Lots of flags but little enthusiasm for Ukraine’s ‘Day of Unity’ | Ukraine-Russia crisis

Mariupol, Ukraine – As Ukrainians awoke on Wednesday to find there was no overnight Russian invasion, few were surprised – after eight years of conflict with their northern neighbor, Western warnings of a bath imminent bloodshed had received little support.

February 16, which some Western media said was a potential date for an all-out attack, was declared “Unity Day” by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a bid to reclaim it from Ukrainians.

Yet in Mariupol in eastern Ukraine, just 20 km (12 miles) from the front line of a conflict with Russian-backed separatists, there was little of interest.

Flags were raised above the city’s main thoroughfare, but few passers-by seemed to notice. Two men in elegant suits walked the streets in good spirits, drinking bottles of champagne. Were they celebrating? “No, it’s my birthday,” one replied.

A small group of people draped in flags gathered in the city’s Freedom Square, taking photos and shouting “Glory to Ukraine” where a monument to former Soviet leader Lenin once stood. Most of those involved appeared to be from the military.

“We are not celebrating any invasions,” said organizer Diana Berg, who was relocated to Mariupol fighting from her hometown of Donetsk – now under the control of Russian-backed separatists – in 2014.

“Yet it’s not over, it won’t be over for years, until Russia stops its imperialist expansion.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for a day of unity, with Ukrainians encouraged to raise Ukrainian flags across the country [Emilio Morenatti/AP Photo]

In the capital, Kyiv, some said international journalists covering a small Unity Day rally outnumbered Ukrainians marking it.

Despite the muted response domestically, international support from foreign ministers and allied ambassadors has been broadcast on social media and solidarity marches are planned in European cities over the next few days.

The lack of action was widely mocked in Russia, where pundits reveled in the possibility of dunking on Western media.

“What a sad celebration we have today,” said Olga Skabeeva, a talk show host at state media. “The day when there will be no invasion of Ukraine, or perhaps, as they say in Ukraine, the day when Putin no longer attacks.”

According to Ukrainian political consultant Taras Berezovets, Ukrainians do not need a national day to feel united because they all face the same existential problem.

“In a certain way, [Russia’s President Vladimir] Putin has played a huge role in crystallizing consolidation within Ukrainian society. People don’t criticize the government anymore like they used to,” he said.

Zelenskyy, a former comedian who was elected three years ago on a promise to transform relations with Russia, is popular, but the lack of promised reform has eroded trust.

The country’s predominantly Russian-speaking parts to the east are also growing increasingly frustrated living on the brink of conflict with Russian-backed separatists when he promised peace.

Yet, with experts predicting that tensions could linger in the long term, Zelensky’s position and even Ukraine’s political system could be undermined as East and West jostle for influence and energy supplies in the EU. post cold war.

Ukrainian army soldiers pose for a photo as they gather to celebrate a day of unity in Odessa, UkraineUkrainian army soldiers pose for a photo as they gather to celebrate a day of unity in Odessa, Ukraine [Emilio Morenatti/AP Photo]

“In the next three to four weeks, this current crisis will be over, but we will see more military reinforcements at the borders before the end of 2022. Perhaps several – one in the spring, for example, a second in the fall and one more in winter,” Berezovets said.

“The threats will remain at the same level, but the risk of an escalation in the Donbass is increasing. We will see new cyberattacks on government websites and the banking system and Russia is likely to stage an energy crisis.

On Tuesday, Russia said it was returning to base some of the tens of thousands of troops amassed along Ukraine’s borders following military exercises. Yet hours later, a cyberattack rendered Ukraine’s Defense Ministry website and two banks unable to provide services.

Ending hopes of de-escalation, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned on Wednesday that Russia was continuing its military buildup. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov also said intelligence reports showed no evidence of a rollback, while the UK moved to double the size of its forces in neighboring Estonia.

Weeks of panic and confusion, mostly seen on the front pages of Western newspapers as Moscow repeatedly denied plans for attacks, could have done significant damage to Ukraine’s economy, deterring foreign investment in a country which is already struggling to attract them.

Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party leader David Arakhamia told local media that the “fake” media reports had cost the country “2-3 billion dollars a month”.