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Trudeau visits Kyiv, predicts victory for Ukraine on invasion's two-year anniversary

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau emerged Saturday in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, joining other world leaders at the site of one of the war's first and fiercest battles to mark the second anniversary of the brutal Russian invasion.

Trudeau appeared at Hostomel airport alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in a show of global solidarity.

Behind them, the scorched husks of destroyed aircraft and the blackened walls of the airport just outside the capital served as a stark backdrop, a bitter reminder of the invasion's earliest days.

"Putin was sure he could easily take strategic targets like this airport. Russian forces tried to make quick work of Hostomel airport — and with it, Kyiv," Trudeau said in prepared remarks.

"Well, we are standing here today because he was wrong."

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his long-feared invasion on Feb. 24, 2022. His paratroopers raided the airport just hours after the start of what he called a "special military operation" in the country.

Two years later, the wreckage of that battle remained strewn behind the leaders as they took their turns at the podium — lingering evidence of both an early triumph as well as the grinding, bloody conflict that continues to rage.

"Putin cannot win," Trudeau said in his speech. "Ukraine will see victory, just like what happened on this ground two years ago."

Former British prime minister Boris Johnson was also on hand for the anniversary, as well as Defence Minister Bill Blair and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland. U.S. President Joe Biden was not expected to attend.

As he has done from the outset, Trudeau again vowed to ensure Canada stands with Ukraine for as long as it takes to secure victory.

But the federal government has yet to deliver all military aid it has promised, prompting critics to accuse the prime minister of going back on his word.

Trudeau is expected to participate in several commemorations throughout the day, including a wreath-laying, before ending the day with a joint news conference.

"You are fighting for your sovereignty, for your territory, for your language, for your culture, for your democracy," Trudeau said. "But also for our democracy."

Despite similar sentiments from across the global coalition of support, European countries are struggling to find enough stocks to send to Kyiv, while $60-billion worth of U.S. help is stalled over political differences.

The delays have frustrated Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who fears — like others — that such holdups amid domestic political squabbles are playing right into the hands of an ever-patient Putin.

Just last week, Russia took complete control of the city of Avdiivka, about 706 kilometres east of the capital, where troops had battled fiercely over the local chemical plant for weeks.

And a Russian drone attack late Friday struck a residential building in the southern city of Odesa, killing at least one person and injuring several others.

The presence of world leaders in Kyiv will be on display throughout the day Saturday to demonstrate a bulwark of international support and pay tribute to Ukraine's continued resilience.

Zelenskyy himself warned allies just last week that an "artificial deficit" of arms risks giving Russia a dangerous advantage.

Meanwhile, Biden has been cajoling and criticizing Republicans in Congress to help pass legislation to keep the support flowing.

"The failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will not be forgotten. Now is the time for us to stand strong with Ukraine and stand united with our allies and partners," Biden said in a statement.

"Now is the time to prove that the United States stands up for freedom and bows down to no one."

Biden has chided his political opponents, including former and would-be future president Donald Trump, for inflamed rhetoric around Ukraine and a lack of support that borders on what the current commander-in-chief calls "criminal neglect."

Trudeau has reached for similar reprovals when it comes to Canada's Opposition Conservatives and their recent decision to vote against a modernized free-trade deal with Ukraine.

But in contrast to the U.S., both parties have tried to position themselves domestically as the more committed ally: Canada is home to the world's second-largest Ukrainian diaspora population, after Russia.

On Friday, Canada announced sanctions against 10 more Russian officials and businessmen and 153 entities, in co-ordination with the United States and the United Kingdom. The European Union also announced new sanctions ahead of the anniversary of the war.

The prime minister's show of solidarity in Kyiv also provides an opportunity to help restore the relationship's lustre after a gaffe during Zelenskyy's visit to Ottawa last fall set off an international embarrassment.

With the Ukrainian president in the House of Commons, members of Parliament paid a war hero's tribute to a Ukrainian-Canadian veteran who turned out to have fought for the Nazis in the Second World War.

The incident made headlines around the world, prompted a prime ministerial apology, cost former House Speaker Anthony Rota his job and provided ample fodder for Russia's propaganda machine.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2024.

By Laura Osman in Warsaw with files from Nathan Denette in Kyiv and The Associated Press

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