Western leaders pledged unwavering support for Ukraine as the war-ravaged country marked its Independence Day on Wednesday, coinciding with the six-month milestone of Russia’s invasion.
Leaders paid tribute to the sacrifices and courage of the Ukrainian people, voiced their resolve to keep supplying Ukraine with weapons and reviled Moscow for its attack on the neighboring Eastern European nation.
In Britain, floral and musical tributes punctuated a show of solidarity as Ukraine commemorated its 1991 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. The U.K. Ministry of Defense tweeted a video of the Scots Guards Band, which usually provides musical accompaniment for the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, performing Ukraine’s winning Eurovision Song Contest entry, “Stefania.”
An arch of sunflowers — Ukraine’s national flower — decorated the entrance to the British prime minister’s Downing Street office. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is soon to leave office, urged allies to keep giving Ukraine all the military, humanitarian, economic and diplomatic support it needs.
“We will never recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea or any other Ukrainian territory,” Johnson said in a Tuesday video address to an international summit on Russia’s seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
Like London, Brussels also chose to dress up for the occasion. The Belgian city, which is home to the European Union’s institutions, decked itself out in the colors of the Ukrainian national flag. A giant Ukrainian flag was unfurled in the capital’s historic Grand Place.
U.S. President Joe Biden, marking the day by announcing significant new military aid to Ukraine, noted that the anniversary was “bittersweet” for many Ukrainians, as they continue to suffer but take pride in withstanding Russia’s “relentless attacks.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a video posted on Twitter that “our hearts go out to those who pay for the Russian war terror with their lives day after day, who are maimed and wounded.”
“We mourn with those who have lost friends or family members, who have had to flee, have been taken from their beloved homeland or by Russian occupiers, who have lost their belongings to Russian bombs, rockets and artillery shells,” the chancellor said.
Scholz had harsh words for Russia, rebuking the Kremlin for its “backward imperialism,” and stressed that Ukraine “will drive away the dark shadow of war because it is strong and brave, because it has friends in Europe and all over the world.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, in a video message bookended with phrases he spoke in Ukrainian, said the defense of Ukraine meant “refusing to allow international relations to be ruled by violence and chaos.”
He said Ukraine’s Independence Day “is a day of pride. But in the place of legitimate festivities, we are thinking of the dead and the fighters today, of the courage and resilience of your people.”
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin adopted a similar tone, calling Ukrainians “brave and unyielding.” She added: “We stand with you. We won’t look away.”
Ukraine offers a lesson that “freedom and democracy will always win out over coercion and violence,” Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said.
Pope Francis marked the half-year anniversary of the invasion by decrying the “insanity” of war and lamenting that innocents on both sides were paying the price.
The pontiff warned about the risk of nuclear disaster in Ukraine, a reference to the shelling of the Russian-occupied Zaporizhhia nuclear power plant. He also lashed out at those who were profiting from the war, especially weapons manufacturers.
Francis has stepped up his denunciations of the war, though he rarely blames Russia or President Vladimir Putin by name, evidence that the Vatican is trying to keep dialogue open with Moscow.
In Poland’s capital, Warsaw, a few dozen Ukrainians, mostly women and children, gathered before a Ukraine community center and sang the national anthem. Many were dressed in embroidered folk shirts.
Scores of people, including Portuguese politicians, attended a gathering in Lisbon, Portugal, by the city’s statue of Taras Shevchenko, Ukraine’s preeminent poet of the 19th century and a symbol of national renaissance. In Madrid, the 18th-century Cibeles fountain, a city landmark, was due to be lit up with the Ukrainian colors after sunset.
Follow all of AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine