‘Glory to the heroes!’ rang out as a trumpet sounded beneath the golden dome

Published by The Daily Mail (25th February, 2023)

Yesterday morning, as I left my flat in the centre of the city, ten young joggers pounded past me along the pavement, every one of them wearing the Ukrainian flag around their shoulders.

It was yet another symbol of the nation’s unyielding patriotism – and a reminder of Vladimir Putin’s failure to crush Ukraine with his full-scale invasion a year ago.

In St Sophia Square, the president who symbolises Ukraine’s refusal to bow to Moscow presented medals to members of the armed forces and the families of citizens who have been killed since Russia attacked.

‘Slava Ukraini (Glory to Ukraine)!’ said Volodymyr Zelensky, delivering the nation’s battle-cry. Hundreds of soldiers, holding guns to their chests, thundered back: ‘Heroyam Slava (Glory to the heroes)!’

In the moving ceremony, a mournful trumpet carried over troops before a beautiful golden-domed cathedral.

Yesterday’s date, February 24, is etched in the memory of every Ukrainian – the day that industrial warfare returned to Europe. So after a nightmarish year, this was a day for sombre reflection – but also to recall the nation’s fortitude in fighting back against the Kremlin.

‘On this day, our children and grandchildren will remember how strong Ukrainians are mentally, physically and spiritually,’ said Tetiana Klimkova as she bought commemorative postage stamps released for the anniversary.

Many shared memories on social media of the bleak day a year ago when they woke to the sounds of missiles and, in many regions, saw Russian troops and tanks on their streets.

Others posted the last images of normality captured before the darkness of war descended. Hauntingly, there were thousands of pictures of families, friends and homes, many since ripped apart by the depravity of war.

Kyiv has suffered less than some other cities. Yet over the past year, air-raid sirens have wailed 680 times, 160 civilians have been killed and 700 buildings have been damaged.

Outside a supermarket, Olexsandr, a 52-year-old rail worker, said he came from Bakhmut, a town in the eastern Donbas region that lies in ruins after some of the war’s fiercest fighting. He fled to Kyiv with his wife in April. ‘I try to stay positive,’ he said. ‘Putin thought it would be quick and people in the east would support him – but he was wrong. It’s tough to be Ukrainian, but I hope all this pain will be worth it.’

Natalia, 42, a former actress in a Kyiv theatre, said two fellow performers had died fighting on the front line. At least her brother, who joined the military after war broke out, is unhurt. A recent poll found almost one in five Ukrainians has lost a loved one in the war.

She told how, when the invasion began, her nine-year-old son covered the windows of their home in tape to stop them shattering in a blast. He asked if they were all going to die. ‘We never expected Putin would be so crazy to attack Ukraine,’ she admitted.

But like many here, her response was one of steely resolve. ‘We have to do whatever we can to support the army,’ she said. She spends £4,200 a month with her businessman husband buying items for troops. They have donated four cars, six drones and body armour. Her mother is in a group that has made 300 camouflage nets.

Such determination and unity underlines why Kyiv stands free at the heart of a nation that defied a dictator and turned back Russia’s tanks.

‘This has been the most difficult year of my life and that of all Ukrainians,’ said Diana Shestakova, 23. ‘I am sure we will be victorious – but we don’t know how long we will have to wait.’

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