Two years after the start of the Russian invasion

Two years after the start of the Russian invasion, exhausted Ukrainians refuse to give up

  • By James Waterhouse
  • BBC News, in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine

2 hours ago

Image source: Getty Images

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Blocked Western military aid is hampering Ukrainian forces on the front lines

Translated it means “crooked horn,” but President Zelensky calls Kryvyi Rih his “great soul and heart.”

He credits this gritty industrial town with shaping his character. He grew up in a sprawling apartment complex called “Anthill.”

Standing in front of this towering structure, Volodymyr Zelensky's journey from this arena to war leader feels remarkable.

“I want the war to end soon,” said Vita, who lived near Zelensky’s parents. “He is a normal, good guy who fights for the people. I just want this war and the sirens to end sooner.”

But with minimal Ukrainian progress and growing Russian dominance, there is no end in sight, and this is being both fueled and fueled by influential groups of Western doubters.

At the recent Munich Security Conference, President Zelensky urged delegates not to ask Ukraine when the war would end, but instead to “ask why Putin can still continue it.”

With blocked military aid now directly hindering his troops on the front lines, this was a swipe at those who withheld the ammunition and weapons his soldiers desperately need.

“I'm not a politician,” admits Valeriy, a man in his eighties sitting in front of a grocery store. “We cannot ask when the war will end again.

“We have to fight, we will not tolerate anything else. People are so angry now.”

This will to defend has largely remained unbroken since that morning on February 24, 2022. Against a terrible unknown, people volunteered in their thousands to join Ukraine's fight.

The world's gaze turned to Kiev, from where I reported.

President Zelensky's profile and popularity soared as he rejected evacuation offers and remained in Kiev.

“I need ammo, not a ride,” he said in a now-iconic quote.

His needs have not changed, but his requests have lost their electrifying effect.

A failed counteroffensive in 2023 raised uncomfortable questions about Ukraine's ability to liberate its territory.

Republican doubters in the US are hindering Ukraine's ability to fight by blocking billions in military aid. Kiev says more and more frontline troops are dying due to weapons shortages and dwindling ammunition.

Meanwhile, Russia remains on a war footing, and its allies North Korea and Iran are supplying more missiles to rain down on Ukrainian cities.

Image source: BBC/Scarlett Barter

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Ukrainian volunteers support the war effort by building smoke grenades and sewing camouflage nets

Kryvyi Rih is not immune to the fatigue that most people in the country feel. Some have had enough of this war, many men are afraid of being drafted, and yet they say the conflict is still a fight for survival.

The idea of ​​a compromise or concession to Russia is seen as a defeat. It is existential.

As a symptom of the world in which Ukrainians live, I now associate playgrounds with death.

The last time I saw children playing in it was before the invasion, in a school next to my apartment in Kiev. Now they are the scene of a devastating rocket attack, lie abandoned on a front line or in Brovary near Kiev, where a helicopter crash took place.

Youthful innocence has been replaced with body bags and destruction.

In Kryvyi Rih, we meet a tearful Yuri as he watches his apartment being demolished after a rocket attack last year. Exposed wallpaper patterns reveal the various lives destroyed.

“Nobody needs this war, what’s the point of it anyway?” he asks. “So many people are being killed.”

So does he think Ukraine should trade territory for peace?

“Absolutely not,” he replies bluntly. “Many people died for these areas. There’s no point in giving them up.”

The lack of progress on the battlefield created a corrosive rift between President Zelensky and the commander-in-chief of his armed forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi. The now dismissed General Zaluzhnyi is seen as a potential political rival to his old boss.

Around Kryvyi Rih, Ukrainians are trying to help where their country's allies are increasingly failing to help. In a nondescript building, a growing army of volunteers sews camouflage nets for troops at the front.

The organizer explains that the men and women are kept separate because of “their different jokes.”

In another industrial part of the city, a former cycling club has swapped cycling for smoking. Teams mix chemicals into canisters that become smoke grenades. A useful military tool when attempting to attack or evacuate casualties.

“It is impossible to stay at home with my thoughts when my husband is fighting,” explains Ines, one of the volunteers. “This is where I feel like I can do something to make it easier for them.”

Russia's decades-long aggression against Ukraine began with its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and then culminated in an exhaustive war in the east of the country. On the 731st day of the full-scale invasion, it's a different kind of war.

Ukraine's defense successes and the degradation of the Russian navy, while extraordinary, have not turned the tide in its favor.

The novelty of this war has disappeared. Ukraine, Kryvyi Rih and his famous son must find new reserves of strength and a clever playbook to keep the world happy.

Additional reporting by Hanna Chornous, Scarlett Barter and Svitlana Libet.