In pictures: Ukraine marks Day of Unity amid Russia invasion fears

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By AP
Ukrainian Army soldiers pose for a photo as they gather to celebrate a Day of Unity in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022.
Ukrainian Army soldiers pose for a photo as they gather to celebrate a Day of Unity in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022.   -   Copyright  Emilio Morenatti/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Ukrainians defied pressure from Moscow with a national show of flag-waving unity Wednesday, while the West warned that it saw no sign of a promised pullback of Russian troops from Ukraine’s borders despite Kremlin declarations of a withdrawal.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly sought to project calm as well as strength in the face of the threat of war from Russia, declaring Wednesday a “Day of National Unity.”

Emilio Morenatti/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
Ukrainians march holding a national flag to celebrate a Day of Unity in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022.Emilio Morenatti/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Across the country, Ukrainians of all ages waved flags in the streets and from apartment windows.

Hundreds unfolded a 200-meter (650-foot) flag at Kyiv’s Olimpiyskiy Stadium, while another was draped in the center of a shopping mall in the capital.

In the government-controlled part of Ukraine's eastern region of Luhansk, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops since 2014, residents stretched another huge flag across a street.

Emilio Morenatti/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
Ukrainians gather to celebrate a Day of Unity in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022.Emilio Morenatti/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

While a feared Russian invasion of Ukraine on Wednesday did not materialize, the United States and its allies maintain that the threat remains strong, with Europe’s security and economic stability in the balance.

Russia has massed about 150,000 troops east, north and south of Ukraine, sparking Western concerns it was planning an assault.

@Dankihot / (dankihot.com)/Ukrainian Presidential Press Office
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a military drill outside the city of Rivne, northern Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022.@Dankihot / (dankihot.com)/Ukrainian Presidential Press Office

There have been no indications of a significant withdrawal of those forces, but this week has seen a handful of gestures from Moscow that offered hope that Europe might avoid war following weeks of escalating East-West tensions.

Victoriya Kuzminova, a teacher who was taking part in a march in Sievierodonetsk said she wanted to show children that the country is united and has nothing to fear.

On Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry released a video showing a trainload of armored vehicles moving across a bridge away from Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

It said the movement was part of a return of forces to their permanent bases.

AP/Ukrainian Presidential Press Office
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center left, inspects anti-aircraft weapons during a military drill outside the city of Rivne, northern Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2AP/Ukrainian Presidential Press Office

A day earlier, the ministry reported the start of a pullback of troops following military exercises near Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signaled he wants a diplomatic path out of the crisis, emphasising that he did not want war and would rely on negotiations to achieve his key goal of keeping Ukraine from joining NATO.