Ukraine war: Sunak, Starmer and Khan fall silent to mark year as King Charles praises Kyiv’s ‘remarkable courage’
A year of Ukraine’s extraordinary resistance to Vladimir Putin’s all-out assault that has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions more displaced has been marked with a minute’s silence.
Rishi Sunak was joined outside No 10 by wife Akshata Murthy, Kyiv’s ambassador to Britain Vadym Prystaiko and dozens of Ukrainian troops being trained by the UK for the national pause on Friday morning.
The King issued a message praising the “remarkable courage and resilience” of the Ukrainian people.
To give Kyiv a “decisive advantage”, Britain was trying to revive plans to provide eastern European allies with fighter jets so they can release their Soviet-era planes to Ukraine.
The Prime Minister will use a call with G7 leaders, including US President Joe Biden, to “move faster” in arming Volodymyr Zelensky’s resistance against the invasion.
Britain also announced a new package of sanctions, imposing an export ban on every piece of equipment Russia has been found using on the battlefield in Ukraine.
At 11am, MPs stood in silence in the Commons chamber to mark a year since the invasion of Ukraine began.
The one-minute silence halted Commons proceedings at 11am during a Friday sitting, when a small group of backbench MPs usually attend to consider private member’s bills.
Several ministers and shadow ministers joined the cohort of backbench Labour and Conservative MPs in the Commons for the occasion.
Deputy Commons Speaker Dame Rosie Winterton said “Slava Ukraini” – meaning “Glory to Ukraine” in the Ukrainian language – as the silence came to an end.
Parliament has been at the heart of several important events during the course of the war, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressing MPs and peers in Westminster Hall earlier this month, when he called on the UK to provide fighter jets to help his country’s ongoing struggle.
Last year, he addressed MPs in the Commons chamber via video link, and echoed Churchill’s Second World War speeches.
When Putin launched his renewed invasion of Ukraine on February 24 last year, many believed his military might would capture Kyiv within weeks or even days.
But the Ukrainian resistance led by Zelensky and assisted by the weapons and support provided by allies, including Britain, repelled the invasion to the east.
At least 100,000 of each side’s soldiers are estimated to have been killed or injured, thousands more civilians have died and more than 13 million people have been made refugees or displaced inside Ukraine.
On Friday, Zelensky vowed Ukraine will do everything in its power to defeat the invasion before another anniversary can be marked.
“It was a year of resilience. A year of care. A year of bravery. A year of pain. A year of hope. A year of endurance. A year of unity,” he said in a national address.
“The year of invincibility. The furious year of invincibility. Its main result is that we endured. We were not defeated. And we will do everything to gain victory this year.”
Britain will be training Ukrainian pilots on Nato-standard jets but allies have been reluctant to release the modern warplanes requested by the Ukrainian President.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said backfilling allies with the UK’s jets to free up their own would be a quicker way to bolster Kyiv’s defences than providing them with British Typhoons.
Wallace told Times Radio “the other quick way that Ukraine can benefit from fighter jets is for those countries in Europe that have Russian Soviet fighter jets – MiG 29s or Su-24s – if they wish to donate we can use our fighter jets to backfill and provide security for them as a result”.
“They are already configured to fight in a Nato way, where of course Ukraine isn’t,” he said.
Wallace said the Russian army was suffering “huge losses” on the battlefield for territorial gain measured “in metres not miles” and will sacrifice a growing number of troops to satisfy Putin’s demands.
“It will move effectively to a meat-grinder approach where it just keeps sacrificing its own soldiers for the vanity of the Kremlin,” he told Times Radio.
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly announced the internationally co-ordinated new package of sanctions and warned the failing Russian President will “probably threaten nuclear use”.
Export bans have been extended to include hundreds of goods, including aircraft parts, radio equipment and electronic components that can be used by the Russian military industrial complex.
The UK also sanctioned senior executives at the Russian state-owned nuclear power company Rosatom, as well as bosses at Russia’s two largest defence companies and four banks.
Cleverly told Times Radio: “We have committed to ensure that Putin fails in his attempt to invade Ukraine and as that realisation of his failure dawns on him, he will use every trick in the book.
“He will threaten escalation and he will probably threaten nuclear use. What we have to say to the Russian people is that there is not and has never been a threat to Russia itself.
“This is a purely defensive posture. No one else is talking about this kind of escalation and there is no threat to Russia itself.”
Charles, who hosted Zelensky at Buckingham Palace earlier this month, said that Ukraine has “shown truly remarkable courage and resilience” while suffering “unimaginably from an unprovoked full-scale attack on their nation”.
“It is heartening that the United Kingdom, along with its allies, is doing everything possible to help at this most difficult time,” the King said in his message.
“Therefore, I can only hope the outpouring of solidarity from across the globe may bring not only practical aid, but also strength from the knowledge that, together, we stand united.”
Sunak will use the virtual G7 meeting to urge his fellow world leaders to “move faster” in arming Ukraine’s troops as the conflict is stuck in a bloody stalemate.
“For Ukraine to win this war – and to accelerate that day – they must gain a decisive advantage on the battlefield. That is what it will take to shift Putin’s mindset. This must be our priority now. Instead of an incremental approach, we need to move faster on artillery, armour and air defence,” Sunak was expected to say.
“The coming weeks will be difficult for Ukraine, but they will also be difficult for Russia. They are over-reaching once again. So now is the time to support Ukraine’s plan to rearm, regroup, and push forward.”
The UK remains a prominent supporter of Kyiv, with the Government announcing earlier this year that Britain would be the first country to supply tanks to its armed forces.
But fears remain that the war could continue for at least another year, even as Ukraine insists that further support and weaponry can help bring the conflict to a conclusion.
Sunak is expected to urge allies to supply longer-range weapons to Kyiv, while also repeating his offer of British support to countries able to provide planes.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that the country’s support “is as firm and unstinting today as it was on that dark day one year ago”.
“As we mark this solemn anniversary and look ahead to the coming months, we must do the same. Regardless of what other political disagreements we may have, we stand in lockstep with the Government on this issue,” he said.
“No-one should ever have to face the hardship and loss that the Ukrainian people have over the last year. Their fight for democracy, freedom and liberty in the face of tyranny is also our fight. Standing with our Nato allies, we will ensure Putin’s defeat and Ukraine’s victory.”
Press Association – Sam Blewett, Gavin Cordon and Dominic McGrath