Dame Helen Mirren leads Trafalgar Square vigil on invasion anniversary

‘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 led a vigil marking anniversary of Russian invasion of Ukraine
  • Putin’s war started on February 24, and has left hundreds of thousands dead

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 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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’

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

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

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 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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’ 

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

‘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.

READ MORE: EXCLUSIVE: On the anniversary of the start of the war, major Lord Ashcroft poll reveals Vladimir Putin has utterly failed to crush the spirit of Ukraine 


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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