Ukraine gives qualified support for China proposal

Ukraine’s leader has given qualified support for China’s new pronouncements about the war in his country, saying Chinese interest is “not bad”.

“China has shown its thoughts. I believe that the fact that China started talking about Ukraine is not bad,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said at a news conference on the first anniversary of the Russian invasion on Friday.

“But the question is what follows the words. The question is in the steps and where they will lead to.”

China called for a ceasefire and peace talks between Ukraine and Russia in a vaguely worded proposal released on Friday that analysts said was unlikely to deliver results.

Zelenskiy said there were points in the Chinese proposals that he agreed with “and there are those that we don’t”. “But it’s something,” he added.

China claims to have a neutral stance in the war that began one year ago but has also said it has a “no limits friendship” with Russia and has refused to criticise Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or even refer to it as an invasion.

It has accused the United States and its allies of provoking the conflict and “fanning the flames” by providing Ukraine with arms.

Still, Zelenskiy suggested that China’s help could be useful in trying to isolate Russia.

“Our task is to gather everyone to isolate the one,” he said.

The plan released by China’s foreign ministry mainly reiterated long-held positions and analysts said China would be an unlikely broker.

It calls for the “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries” to be respected but does not say what will happen to the territory Russia has occupied since the invasion.

It also calls for an end to “unilateral” sanctions on Russia, indirectly criticises the expansion of the NATO military alliance and condemns threats of nuclear force.

The proposal is “an attempt for public relations on the part of China,” said Li Mingjiang, a professor and international security expert at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

“I’m not convinced that this policy is going to improve their credibility in being an honest broker.”

Speaking after China issued the paper but without referring to it, Zhanna Leshchynska, charge d’affaires at the Ukrainian embassy in Beijing, said her country did not want peace at any price.

“We will not agree to anything that keeps Ukrainian territories occupied and puts our people at the aggressor’s mercy,” Leshchynska told a gathering at the European Union mission to China marking the anniversary of the invasion.

The Russian government said on Friday that it appreciated China’s plan and said it was open to achieving the goals of what it calls its “special military operation” through political and diplomatic means.

“We appreciate the sincere desire of our Chinese friends to contribute to resolving the conflict in Ukraine by peaceful means,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, adding however that this would also mean recognising “new territorial realities” in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s allies express skepticism.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on CNN that his first reaction to the proposal was that “it could stop at point one, which is: Respect the sovereignty of all nations.”

He added: “This war could end tomorrow if Russia stopped attacking Ukraine and withdrew its forces… This was a war of choice”.

Jake Sullivan also told a Ukraine soldier during CNN’s Town Hall that he was defending freedom everywhere.

“What we can do is everything in our power to get you the equipment and ammunition that you need,” he said.

German government spokesman Wolfgang Buchner said the Chinese proposal contained several important points but was missing a key one: “first and foremost the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine”.

China abstained on Thursday when the United Nations General Assembly approved a non-binding resolution that calls for Russia to end hostilities in Ukraine and withdraw its forces.

The 12-point paper also urges measures to prevent attacks on civilians and civilian facilities, keep nuclear facilities safe, establish humanitarian corridors for civilians and ensure the export of grain after disruptions pushed up global food prices.

It also called for an end to the “Cold War mentality” – China’s standard term for what it regards as US hegemony, and maintenance of alliances such as NATO.

“Dialogue and negotiation are the only viable solution to the Ukraine crisis,” the proposal said.

Australian Ukrainian community prays for peace

Ukrainians in Australia are praying for peace in their home country a year on from Russia’s full-scale invasion.

The Ukrainian national anthem rang out over Melbourne on Friday evening as the community gathered at Federation Square for a vigil to mark the anniversary.

Olga Diacheko’s family was back in Ukraine, her home country, as she attended the vigil. She waited every day to hear bad news, she said.
“My girls were born in Australia but it’s hard for them to understand because they speak Russian.

They can’t understand why they speak Russian but Russia attacked Ukraine,” Ms Diacheko told AAP.

“They keep asking, ‘Is the war over?’. It’s very hard to live every day not knowing what is going to come tomorrow.”

Melbourne local Cathy Kaminnyj has Ukrainian family members fighting on the front line.

“It’s good that we’re standing strong and still fighting 12 months on, but we shouldn’t be in this predicament,” she said.

Australian events follow similar tributes by Ukrainians and their allies around the world on the first anniversary of the attack, which has become the worst conflict in Europe since World War II.

Ahead of the vigil, which was attended by politicians including Labor minister Bill Shorten and Victorian Opposition Leader John Pesutto, parishioners gathered for a service in the Ukrainian Catholic Church at North Melbourne.

“There is no liberal or labor … there is only blue and yellow”, “Mr Pesutto said.

It was important for people to have something spiritual to remember the day by, Association of Ukrainians in Victoria board chair Tatiana Zachariak said.

“The purpose isn’t just on our Ukrainian community today, it’s also about saying thank you to Australia and the Australian government for the support they’ve given to Ukraine and the people who’ve had to flee to Australia,” she said.

“We also want to pass on the message that this isn’t anything new in some ways. Russia has been attacking Ukraine for nearly 400 years.”

The community did not want people to get Ukrainian fatigue and instead wanted them to remember a sovereign country had been attacked and was fighting for democracy, Ms Zachariak said.

Melbourne lit up in blue and yellow on Friday night in support of Ukraine, with Melbourne Town Hall, Federation Square, Flinders Street Station and the National Gallery of Victoria among the buildings that took on the country’s national colours.

In Tasmania, Hobart’s Tasman Bridge was also lit in blue and yellow to mark last year’s February 24 invasion.

At Aristocrat Leisure’s annual general meeting in Sydney on Friday, chairman Neil Chatfield took a moment to pause and acknowledge the anniversary.

“This will be a day of sombre reflection for many people, and indeed people around the world,” he said.

The Australian electronic gaming giant had about 1000 staff working in Ukraine at its Pixel United mobile gaming subsidiary when the war began, three-quarters of whom have been relocated to safer locations either within the country or abroad.

Aristocrat set up a team in Poland to assist with transport, visas and housing assistance for the relocated staff, as well as stopped offering its mobile games within Russia, and set up four new global offices to accommodate people relocated from Ukraine.

Hundreds of members of Sydney’s Ukrainian community and their supporters held a vigil outside St Mary’s Cathedral on Thursday evening.

— with AAP and Reuters

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