At a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the Soviet victory, Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to rally Russians around the war in Ukraine on the occasion of Nazi Germany’s defeat in Stalingrad 80 years ago.
“We are again being threatened by German Leopard tanks!” Putin said, in reference to Germany’s recent decision to supply advanced Leopard battle tanks to Kyiv.
The Russian leader also placed flowers on the grave of the Soviet marshal responsible for defending the city and paid a visit to the main memorial complex in Volgograd, as the city is now called, where he held a minute of silence.
Russia marks 80 years since Stalingrad
Thousands came out to watch a commemorative parade with two tanks from the era and armored vehicles as well as warplanes overhead. Putin also planned to meet with local patriotic and youth groups.
Until 1961, Volgograd was known as Stalingrad, after then-Soviet strongman Josef Stalin. During World War II, over one million lost their lives in the battle that stretched from 1942 into the following year. It was the deadliest battle of the war, but it halted Nazi Germany’s advance into Soviet territory.
Russian officials have gone to lengths to draw comparisons between fighting Nazis in World War Two and Ukraine.
But Ukraine has rejected these comparisons, as the country suffered devastating consequences including a famine induced by Stalin, known as the Holodomor, and a genocide of its Jewish population carried out by Nazi forces, in addition to mass civilian casualties.
On Wednesday, a new bust of Stalin was erected in the city alongside busts of two Soviet commanders, Georgy Zhukov and Alexander Vasilyevsky, one day before the presidential visit and commemoration festivities.
Textbooks in Russia have been revised in recent years to reflect Stalin’s wartime victory with significant omissions regarding the dehumanizing aspects of his legacy, including the Holodomor genocide.
Here are other updates on the war in Ukraine on Thursday, February 2:
Zelenskyy calls for EU membership negotiations ahead of visit
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country deserves a concrete prospect of joining the European Union after almost a year of defending against the Russian invasion.
“I believe that Ukraine deserves to reach the beginning of negotiations on EU membership this year already,” Zelenskyy said in his evening address on Thursday.
Ukraine has been an EU candidate country since June.
Zelenskyy said beginning the formal negotiation process would give Ukrainians “energy and motivation… to fight despite any obstacles and threats.”
The comments come as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council President Charles Michel are set to meet Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Friday.
Russian missile hit residential building in Kramatorsk
A Russian missile struck a residential building in Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine, according to Ukrainian authorities.
Regional police said at least three people had been killed and 30 others were injured.
“At least eight apartment buildings were damaged. One of them was completely destroyed,” police said in a Facebook post.
Search and rescue efforts have been taking place at the site of the missile strike.
“Kramatorsk. Russian terrorists have hit the city with a ballistic missile leading to civilian casualties. Some people are still under the rubble. No goal other than terror. The only way to stop Russian terrorism is to defeat it. By tanks. Fighter jets. Long-range missiles,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a Twitter post.
Zelenskyy noted that there had been a spike in hostilities in the east in his nightly address.
“Definite increase has been noted in the offensive operations of the occupiers on the front in the east of our country. The situation has become tougher,” Zelenskyy said, adding that it was Russia likely “trying to achieve at least something” ahead of the anniversary marking one year since the invasion began.
Russia to use ‘its potential’ against Western supplied weapons
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia planned to counter the supply of new materiel coming in from the West using “its potential to the fullest.”
“As new weapons supplied by the collective West appear, Russia will use its potential to the fullest to respond,” Peskov said.
Peskov did not elaborate on that potential.
EU to train 30,000 Ukrainian soldiers — Josep Borrell
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal that EU countries plan on training 30,000 Ukrainian soldiers.
The announcement was made during a visit by European Commission officials to Kyiv and doubles the number of troops the EU was planning on training.
Ukrainian soldiers are set to receive specialized training including instruction on new weapon systems like the Leopard 2 battle tank.
Borrell also said that the EU would provide €25 million ($27.4 million) to support demining efforts in areas considered to be endangered.
Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation said that Kyiv had ordered the detention of a former deputy defense minister who is accused of corruption.
“The official not only knew about the supply of low-quality products but also exerted pressure on subordinates to accept low-quality products at military warehouses,” the investigative bureau said.
The former official was not named but is involved in the ministry’s procurement of food at inflated prices as well as inferior military materiel. Ukraine said it had also arrested members of the cartels involved in the supply side of items such as eggs.
Last week, deputy defense minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov resigned following a media report echoing the allegations against the unnamed official. Shapovalov denied corruption allegations.
Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation said the detained individual would be held for two months until a bail of approximately $11 million (€10 million) is posted.
Ukraine accuses Russia of kidnapping children for underage sex trade
Dmytro Lubinets, Ukraine’s human rights commissioner, said Russia has been kidnapping Ukrainian children and selling them into the illicit global underage sex trade.
Lubinets said, “Telegram channels revealed that Russians are kidnapping Ukrainian children and making sexual videos with them.”
In one advertisement, a school-aged Ukrainian boy described as an orphan was for sale. He shared similar exchanges regarding efforts to produce child sexual abuse material and called on Kyiv to take “appropriate measures to find and punish the guilty.”
He added, “The Russian Federation is insidiously kidnapping, killing, deporting and raping our children. How is this even possible in today’s world?!”