An American veteran and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shared an emotional moment at a ceremony to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion to liberate France in World War II, each praising the other as a hero.

Retired Staff Sgt. Melvin Hurwitz, 99, and other veterans were introduced to the foreign dignitaries remembering the landings in Normandy on Thursday. When he met Zelenskyy, Hurwitz kissed the Ukrainian leader’s hand and pulled him in for an extended hug, exclaiming: “Oh, you’re the savior of the people!”

A beaming Zelenskyy replied: “No, no, no, you … you saved Europe.” The crowd watching exploded with applause, and Hurwitz asked for a picture with the Ukrainian president. He told Zelenskyy that he prays for him.

The conflict in Ukraine hung over the anniversary, a grim reminder that war has returned to Europe. Ukraine’s president was greeted with a standing ovation and cheers. Russia, a crucial World War II ally who launched a full-scale invasion of its smaller neighbor in 2022, was not invited.

The commemorations for the more than 4,400 Allied dead on D-Day and many tens of thousands more, including French civilians, killed in the ensuing Battle of Normandy were tinged with fear that World War II lessons are fading.

The United States is by far Kyiv’s biggest supplier of wartime support, and Ukraine is trying to fend off an intense Russian offensive in eastern areas of the country. The push is focused on the Ukrainian border regions of Kharkiv and Donetsk but Ukrainian officials say it could spread as Russia’s bigger army seeks to make its advantage tell.

The offensive is seeking to exploit Kyiv’s shortages of ammunition and troops along the roughly 620-mile front line.

That shortfall in weaponry came after U.S. military aid was held up by MAGA Republicans in the U.S. Congress who shared allegiance with Russia’s dictator Putin. It was an unnecessary six-month delay that cost countless Ukrainian lives, before President Biden could sign the $61 billion military aid package for Ukraine into law in April.

The slow pace of delivery of pledged Western weaponry has long frustrated Zelenskyy, as has President Biden’s hesitation over supplying more hardware for fear of provoking Putin. That has caused tension in their relationship.

The U.S. will send about $225 million in military aid to Ukraine, U.S. officials said. The latest package includes munitions for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, as well as mortar systems and an array of artillery rounds, officials said.

Easing their stance amid Russia’s most recent onslaught and with Ukraine’s army reeling, some NATO allies including the U.S. said recently they would allow Ukraine to use weapons they deliver to Kyiv to carry out limited attacks inside Russia.

That step brought a furious response from the Kremlin, which warned that Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II could spin out of control.

President Biden has pledged “we will not walk away” from Ukraine, drawing a direct line from the fight to liberate Europe from Nazi domination to today’s war against Russian aggression.

Ukraine depicts its fight against the Kremlin’s forces as a clash between Western democratic freedom and Russian tyranny. Russia says it is defending itself against a menacing eastward expansion of the NATO military alliance.

In a 20-minute speech on June 7 at the National Assembly, the lower house of the French parliament, President Zelenskyy drew a parallel with the sacrifices made during World War II and his country’s current fight.

“This battle is a crossroads,” President Zelenskyy said. “A moment where we can now write history the way we need it. Or we can become victims of history as it suits … our enemy.”

President Zelenskyy, who spoke in Ukrainian, was frequently interrupted by lawmakers’ applause and cheers. He prompted a standing ovation when he said in French: “Dear France, I thank you for standing by our side as we defend life.”

President Zelenskyy’s foreign trips aim to keep Ukraine’s plight in the public eye, secure more military help for its fight against Russia’s invasion, and lock in long-term Western support through bilateral alliances.

During his follow-up meeting with President Biden on June 7, President Zelenskyy pressed for all Americans to support his country’s defense against Russia’s invasion, and he thanked lawmakers for eventually coming together to approve the weapons package, which has allowed Ukraine to stem Russian advances in recent weeks.

“It’s very important that in this unity, United States of America, all American people stay with Ukraine like it was during World War II,” Zelenskyy said. “How the United States helped to save human lives, to save Europe. And we count on your continuing support in standing with us shoulder to shoulder.”

President Biden publicly apologized to Ukraine for a monthslong congressional holdup in American military assistance that let Russia make gains on the battlefield. The two leaders met as the specter of Trump’s candidacy loomed over the discussion.

Trump, a convicted felon and adjudicated rapist, is the presumptive Republican nominee. With Putin as his political benefactor, critics fear that if re-elected Trump would end all military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

Christopher Megerian, Sylvie Corbet, and MI Staff

Associated Press


Virginia Mayo (AP) and Sameer Al-Doumy (AP)