Russian president Vladimir Putin said on Monday that Russia's intervention in Ukraine had been necessary because the West was "preparing for the invasion of our land, including Crimea".
Mr Putin was speaking at the annual Victory Day parade on Moscow's Red Square marking the anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in the second World War. The Russian president evoked the memory of Soviet heroism and urged his army towards victory in Ukraine.
Addressing massed ranks of servicemen on the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, Mr Putin condemned what he called external threats to weaken and split Russia. And he repeated the argument used to justify the invasion of Ukraine – that Nato was creating threats right next to Russia's borders.
He addressed soldiers fighting in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine which Russia has pledged to “liberate” from Kyiv.
“Defending the Motherland when its fate is being decided has always been sacred,” he said. “Today you are fighting for our people in Donbas, for the security of Russia, our homeland.”
Mr Putin's 11-minute speech on day 75 of the invasion offered no assessment of progress in the war or indication of how long it would continue. He has likened the war – which he casts as a battle against dangerous Nazi-inspired nationalists in Ukraine – to the challenge the Soviet Union faced when Adolf Hitler's armies invaded in 1941.
Europe must learn from its past mistakes and make sure no side is humiliated when Russia and Ukraine negotiate for peace, said French president Emmanuel Macron after describing Mr Putin’s Victory Day speech as “intimidation” and “warlike”.
Mr Macron said the May 9th anniversary was marked by two different faces.
On the one hand, Putin had sought to “show force, intimidation” and deliver a “resolutely warlike speech”, while on the other the EU was working on deepening a peaceful project led by the people, he said.
However, he warned that while Europe was now helping Ukraine, there would come a point when Moscow and Kyiv would sue for peace and at that point neither side should be humiliated or excluded as had happened to Germany in 1918. “We must have this standard because we know that the coming weeks and months will be very difficult,” said Mr Macron.
Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said it is Russia that is staging a "bloody re-enactment of Nazism" in Ukraine.
Ukrainians were urged to heed air raid sirens and stay in bomb shelters on Monday by officials concerned that Russian attacks would intensify as Moscow marked Victory Day.
Governor of Ukraine's eastern Luhansk region Serhiy Gaidai said: "Today we do not know what to expect from the enemy . . . stay in the shelters."
In the southern port of Mariupol the deputy commander of the ultra-nationalist Azov regiment holed up in the Azovstal steel plant pleaded with the international community to help evacuate wounded soldiers.
“We will continue to fight as long as we are alive to repel the Russian occupiers,” said Capt Sviatoslav Palamar.
Ukraine loses €161 million daily as it is cut off from access to the sea and the national export capacity had been more than halved, said prime minister Denys Shmyhal on Monday.
“Ninety million tonnes of agricultural produce, which Ukraine planned to export to countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe, have been blocked,” said Mr Shmyhal in the southern port city of Odesa, speaking alongside European Council president Charles Michel.
Mr Shmyhal said some produce had been exported on road or rail, but some other reserves remained in areas under shelling, or had been captured by Russia.
Leaders of G7 industrial nations vowed on Sunday to deepen Russia’s economic isolation and “elevate” a campaign against Kremlin-linked elites. The G7 said it was committed to phasing out or banning Russian oil and denounced the invasion.
“His [President Putin’s] actions bring shame on Russia and the historic sacrifices of its people,” said the G7, referring to Soviet Russia’s role in defeating Nazi Germany.
Ukraine and its allies reject the accusation of Nazism and the assertion that Russia is fighting for survival against a aggressive West. Kyiv has said repeatedly that Mr Putin unleashed an unprovoked war in an attempt to rebuild the Soviet Union.
Russia has come under punishing sanctions since Mr Putin launched what he called a “special operation” on February 24th, with trade affected and assets seized.
The European Union should consider using frozen Russian foreign exchange reserves to help pay for the cost of rebuilding Ukraine after the war, said foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in an interview with the Financial Times.
In the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, about 230km northwest of Mariupol, dozens of people who had fled the city and nearby occupied areas waited to register in a car park set up for evacuees.
"There's lots of people still in Mariupol who want to leave but can't," said 46-year-old Viktoria Andreyeva.
Separatists said 408 people were evacuated from Mariupol over the past 24 hours, including 65 children.
The coastal city is key to Moscow’s efforts to link the Crimean Peninsula, seized by Russia in 2014, and parts of the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk that have been controlled by Russia-backed separatists since then.
In Luhansk and Donetsk regions, half a dozen Russian attacks were repulsed, said Mr Gaidai on Monday.
Several western officials, including US first lady Jill Biden, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, a German parliament head and the Norwegian foreign minister arrived in Ukraine on Sunday in a show of support.
Irish rock group U2’s frontman Bono and band-mate The Edge performed a 40-minute concert in a Kyiv metro station in on Sunday and praised Ukrainian resistance.
“This evening, 8th of May, shots will ring out in the Ukraine sky, but you’ll be free at last. They can take your lives, but they can never take your pride,” said Bono. – Reuters