Germany's political leadership has promised Ukraine, which was invaded by Russia a year ago, full support in the future. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) also called on Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin to end the war and withdraw his troops from the neighboring country.
In a video message, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Germany for its help: "Thank you for being with us this year."
The federal government did not stop at verbal support. The Ministry of Defense announced on Friday that it would increase the number of Leopard 2 main battle tanks to be delivered to Ukraine from 14 to 18.
At the central event marking the first anniversary of the Russian attack on Ukraine in Bellevue Palace, Steinmeier pointed out that today Germany is their biggest supporter in Europe - including militarily. "And despite all the controversial, sometimes shrill debates, I am certain that we will continue to be." With a view to what is still to come, he says: "You can rely on Germany." Steinmeier repeated this sentence in Ukrainian.
Putin is counting on Ukraine's allies to tire, become jaded and look the other way. "We won't do him that favour," emphasized Steinmeier. If Putin seriously wanted an end to the war, his troops would have to withdraw. Only that opens the way to negotiations. "Russia must be absolutely clear: there can be no victory in its criminal war." There should also be no "sham peace" that "only rewards Putin's land grabs and leaves people to the arbitrariness of the occupiers."
The Federal President and the Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany, Oleksii Makeiev, had invited to the event at Bellevue Palace. In addition to the Chancellor and numerous members of his cabinet, the President of the Bundestag Bärbel Bas and President of the Federal Council Peter Tschentscher (both SPD) also took part.
Selenskyj praises Germany
Zelenskyy said in his video message: "From the first minutes of the Russian invasion, Germany was with us. Germany is helping us to protect Ukraine from Russian terror. And Germany will be with us on the day of the victory of freedom." Zelenskyj was confident of victory: "We are capable of putting an end to Russian aggression this year."
Ambassador Makeiev assured that the people of Ukraine appreciate German solidarity. "German weapons save lives. German weapons save Ukraine," he said. "Having such an ally is the greatest thing for me as ambassador and for my compatriots here." The diplomat also emphasized: "We will win together."
At times difficult year between Berlin and Kyiv
The joint event in the official residence of the Federal President also showed what a long way both countries covered in the first year of the war. Initially, Berlin's initial hesitation in supporting Ukraine had caused considerable resentment in Kiev. Shortly after the beginning of the war, the ambassador at the time, Andriy Melnyk, boycotted a solidarity concert at Bellevue Palace. Again and again he hit Steinmeier with biting criticism and urged the government to deliver arms quickly. Relations fell to a low when Steinmeier was uninvited to visit Kiev in April.
Germany and Ukraine have come much closer this year, said Ambassador Makeiev. They had begun to understand each other better and to speak to each other in a trusting manner. "This change in perspective is also part of the turning point in time."
Video message also from Chancellor Scholz
In his own video message, the Chancellor emphasized: "Putin has it in his hands. He can end this war." It wasn't the supply of weapons from the West that was prolonging the war, Scholz said. "The opposite is true: the sooner Russia's president realizes that he will not achieve his imperialist goal, the greater the chance that the war will end soon."
Regarding the situation in Germany, Scholz said: "With all the challenges posed by the war in Ukraine and also in Germany - we managed a lot quite well."
Shows of solidarity across the country
In solidarity with Ukraine, Ukrainian flags were hoisted in front of Bellevue Palace, the Reichstag, the Chancellery and other central buildings in Berlin on Friday. Here and in many other cities there were demonstrations with thousands of participants. A Russian T-72 tank destroyed in Ukraine was set up opposite the Russian embassy in Berlin early in the morning as a sign of protest. His cannon pointed at the embassy. Ukrainian Ambassador Oleksii Makeiev inspected the tank in the afternoon.
In Berlin, according to police, more than 10,000 people attended a rally at the Brandenburg Gate in the evening, which was illuminated blue and yellow. In front of the Russian embassy nearby, people chanted: "Russia is a terrorist state".
In Hamburg, the subways stopped for a minute at 12 noon. According to estimates, around 2,500 people came together at rallies in the Hanseatic city. According to estimates, around 1,500 people gathered in Dresden under the motto "Solidarity with Ukraine" on the Neumarkt in front of the Frauenkirche. There were also demonstrations in Frankfurt (Main) and Munich, for example. A human chain stretched between Münster and Osnabrück, the cities of the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, in which, according to the organizers, around 20,000 people took part.