Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday that evil had returned to Ukraine but that Kyiv would prevail in an emotional address as Europe marks the surrender of Nazi Germany in World War Two.
“Moscow's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, which has killed thousands and displaced millions, ended 77 years of peace,” he said on Ukraine's Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation. Ukraine fought alongside Russia as part of the Soviet Union in World War Two, reports Reuters.
His video address, filmed in front of charred Ukrainian apartment blocks with footage of Russian missile strikes, comes a day before Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin marks the Soviet victory with a vast military parade.
"Darkness has returned to Ukraine decades after World War Two... The evil has returned," Zelensky said. "In a different form, under different slogans, but for the same purpose."
"No evil can escape responsibility, it cannot hide in a bunker," he said. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler spent the last days of his life in a bunker in Berlin where he committed suicide in the final days of the war.
Zelensky did not name Putin throughout his video address, but used vivid language to express his horror at the devastation.
"A bloody re-enactment of Nazism has been staged. A fanatical imitation of this regime. Its ideas, actions, words and symbols," he said.
Moscow itself calls its actions since Feb. 24 a "special operation" to disarm Ukraine and rid it of what Russia calls "Nazis" and anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West.
Ukraine and the West say that Russia launched an unprovoked war of aggression and dismiss the rhetoric about Nazis as propaganda.
"We will overcome everything. And we know this for sure, because our military and all our people are descendants of those who overcame Nazism," Zelensky said.
Victory Day on May 9 is one of Russia's most important national events - a remembrance of the enormous sacrifices made by the Soviet Union in defeating Nazi Germany. Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine sustained appalling loss of life.
Ukraine still formally marks Victory Day on May 9, but as it has turned westward to Europe since 2014, it has instituted a Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation on May 8 when France, Britain and the United States mark "Victory in Europe Day".
Nazi Germany's unconditional surrender came into force at 11:01 p.m. on May 8, 1945, which was already May 9 in Moscow. Russians call the war the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45.
Ukraine is not holding any public events for either May 8 or May 9 this year for fear of shelling. Some cities have a curfew in place from Sunday evening to the morning of May 10.
'DEFENDING WHOSE HOMELAND?'
The war has been a shock for Ukrainian World War Two veterans who fought for the Red Army shoulder to shoulder with the Russians.
One of them, Ivan Lisun, 97, told Reuters that a Russian missile destroyed the home built by his father and where he was born and raised in a village in northeastern Ukraine near Kharkiv.
"You know, I feel really bad now, because I served in the Soviet Union for seven years. Defending whose homeland? Russian or Ukrainian?" he said.
"What can I say? I'm very worried. I don't sleep at night. Since 2014, when the mess started. I felt it back then."
Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea in 2014 and backed pro-Russian separatists in the east who carved out two breakaway regions in a conflict that killed more than 14,000.