Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy marked the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion at Kyiv's iconic Sophia Square on Friday.
As morning broke on a full day of commemorations and reflection, Zelenskyy struck a tone of grim defiance and used the occasion to congratulate Ukrainians on their resilience in the face of Europe’s biggest and deadliest war since World War II.
He said they had proven themselves to be invincible in what he called “a year of pain, sorrow, faith and unity.”
A year ago, with Russian forces bearing down on Ukraine’s capital, Western leaders feared for the life of Zelenskyy while Washington offered him an escape route. He declined, declaring his intent to stay and defend Ukraine’s independence.
“We survived the first day of the full-scale war. We didn’t know what tomorrow would bring, but we clearly understood that for each tomorrow, you need to fight. And we fought,” he said in an early morning video address.
It was “the longest day of our lives. The hardest day of our modern history. We woke up early and haven’t fallen asleep since,” he said.
Ukrainians planned memorials, candle vigils and other remembrance services for the tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians who lost their lives in the last year.
The death toll continues to grow as fighting rages on in eastern Ukraine.
There were concerns that Russia might unleash another barrage of missiles against Ukraine to pile yet more sadness on the day.
"This day has divided life into before and after. I was not at home for a year, haven't seen my family for a year, so for me it's a terrible pain and a day where I don't want to go back in my thoughts, rewatch photos or videos. A very tough day" said Daria Horda, in Independence Square.
Another civilian, Tetiana Klimkova, said she was feeling anxious all morning, "you expect, but still, hope, for the best. I’m crying a little. What is happening is actually very hard and painful. But we don't lose heart. Everything will be Ukraine, everything will be fine. And there is this feeling of pride, resentment, anger - which it is impossible to get rid of.
"We are here today because it is a defining day, it is a year since the beginning of the war. And I hope that there will be no next anniversary. I believe that this year we will end the war" she added.