Leaders 'stand firmly' with Ukraine as they travel to Kyiv to mark anniversary of war

Civilians, leaders and UK politicians have marked the Ukraine war's second anniversary, as ITV News' Neil Connery reports

Western leaders have descended on Kyiv to mark the second anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni joined others in travelling to Kyiv by train on Friday night.

The foreign leaders were in Ukraine to express solidarity with the country, while prime minister Rishi Sunak said the UK would back Kyiv "until they prevail" and King Charles praised Ukraine's "determination and strength".

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s troops continue to defend the country against Vladimir Putin's Russia, but Ukrainian forces are running low on ammunition and weaponry.

At the front line in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, Volodymyr, 27, a senior officer in an artillery battery, said: “When the enemy comes in, a lot of our guys die. We are sitting here with nothing."

US President Joe Biden hit Russia with more than 500 sanctions on Friday, having pledged a response to his Russian counterpart's "brutal war of conquest", and in the wake of prominent Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny's death.

However, defence secretary Grant Shapps has called on the US to also pass a $60 billion aid package which has stalled in Congress.

Attacks continue as war enters third year

Ukrainian troops recently withdrew from the strategic eastern city of Avdiivka, handing Moscow one of its biggest victories, while on Friday evening, 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, regional Governor Oleh Kiper said on his social media account, as rescue services comb the rubble looking for survivors.

Arriving in Kyiv following news of the attack, von der Leyen said in a post on X: “More than ever we stand firmly by Ukraine. Financially, economically, militarily, morally. Until the country is finally free."

Russian invasions and strikes on Mariupol, Ukraine, came at the start of the war two years ago. Credit: AP

Russia still controls roughly a quarter of the country after Ukraine failed to make any major breakthroughs with its summertime counteroffensive.

Olena Zelenska, wife of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said on Saturday that more than two 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.

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

Defence secretary Grant Shapps said Putin was a 'despotic' leader. Credit: PA

Shapps: We're right behind Ukraine

The UK has pledged to invest £245 million in producing artillery shells for Ukraine and £8.5 million in humanitarian funding as the conflict enters its third year.

On Saturday, Grant Shapps, defence secretary, said: "Putin cannot be allowed to walk in, invade a democratic neighbour and be rewarded for doing so.

"As far as the United Kingdom is concerned, we will be with them right through to the very end.

"I’m not going to in any way, shape or form put pressure on Ukraine to say ‘why don’t you give up some of your land’ to a despotic leader in Putin, who thinks nothing of murdering his opponents which we’ve seen in the last few weeks.

"That’s not how the United Kingdom operates and that’s not what we’re about to do. We’ll stand right behind Ukraine."

US President Joe Biden has blamed the 'inaction' of Congress in passing a $60bn aid bill for Ukraine. Credit: AP

Mr Shapps added that he believed the US Congress should pass a package of $60 billion in military aid for Ukraine, which Republicans have stalled.

"What I would say to Congress is pass this bill because it’s going to help the United States of America.

"How? Because other leaders around the world are watching to see if the West gets bored after a couple of years, and if it does then they’ll invade and attack other countries elsewhere in the world.

"That will be very much against American interests."

US President Joe Biden tied the loss of the defensive stronghold of Avdiivka to the stalled aid.

King Charles. Credit: Buckingham Palace

King Charles offers "thoughts and prayers"

In a message released by Buckingham Palace, King Charles said he was “greatly encouraged” by the UK’s efforts to support Ukraine and commended their “true valour”.

He said: “The determination and strength of the Ukrainian people continues to inspire, as the unprovoked attack on their land, their lives and livelihoods enters a third, tragic, year.

“Despite the tremendous hardship and pain inflicted upon them, Ukrainians continue to show the heroism with which the world associates them so closely.

“Theirs is true valour, in the face of indescribable aggression.

“I continue to be greatly encouraged that the United Kingdom and our allies remain at the forefront of international efforts to support Ukraine at this time of such great suffering and need.

“My heart goes out to all those affected, as I remember them in my thoughts and prayers.”

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