as needed’.

The United States and its G7 allies plan to unveil ‘a big new package of sanctions’ around the anniversary, including measures to crack down on the evasion of existing sanctions, a senior US official said.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said: ‘The United States will implement sweeping sanctions against key sectors that generate revenue for Putin.’

The latest Western leader to visit the Ukrainian capital, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, said he hoped to send up to ten Leopard tanks to Ukraine in the coming months.

After months of hesitation European countries agreed in January to send battle tanks to Ukraine to help force back Russian forces.

Russia has denounced the growing arms deliveries to Ukraine, saying they only lead to escalation.

Russian Defence chief Sergei Shoigu accused the West of ‘using Ukraine [as it] is seeking to dismember Russia, to deprive it of independence’.



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