California Muslim mayor confronts racism by expanding inclusion for all citizens 

Short Url
Updated 05 October 2023
Follow

California Muslim mayor confronts racism by expanding inclusion for all citizens 

California Muslim mayor confronts racism by expanding inclusion for all citizens 

CHICAGO: Farrah Khan, the woman of color and the first Muslim to win the mayoral seat in Irvine, California, was inspired to run for public office while volunteering on a campaign by the remarks of the husband of a candidate she was helping, who told her a Pakistani Muslim could “never win.”  

Provoked by the comments, Khan ran for a city council seat two years later in 2016 but was beaten back by an onslaught of racism that saw Muslims, Arabs and Pakistanis as portrayed as “terrorists.” 

Refusing to allow hate to win, Khan ran again and won a council seat in 2018. Two years later, she challenged and defeated Irvine’s incumbent Mayor Christina Shea, whose campaign resorted to stereotyping to push Khan back. 

 

“Through that (volunteer) work, I got to really be involved in the community, which kind of sparked my interest in politics but always behind-the-scenes. It wasn’t until 2014, I was volunteering on a campaign and after an event we were kind of all sitting around talking and I mentioned that I really would look forward to more diversity when it came to leadership roles and elected officials. And the candidate’s husband at the time said to me, ‘Well, I hope you are not thinking about running.’ And I said, ‘You know, I am not. But why not?’”  

Khan said she was shocked by the casual comment. 

“He said, ‘People like you with names like yours are unelectable.’ That was 2014. No one in the room said anything. No one said that is wrong or that is not true. It was just complete silence. And so, I am driving home, and I am talking to my husband, and I am talking to my sisters, and I am just so enraged, like how are we, even today, hearing comments like this and thinking that it is ok? And it just didn’t settle well with me.” 

Khan said she could not get past the casual racist comment and decided to run for a seat on the Irvine City Council. 

“So, I ran, for the first time, for the city council in 2016. I didn’t win that year. I lost. But I was fourth out of 11 candidates that were running and gained a lot of local attention. And then folks … really encouraged me to run again. And so, in 2018, I ran again and came in first out of 12 candidates for city council,” Khan said, adding she was prompted to run for mayor two years after that. 

“And then of course (in the) 2020 (mayor’s race), we not only had the pandemic but the social injustice issues that we were faced with. And a mayor at the time that just didn’t get the community’s needs and was responding to people with, ‘If you don’t like the city I live in, go find another city to live in.’ And that was in the LA Times. It really bothered me that no one was stepping up to challenge her only because she was not only an incumbent but a 20-year incumbent (mayor and council member) and she had never lost any of her campaigns.” 

After winning a city council seat in 2018, Khan went on to challenge the city’s new mayor, Shea, in 2020. The campaign saw Khan subjected to a barrage of racist attacks. Instead of giving up, however, Khan said she “pivoted” and championed the need to bring diversity to Irvine’s government. 

 

“I think it was all that driving force of all the negativity. In 2016, I will tell you I didn’t want to run again after that campaign because it was just so brutal. There were signs throughout the city that basically said that I was a terrorist, that linked me with the Muslim Brotherhood, that I was supported by all of these (Muslim and Arab and Pakistani) organizations and made me out to be a scary person,” Khan recalled, saying she was stunned by the intensity of the anti-Muslim hate thrown her way by the mayor at the time, Donald P. Wagner, and his supporters. 

“I was just like, my gosh, for people that know me, I am just the shyest person there. It was me fighting against that. (During) most of that campaign, I would come home and just cry my eyes out and just be like, ‘What is this?’ I heard politics was nasty and it was bad but I didn’t know how horrible it got where people that you considered your friends when it comes to politics are not your friends, and there is so much of a struggle.” 

Khan defeated Shea and two other candidates in the November 2020 general election, winning with 56,304 votes or 46.7 percent of the total votes cast. She led Shea by nearly 15,000 votes. 

The racism she faced in politics, Khan said, would change who she was, prompting her to offer voters an alternative environment of inclusion and acceptance. 

“You do have to fight back and stand up for yourself,” she said. “If you don’t, politics eats you up alive.” 

Khan said she did not win because Muslim, Pakistani or Arab voters dominated the election. They were a small minority in a city that was nearly 43 percent Caucasian and 40 percent Asian. Khan estimated that Irvine’s population was only 5 to 8 percent Muslim and 2.5 percent Black. 

 

“I ran (in 2018) on making sure that we were going to make our community more inclusive. Because of the hate that I faced, I wanted to make sure that no one else in our city was pinpointed. Just the xenophobia, the bigotry, all that stuff needed to be dealt with. And so those were some topics that I spoke of. And I think those also resonated with our API (Asian and Pacific Islander) community as well. 

“But when it came to 2020, it was totally different,” Khan said, referencing the COVID-19 pandemic and public anger over police killings of African Americans like George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

“We have about an 11 percent Hispanic American population and probably a 2.5 percent Black population. When they came out, especially the Black community during the Black Lives Matter rallies, I was at the very first rally and several others after that.” 

Khan said that she continued to face racism in each election, adding that the stereotypes were intended to frighten voters and undermine her growing popularity and reputation of embracing diversity for all. 

“And I remember our mayor at the time really pointing me out using my pictures at the rally, saying ‘Oh, she is out there trying to incite violence,’ that I was against the police and I wanted to eliminate safety in the city … (She was) targeting me as one person, but that is how our communities get targeted, day after day,” Khan said. 

“And so, I really made an effort to uplift the community’s voices and make sure that their issues were being heard. So that campaign was all about doing the right thing for the pandemic, and of course, … standing up and speaking out for social injustice issues.” 

After becoming mayor, Khan created the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee to “uplift the voices” of diversity and be inclusive of everyone in the community regardless of race or religion. 

 

“Through that committee, we have done so much as far as being able to outreach into our general population and making sure were celebrating each other. For the first time in our city’s history, we celebrated Juneteenth. We celebrated Hispanic Heritage. And we celebrated Mid-Autumn Festival,” Khan said, referring to a festival celebrated in Chinese culture. They had prepared for only 200 attendees, but more than 2,000 came out. 

“And last year, I held a Ramadan event at City Hall, and it brought our Muslim community together … Those are ways we really bring our communities together to understand each other, to learn our cultures and our religions and not to be afraid, and I think that is something that has really sparked an interest in our committee members.” 

“That told us that when you make even the smallest effort to bring people together, they come out because they are craving it. So we just ran with it year after year since then … I will tell you, I get so much hate on social media ... The last time we celebrated Hispanic Heritage, there were so many comments (saying) … they are such a small population, it’s only 11 percent, why are we so focused on them? That’s exactly why we are so focused on them. And I don’t care if you are .5 percent of the population in our city, we are going to celebrate you and we are going to make sure you feel you are a part of this city.” 

Khan grew up in northern California and began her career in the biotech and innovation industry as a regulatory manager focusing on streamlining complex products and international research. In 2004, she and her family moved to Irvine, where her two sons have attended schools since kindergarten. She and her husband also serve as legacy partners with the Irvine Public School Foundation. 

Khan said she is planning to run for Orange County California supervisor in 2024 by spreading her message of inclusion and promising to build upon her record of addressing the environment and issues involving essential services for residents including housing, jobs, education, and transportation. 

In her short time as mayor, she has launched several new strategies leading to Irvine becoming the first city in Orange County to spearhead COVID-19 vaccination campaigns in local neighborhoods and senior centers. She passed HERO pay, which provides bonuses of up to $1,000 for frontline grocery workers who were employed during the pandemic, created a new committee focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, and adopted a resolution with strategies to support achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. 

Khan made her comments during an appearance on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show,” broadcast Wednesday Oct. 4, 2023 on the US Arab Radio network on WNZK AM 690 radio in Detroit and WDMV AM 700 Radio in Washington D.C. 

You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.


Civil society challenges India’s ties with Israel, warns of war crimes complicity

Civil society challenges India’s ties with Israel, warns of war crimes complicity
Updated 15 sec ago
Follow

Civil society challenges India’s ties with Israel, warns of war crimes complicity

Civil society challenges India’s ties with Israel, warns of war crimes complicity
  • Top intellectuals demand that New Delhi ceases facilitating Israeli military activity
  • Activists renew calls for action to oppose the world’s ‘last colonial project’

NEW DELHI: Members of Indian civil society have come together to break their government’s silence on Israel’s war crimes against Palestinians and put pressure on it to refrain from any kind of complicity with Tel Aviv.

Despite India’s historic support for Palestine, New Delhi has been mostly quiet in the wake of Israel’s deadly siege and onslaught on Gaza, which since October has killed nearly 30,000 people, wounded some 70,000, and left most of the enclave’s population starving and with no access to medical, food and water supplies.

When Indians went to the streets in the past months to protest and raise awareness on the atrocities unfolding in Gaza, their demonstrations were dispersed by police and campaigns stifled.

At the same time, New Delhi signed an agreement to send tens of thousands of workers to Israel to replace their Palestinian counterparts. It has also been supplying Israeli forces with weapons, despite an International Court of Justice ruling which said it was plausible that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza.

Grouped as Indians for Palestine, India’s top public intellectuals, politicians, lawyers, artists and diplomats launched a new movement on Friday to challenge the government’s links with Tel Aviv and demand that it follow the ICJ ruling that imposes a moral and legal obligation on signatories of the UN Genocide Convention, including India, to cease funding or facilitating Israel’s military activity.

“This is a group of concerned citizens who, like so many other people, have been greatly disturbed by the genocide that is taking place in Gaza,” Achin Vinaik, retired professor of international relations and global politics from the University of Delhi, told Arab News at the “International Court and Justice” public meeting at the Constitution Club of India on Friday.

“The Palestine issue is so clear-cut. The difference between victimizers and victims is so clear-cut that it is actually a litmus test for one’s basic humanity,” he said.

“If you are any kind of a decent human being, you will be appalled by what is happening to the Palestinian people. Israel is a settler colonial apartheid state.”

The meeting produced a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and urging the Indian government to “publicly endorse the latest ruling of the ICJ, stand against all violations of the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza and refrain from any sort of complicity with Israel.”

The resolution also called on people across Asia to demonstrate collective solidarity with the people of Palestine — in spirit, resources, speech, and action.

“I think it’s so important that everyone gets involved in whatever way that they can because the Palestinian people really need solidarity from the entire global community and whoever is able to support them and whatever way they can,” Sanya Khera, a student in Delhi who joined the platform, told Arab News.

“I think it’s so important that people gather in public forums like this and come together and have these discussions because you are not seeing it that much on the news, you are not seeing it in your newspapers.”

For Aban Raza, artist and activist, Friday’s meeting marked the emergence of a new platform to take action.

“Hopefully, very soon we can come on the streets and protest against it, like we used to,” she said.

“Silence is no longer an option and the most important thing that needs to be done is to speak up for the Palestinians, speak up wherever there is injustice happening, and the most grave injustice right now is happening in Palestine.”

The hundreds of people who showed up at the Constitution Club of India venue were given the space to speak.

“We had a wonderful meeting of over 500 people who came and participated and clapped and showed their solidarity with the people of Gaza ... It tells ordinary people that their voices also count. For so long, even to speak about this was so difficult,” said Pamela Philipose, senior fellow at the Indian Council of Social Science Research.

“One person told me, and I think she put it so well ... She said: ‘We didn’t even have a chance to mourn for the people who died in Gaza, and this gave us the chance to actually mourn for them’.”

The importance of Indians speaking up against their government’s policy was also seen as a historic duty given India’s own colonial past.

“This is the last colonial project which exists on the Earth. And this colonial project, where Israel has been imposed on the land of Palestine, has to end. India even in its anti-colonial struggle days was for the rights of Palestine, so we have to continue with this legacy, also to justify our existence,” Apoorvanand Jha, public intellectual and professor at the University of Delhi, told Arab News.

“As we have seen in other countries as well — in the United States of America or in the United Kingdom, France, Germany — people have come out on the streets against their own governments. That’s what we are doing ... We belong to one humanity and that’s why it’s our duty to stand against our governments for the people of Palestine.”


Calls for MP’s sacking over claim Islamists ‘control’ London’s Muslim mayor

Calls for MP’s sacking over claim Islamists ‘control’ London’s Muslim mayor
Updated 24 February 2024
Follow

Calls for MP’s sacking over claim Islamists ‘control’ London’s Muslim mayor

Calls for MP’s sacking over claim Islamists ‘control’ London’s Muslim mayor
  • Lee Anderson says Islamists have ‘got control’ of Sadiq Khan and capital city
  • Opposition figures urge PM to punish ‘appalling racism and Islamophobia’

LONDON: A Conservative MP in the UK is embroiled in controversy after claiming that Islamists have “got control” of Sadiq Khan, the Muslim mayor of London.

Lee Anderson made the comments in an interview on the GB News channel, and has since faced condemnation and calls for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to expel him from the governing Conservative Party.

Anderson told the channel on Friday, referring to major pro-Palestinian protests in the capital: “I don’t actually believe that these Islamists have got control of our country, but what I do believe is they’ve got control of Khan and they’ve got control of London.

“Again, this stems with Khan — he’s actually given our capital city away to his mates. If you let Labour in through the back door, expect more of this and expect our cities to be taken over by these lunatics.”

His comments follow similar claims by former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who wrote in the Daily Telegraph that “the Islamists, the extremists and the antisemites are in charge now,” the BBC reported.

Anderson’s comments about Khan have been condemned by senior opposition figures. Labour Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds described the remarks as “unambiguously racist and Islamophobic.” On X, she called for Sunak to sack Anderson “immediately,” Sky News reported.

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow paymaster general, called for the same measure, describing Anderson’s comments as “vile” and “appalling racism and Islamophobia.”

Ashworth also referred to former Prime Minister Liz Truss, who recently took aim at the “deep state” in an appearance at a US conservative conference.

“It’s time to show some leadership and take on the extremists in your party,” Ashworth said in a letter to Sunak. “Liz Truss and Lee Anderson must no longer sit as Conservative MPs. Their words cannot go unchecked or unchallenged.”

Figures within Anderson’s own party have been divided in response to his comments. Former Chancellor Sajid Javid described the claims as “a ridiculous thing to say” in a post on X.

Former Conservative MP Gavin Barwell said Anderson had made a “despicable slur on Sadiq Khan and Londoners,” The Independent reported.

Barwell added: “In his first speech as PM, Rishi Sunak said he would ‘unite our country.’ If he allows the likes of Anderson to spread hate and division like this, those words will be revealed as a sham.”

Khan, who has served as mayor of London since 2016, is the first Muslim to hold the position.

Pro-Palestinian protests, which have been held weekly in London since the outbreak of the Gaza conflict last October, have angered some quarters of the Conservative Party.

In response to the furore surrounding Anderson’s comments, a Conservative Party source said: “Lee was simply making the point that the mayor, in his capacity as police and crime commissioner for London, has abjectly failed to get a grip on the appalling Islamist marches we have seen in London recently.”


Western leaders in Kyiv to show support on war anniversary

Western leaders in Kyiv to show support on war anniversary
Updated 24 February 2024
Follow

Western leaders in Kyiv to show support on war anniversary

Western leaders in Kyiv to show support on war anniversary
  • Four Western leaders in Kyiv to show solidarity
  • Biden to join G7 video conference, Zelensky invited

KYIV: Four Western leaders arrived in Kyiv on Saturday to show solidarity with Ukraine on the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion, which has cost tens of thousands of lives and ravaged the country’s economy.
The prime ministers of Italy, Canada and Belgium — Giorgia Meloni, Justin Trudeau and Alexander De Croo — traveled with the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on an overnight train from neighboring Poland.
Their presence was designed to underline the West’s commitment to helping Ukraine even as it suffers growing shortages of military supplies, impacting its performance on the battlefield where Moscow is grinding out territorial gains.
Von der Leyen wrote on the social media platform X that she was in Kyiv “to celebrate the extraordinary resistance of the Ukrainian people.” She added: “More than ever, we stand firmly by Ukraine. Financially, economically, militarily, morally. Until the country is finally free.”
Meloni and Trudeau are expected to sign security pacts with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during their brief stay, in line with deals recently agreed with France and Germany that are worth billions of dollars.
However, $61 billion in aid promised by US President Joe Biden is being blocked by Republicans in Congress, casting a long shadow over Kyiv’s hopes of pushing back the much larger, better supplied Russian military.
Biden is due to take part in a video conference call of fellow leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) major democracies on Saturday, which will be chaired by Meloni, with Zelensky invited to join the discussion.
Italy holds the rotating presidency of the G7 and organized the call, saying it was vital to challenge perceptions that the West had grown weary of the conflict and that Russia was winning.
When Russian tanks and infantry streamed across the border before dawn on Feb. 24, 2022, Ukraine’s 40 million people defied expectations — and the Kremlin’s best-laid plans — by holding them back and preventing a widely predicted defeat.
But as the war enters its third year, setbacks on the eastern front have left the Ukraine army looking vulnerable.
Seeking to maintain Western focus on Ukraine, even as the war between Israel and Hamas dominates headlines, Zelensky has warned that Russia, led by President Vladimir Putin, may not stop at Ukraine’s borders if it emerges victorious.
Putin dismisses such claims as nonsense. He casts the war as a wider struggle with the United States, which the Kremlin elite says aims to cleave Russia apart. The West sees the invasion as an unjustified act of aggression that must be repelled.
Old war and new
There will be events across Ukraine on Saturday to mark the anniversary, including a commemoration service for those who died in Bucha, north of Kyiv — scene of some of the worst alleged war crimes of the conflict.
Ukraine’s prosecutor general said on Friday it had launched investigations into more than 122,000 suspected war crimes cases in the last two years. Russia denies carrying them out.
The initial shock of the invasion gradually morphed into familiarity and then fatigue, as the world watched initial Russian gains and a stunning Ukrainian counteroffensive in late 2022 slow into grinding, attritional trench warfare.
In scenes reminiscent of the battlefields of World War One, soldiers under heavy artillery fire are dying in their thousands, sometimes for a few kilometers of land.
Both sides have developed huge and increasingly sophisticated fleets of air, sea and land drones for surveillance and attack, an unprecedented use of unmanned vehicles that could point the way to future conflicts.
Russia, with a much bigger population to replenish the army’s ranks and a larger military budget, might favor a drawn-out war, although the costs have been huge for Moscow as it seeks to navigate sanctions and a growing reliance on China.
Ukraine’s position is more precarious. Villages, towns and cities have been razed, troops are exhausted, ammunition is running low and Russian missiles and drones rain down almost daily.
Russia this month registered its biggest victory in nine months, capturing the eastern town of Avdiivka and ending months of deadly urban combat.
Yet Zelensky remained defiant ahead of the anniversary.
“I am convinced that victory awaits us,” he told diplomats in Kyiv this week in an emotional address. “In particular, thanks to unity and your support.”
Tens of thousands of troops have been killed on both sides and tens of thousands more wounded, while thousands of Ukrainian civilians have perished.
Rising costs
The scale of devastation in Ukraine is staggering.
A recent World Bank study said that rebuilding Ukraine’s economy could cost nearly $500 billion. Two million housing units have been damaged or destroyed, and nearly 6 million people have fled abroad.
In addition to raising money and arms to continue the war, Zelensky is pushing legislation through parliament allowing Ukraine to mobilize up to half a million more troops — a target some economists say could paralyze the economy.
Russia’s finances have proved resilient so far to unprecedented sanctions. While natural gas exports have slumped, shipments of oil have held up, thanks largely to Indian and Chinese buying.
Russia’s GDP expanded 3.6 percent in 2023, although some Russia-based economists warned that this was driven by a leap in defense spending and that stagnation or recession loom.
That will not jeopardize Putin’s victory in elections in March, which he is set to win by a landslide amid broad support for his performance and for the war, described by the Kremlin as a “special military operation.”
In the last two years, authorities have cracked down hard on any form of dissent over the conflict. On Feb. 16, Putin’s most formidable domestic opponent, Alexei Navalny, died in an Arctic penal colony where he was serving a 30-year sentence.
On Friday, Putin addressed troops fighting in Ukraine as Russia marked Defender of the Fatherland Day, hailing them as heroes battling for “truth and justice.”
He laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier at the foot of the Kremlin wall to honor those who have died in battle.


Donald Trump vows to crush Nikki Haley as Republican race heads south

Donald Trump vows to crush Nikki Haley as Republican race heads south
Updated 24 February 2024
Follow

Donald Trump vows to crush Nikki Haley as Republican race heads south

Donald Trump vows to crush Nikki Haley as Republican race heads south
  • The candidates largely swapped only glancing blows in the early nominating contests
  • Primary comes amid signs that the former US president is tightening his hold over the party

CHARLESTON, United States: Donald Trump and Nikki Haley go head-to-head Saturday in South Carolina’s Republican primary, with the ex-president expected to trounce his former charge in her home state as he closes in on the nomination.
Haley was a popular governor of the Palmetto State for six years before becoming Trump’s UN ambassador in 2017, but her old boss is backed by the party establishment and nearly two-thirds of voters in opinion polling.
The candidates largely swapped only glancing blows in the early nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire in January, but the rhetorical artillery fire has intensified since the primary narrowed into a two-horse race.
“Tomorrow you will cast one of the most important votes of your entire life and — honestly — we’re not very worried about tomorrow,” a nonchalant Trump told an election-eve rally in the city of Rock Hill.
Seeking to demonstrate that he was already looking beyond Haley, he vowed to show President Joe Biden and the Democrats “that we are coming like a freight train in November,” when the general election will be held.
South Carolinians do not have to indicate party allegiance when they register to vote, and are allowed to have their say in either the Democratic or the Republican primary.
Haley — a more traditional conservative who espouses limited government and a muscular foreign policy — will rely on votes from moderates, although the tactic did little for her as she lost to Trump in each of the first four nominating contests.
Voters interviewed by AFP in South Carolina capital Columbia on Thursday were complimentary about both candidates, although one voter felt Haley wasn’t ready for the highest office and another criticized Trump for being “divisive.”
“He’ll go after people that don’t agree with him. Being a Christian, I don’t feel good about that,” said financial adviser and Haley voter David Gilliam, 55.
The primary comes amid signs that the frontrunner — who faces four criminal indictments — is tightening his hold over the party as he pushes for a reshuffle to install family members and allies at the top of the Republican National Committee .
His daughter-in-law Lara Trump has promised to spend “every single penny” of party funds on his presidential campaign should she become an RNC cochair, and has argued that paying his legal bills is of “big interest” to Republican voters.
Haley has sought to focus on the “chaos” that she says follows Trump, pointing to $8 million in campaign donations he spent on legal fees in January and predicting that his total outlay on court cases this year could top $100 million.
“He has turned his presidential campaign into a legal defense slush fund and will not have the resources or focus to go up against Joe Biden and the Democrats,” said Haley national spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas.
In common with Democrats, Haley has also been hitting Trump over his outlook on the international stage and oft-voiced admiration for the leaders of the world’s most authoritarian regimes.
She has blasted Trump’s reaction to the death of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny — in which he avoided criticism of President Vladimir Putin — and his threat to encourage Moscow to attack NATO nations that had not met their financial obligations.
But Haley’s central argument for months has been that polling shows her performing better than Trump in hypothetical matchups with Biden.
She has vowed to compete in the Republican primary through “Super Tuesday” — when multiple states vote on March 5 — regardless of what happens in South Carolina on Saturday.
Reproductive rights are likely to figure prominently in the election, with Trump avoiding taking a clear position on proposals for a nationwide abortion ban after appointing three Supreme Court justices who helped gut federal protections.
A wrinkle was added when Alabama’s supreme court ruled last week that frozen embryos can be considered children, signaling a new front in the debate and posing questions for in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics.
Trump — keenly aware the Alabama decision risks alienating moderate and women voters — voiced support Friday for preserving access to IVF programs, calling on the state’s legislature to “act quickly to find an immediate solution” to ensure it remained available.


Ukraine on the defensive as Russia war enters third year

Ukraine on the defensive as Russia war enters third year
Updated 24 February 2024
Follow

Ukraine on the defensive as Russia war enters third year

Ukraine on the defensive as Russia war enters third year
  • While the EU has assured Ukraine of continuing support, the overall picture remains bleak for Kyiv due to the US Congress blocking a vital $60 billion aid package

KYIV: Ukraine on Saturday marked two years since Russia’s invasion, entering a new year of war weakened by a lack of western aid while Russia is emboldened by fresh gains.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” at dawn on February 24, 2022, many expected Moscow’s victory within days, but Ukraine fought back, forcing Russian troops into humiliating retreats.
But Ukraine has suffered setbacks with the failure of its 2023 counteroffensive. The Russian army has in turn built up a position of strength thanks to booming war production, while Ukraine’s troops are short of manpower and running low on Western-supplied ammunition for artillery and air defenses.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday that decisions on arms supplies have to be “the priority.”
Saturday’s anniversary will see visits by Western leaders including EU commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, but the overall picture remains bleak for Kyiv due to the US Congress blocking a vital $60 billion aid package. This has come on top of delays in promised European deliveries.
US President Joe Biden renewed calls for Republican lawmakers to unblock the additional funding, warning that “history is waiting” and “failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will not be forgotten.”

Russia is attacking hard in the east, with the destroyed town of Maryinka near Donetsk the latest hotspot after it captured the heavily fortified town of Avdiivka on February 17.
Ukraine’s economy has also been hit by a border blockade by Polish farmers that Kyiv says threatens exports and has held up deliveries of weapons.

In Kyiv, the mood was grim but still defiant as people said they had grown accustomed to wartime conditions.
“For women of Ukraine, this is our heartache — for our husbands, for our children, for our fathers,” said nutritionist Olga Byrko in Kyiv.
“I would really like this to end as quickly as possible.”
“Yes of course we have learned to live with it... now the war is our life,” said Yuriy Pasichnyk, a 38-year-old businessman.
“I think we need to have more weapons so that we can drive this evil spirit out of our land and start rebuilding our Ukraine,” said 51-year-old Kostyantyn Gofman.
Ukraine needs almost half a trillion dollars to rebuild towns and cities destroyed by Russia’s invasion, according to the latest estimate by the World Bank, European Union, United Nations and Ukrainian government.
Ukraine has estimated that around 50,000 civilians have been killed.

Neither side has given numbers for military deaths and injured, while both claim to have inflicted huge losses.
In August 2023, The New York Times quoted US officials as putting Ukraine’s military losses at 70,000 dead and 100,000 to 120,000 injured.
Leaked US intelligence in December indicated that 315,000 Russian troops had been killed or wounded.
On the eastern front, morale is low as outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian troops are ceding ground to Russian forces.
“We are running out of shells and the Russians keep coming. Lots of our comrades are injured — or worse. Everything is getting worse and worse,” said one soldier near Bakhmut, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Moscow has massively ramped up its arms production and received drones from Iran, while Kyiv says it has confirmed Russia’s use of North Korean missiles.
Zelensky said in December the military wanted to draft up to 500,000 more troops. A bill to broaden mobilization has caused wide public fear.
The conflict has thrown Russia into even greater isolation from the West, with the United States and its allies imposing a slew of sanctions.
But Putin has brushed off the fallout and hailed the troops as “true national heroes.”
He has used the war years to rally patriotism and mount an even harsher crackdown on dissent, with few daring to voice opposition to the war.
The death in prison of opposition leader Alexei Navalny has removed Putin’s arch-foe, and he is set to extend his term in office in elections next month.
On the streets of Moscow, most people told AFP they back the soldiers fighting in Ukraine.
“I’m proud of our men,” said 27-year-old Nadezhda, an environmental engineer.
“Of course I am anxious for them, but it’s a pleasant feeling that they are doing great, they are out there fighting for our country.”
One of the few to give an alternative opinion, was Konstantin, a drama teacher working as a waiter, who said: “I’m against any war. Two years have passed and it annoys me that people can’t talk to each other and are still at war.”