Defiant Ukrainians sing and wave flags on their ‘Unity Day’ even as threat of Russian invasion hangs over them, writes IAN BIRRELL
Ukraine celebrated the hastily-declared Unity Day yesterday with passionate words from the president, patriotic events across the land and more than 50 MPs singing the national anthem outside parliament in defiance of the Russian troops massed at their border.
President Volodymyr Zelensky demanded the combative display of patriotism late on Monday to mark the day that Western intelligence had warned might be chosen by the Kremlin to launch an invasion of his country.
Yet the response was muted from his beleaguered fellow citizens – who woke up fearing the worst, waved a few flags and carried on with their lives, trapped wearily in the midst of a destructive geo-political struggle that has gripped them for years.
Zelensky called on Ukrainians to ‘show the whole world our unity’ to counter fears and scaremongering over a possible attack by Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrives to watch Ukrainian troops take part in a military drill outside the city of Rivne, northern Ukraine
Children play on tanks displayed at the Motherland Monument as thousands across Ukraine celebrate Unity Day
Crowds of people sing the Ukrainian national anthem in front of the Independence Monument to mark the newly created Unity Day
Ukrainian army soldiers pose for a photo as they gather in Odessa, Ukraine, to celebrate Unity Day on Wednesday
The former comedian’s demand led to flags appearing on streets and in windows, school pupils singing the anthem clad in traditional embroidered clothes, special prayers at St Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv and Ukrainian films shown in cinemas.
‘We are all different but we are united by one desire – to live in peace, happily, as one family – and we have a right to it because we are at home, we are in Ukraine,’ said Zelensky, during five hours on television showing celebrities and politicians discussing Ukrainian unity in face of the destabilising Russian aggression.
The president, wearing a blue shirt, also published a selfie on Instagram alongside his wife Olena clad in a yellow jersey to reflect Ukraine’s national colours – then asked everyone to post similarly-patriotic pictures on social media.
Some of the country’s best-known football players – including Andriy Yarmolenko of West Ham and Everton’s costly new signing Vitaliy Mykolenko – responded with a video in which they told of their pride in Ukraine.
British ambassador Melinda Simmons tweeted: ‘The UK and Ukraine share fundamental values of peace, freedom, democracy and respect. Our continued support for Ukraine is unwavering.’
Later Zelensky flew to Mariupol – the major port seen as a key possible target for Putin – where he met soldiers on the frontline facing Moscow-backed separatists. ‘It’s a great honour to be a president of such people, of such a state,’ he said.
Further along the frontline in Severodonetsk, a town in the government-controlled part of Luhansk region, residents stretched a 650ft blue-and-yellow flag across the street as they marched along in a display of their loyalties.
A group of people hold Ukrainian flags as they gather to celebrate a Day of Unity in Odessa, Ukraine
Lasers and pixel lights shine from five factory chimneys in Ukraine as citizens across the country celebrate the hastily-declared Unity Day
A group of people carry a large Ukrainian flag across the street as patriotic events take place across the land
A Ukrainian servicewoman walks under a large Ukrainian flag carried by people as citizens celebrate Unity Day
Two women wave Ukrainian national flags to mark Unity Day as more than 50 MPs sing the national anthem outside parliament in defiance of the Russian troops massed at their border
President Volodymyr Zelensky demanded the combative display of patriotism late on Monday to mark the day that Western intelligence had warned might be chosen by the Kremlin to launch an invasion of his country. Pictured: Ukrainian Army soldiers pose for a photo
A long Ukrainian flag is unfolded at the Olympiyskiy stadium in Kiev after President Volodymyr Zelensky called for a Day of Unity
Guards line up during the ceremony of hoisting the state flag of Ukraine at the Odessa International Airport
A family walks past tanks displayed at the Motherland Monument as citizens across the country take part in patriotic events
People carry the flag of Ukraine as they join thousands across the country to celebrate Unity Day
Kiev City Hall building is illuminated in the Ukrainian national flag’s colours as people across the country celebrate
Ukrainian troops take part in a military drill outside the city of Rivne, northern Ukraine, as the country celebrates Unity Day
The building of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine is illuminated in the national flag’s colours in Kiev
Zelensky only announced the celebratory day on Monday. But there was no public holiday, dampening the support, while some people said they had not heard about the plan and others had mixed reactions.
‘I don’t see the point of creating this show to please Western politicians,’ said one pensioner in Kyiv.
Others were more enthusiastic. ‘Unity Day helps unite the people,’ said Vladyslav, 19, serving in the National Guard.
Liydmyla, a 48-year-old housewife who said she is avoiding watching the news on television since it made her too ’emotional’, felt her nation needed such events. ‘It’s the right thing to do – we are being attacked, so we need to stay strong and united.’
Earlier the government said the cyber-attack that hit the ministry of defence, armed forces and several major banks on Tuesday was the biggest in Ukraine’s history. It was traced to sources in Russia, China, Czech Republic and Uzbekistan.
The shutdown, which lasted five hours, was backed by a foreign security service, said Ukraine’s cyber-security chief. Russia has denied any responsibility.
Additional reporting by Kate Baklitskaya