Ukraine's Zelenskiy in New Year message: "I want to wish all of us one thing – victory"

Ukraine's President Zelenskiy delivers his annual speech to lawmakers during a session of the Parliament in Kyiv

By Sergiy Karazy and Nick Starkov

KYIV (Reuters) -President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Saturday that his only wish for all Ukrainians for 2023 was victory and resolved to stay the course while the country fights for it.

"I want to wish all of us one thing - victory. And that's the main thing. One wish for all Ukrainians," Zelenskiy, dressed in his trademark khaki outfit, said in a video message a few minutes before midnight.

He reiterated, as he often has since Russia began its invasion in Ukraine in February, that he will stay with his people while they are fighting for freedom.

"We were told to surrender. We chose a counterattack!" he said.

"We are ready to fight for it (freedom). That's why each of us is here. I'm here. We are here. You are here. Everyone is here. We are all Ukraine."

Russia's President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, calling it a "special operation" to "denazify" and demilitarise Ukraine, which he said was a threat to Russia. Kyiv and its Western allies say Putin's invasion was merely an imperialist land grab.

Putin used his own New Year's address to rally the Russian people behind troops fighting in Ukraine.

While Moscow had planned a swift operation to take over its neighbour, the war is now in its 11th month, marked by many embarrassing Russian battlefield setbacks and Ukraine's successful defence of most of its land.

Russian forces have been engaged for months now in fierce fighting in the east and south of Ukraine, to defend the lands Moscow proclaimed it annexed in September and which make up the broader Ukrainian industrial Donbas region.

On Saturday, Zelenskiy vowed to bring back what has been taken away.

"Let this year be the year of return. The return of our people. Soldiers – to their families. Prisoners – to their homes. Emigrants – to their Ukraine. Return of our lands," Zelenskiy said.

"The return of what has been stolen from us. The childhood of our children, the peaceful old age of our parents."

(Writing by David Ljunggren and Lidia Kelly; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)