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Crowds show support for Ukraine on second anniversary of Russian invasion

Hundreds of people have marched through central London in support of Ukraine to mark the second anniversary of the Russian invasion.

Earlier on Saturday, the commemorations began with an interfaith prayer service at London’s Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral where Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski said Ukrainians “do not want to give up hope”.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, political and religious leaders attended a service at Edinburgh Castle to mark the anniversary.

First Minister Humza Yousaf delivered a reading and laid a wreath at the Scottish National War Memorial alongside Andrii Kuslii, of the consulate of Ukraine.

Humza Yousaf attends a memorial wreath laying service
First Minister Humza Yousaf attends a memorial wreath-laying service at Edinburgh Castle (Jane Barlow/PA)

The service was attended by Ukrainian citizens living in Scotland and followed by a rally in Edinburgh against Russian aggression.

Speaking ahead of the service, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, said: “Lives have been torn apart due to unprovoked Russian aggression and we continue to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and all innocent people who suffer because of this aggression.”

On Saturday afternoon, hundreds of pro-Ukraine demonstrators gathered at Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park and then marched to Trafalgar Square, where a vigil is being held.

Some protesters held signs urging Russia to “stop the war”, labelling Russian president Vladimir Putin a “terrorist” and urging international powers to offer more support.

A Ukrainian woman whose husband is fighting in the war against Russia spoke of the “difficult decision” to flee her homeland.

Nataliia Rusinko said her husband, Maksym, volunteered to fight the day war broke out in February 2022.

People taking part in a march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square
People taking part in a march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square (Maja Smiejkowska/PA)

After initially fleeing to Bulgaria, Ms Rusinko and her children, Andrii, eight, and Anna, nine, returned to Ukraine in the hope the war would soon end. However, after four bombs fell on their town the family came to the UK.

Ms Rusinko, using a translator, said: “It was very hard because I didn’t know for how long I would have to leave and to leave my husband behind”.

Anna said: “It was a hard decision because my friends were still there and they were my only friends that I had.”

Speaking of those in the UK who have supported Ukraine and agreed to house refugees, Ms Rusinko said: “I will forever be very grateful to the British people for taking us in.”

Bishop Nowakowski, the leading Ukrainian Catholic bishop in the UK, told the PA news agency that the anniversary was a “very tragic milestone” and said his compatriots were “resolved to win the war”.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on February 24 2022 and followed the Kremlin’s military intervention in the eastern Donbas region and its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

An event was held in Edinburgh to mark the two-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine
An event was held in Edinburgh to mark the two-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Jane Barlow/PA)

The Ukrainian Catholic Church said the “vital” events it had helped organise on Saturday would “honour the resilience of Ukraine” and show unwavering support for its fight against Russia.

The church added: “This event, organised by the British-Ukrainian community in London and the wider UK, is one of the most crucial Ukrainian events in London this year.

“It calls for all to stand in solidarity, united across nations against aggression.”

Paper angels were hung from the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral’s balcony – one for each of the 528 Ukrainian children killed during the conflict, according to Ukraine’s prosecutor general.

Referring to the paper angels, Bishop Nowakowski said during the service: “These paper angels are a remembrance of those young lives and the families who are grieving.”

Among those attending the prayer service at the cathedral were actresses Maureen Lipman and Rula Lenska and politicians including housing minister Felicity Buchan and Nickie Aiken, the Conservative MP for Cities of London and Westminster.

Rula Lenska court case
Actress Rula Lenska attended the service (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Many of the guests wore blue and yellow ribbons or sunflowers, a symbol of peace and resilience, with others carrying Ukrainian flags.

The interfaith prayers were accompanied by the singing of Ukrainian spiritual anthems by the cathedral choir – with many of those in the congregation visibly emotional.