In Ukraine and Russia, May 9 is marked as the day Nazi Germany was defeated in World War II.
This year, the patriotic occasion was celebrated very differently in the capitals of the two countries.
In Kyiv, unlike Moscow, there was no Victory Day parade. Instead, Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelensky posted a video on social media of him walking down one of the city’s empty shopping streets.
He walked past tank barriers and sandbags as the video recalled earlier peaceful holidays and parades – with a much less haggard Zelensky watching a flypast.
“We are proud of our ancestors who, together with other nations of the anti-Hitler coalition, defeated Nazism,” said Zelensky, who went on to name several Ukrainian towns – currently under Russian occupation or assault – where the Germans have been defeated for more than seven years. decades ago.
“They expelled the Nazis from all over Ukraine, but the towns I named particularly inspire us today. They give us faith that we will for sure drive the occupiers out of our own land.
“This is not a war of two armies. This is a war of two worldviews. We are free people going our own way.”
The scene in Moscow was very different on Monday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told a huge military parade in Moscow’s Red Square that Russian troops were in eastern Ukraine to “defend the fatherland”.
He insisted that the invasion of Ukraine (which he continues to call a “special military operation”) was necessary and had been provoked by the West.
There had been speculation that Putin would use the event to make a major announcement about Russia’s next steps in its war against Ukraine. He did not do it. Instead, he used his speech to re-emphasize that Russia acted in self-defense.
“The danger was mounting,” Putin said, saying “Russia preemptively repelled an aggression” through a military campaign that was “forced, timely and the only correct decision of a sovereign, powerful and independent country.”
He repeatedly claimed that Ukraine was planning to attack Russia, which kyiv categorically denied. The United Nations overwhelmingly condemned the Russian invasion and repeatedly called for the withdrawal of Russian troops.
Russia suffered significant losses of soldiers and equipment in Ukraine. Many believed Putin would use his May 9 speech to order a general mobilization.
Dominque Arel, chair of Ukrainian studies at the University of Ottawa, said he wondered what a general mobilization order could have accomplished.
“Military experts tell us [there’s] no guarantee that this would actually strengthen the Russian army, because these are poorly trained conscripts. Reservists, also very poorly trained,” he said.
Across eastern Ukraine, air raid sirens went off overnight and throughout the day. Four missile strikes were reported in the Odessa region. Fierce fighting was also reported in the area of the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, the last stronghold of besieged Ukrainian forces in the ruined city.