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‘It’s been astonishing’: Ian Pannell on one-year anniversary of Ukraine War

Feb. 24 marks the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Despite predictions that the country would be quickly overwhelmed by Russian forces, Ukraine has held its own ground, but at a high cost. It’s estimated that there have been at least 19,000 Ukrainian civilian casualties, although some experts say the count is far higher.

This week, President Joe Biden visited Kyiv in a show of Western support. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a speech in Russia declaring, among other things, that he is temporarily suspending his country’s participation in a nuclear arms treaty with the United States. With mounting tensions, it remains unclear just how and when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will end.

Ian Pannell, ABC News’ chief foreign correspondent, joined “GMA3” hosts DeMarco Morgan and Stephanie Ramos to talk about where things stand. More of Pannell’s reporting will be seen in the ABC News Live special “Standing Strong: One Year of War in Ukraine,” which premiered Feb. 23 on ABC News Live and is now streaming on Hulu.

PHOTO: Chief foreign correspondent Ian Pannell reporting for ABC News from Ukraine.

Chief foreign correspondent Ian Pannell reporting for ABC News from Ukraine.

ABC News

STEPHANIE RAMOS: Welcome Ian, and I think back to a year ago right before the invasion. I was there with you, and we’d go back and forth as to whether there would be an invasion. The people there were just as torn, being that Russia had threatened Ukraine for so many years. You’ve been there consistently covering the war since Day One. What has this last year been like for you?

IAN PANNELL: Yeah, I think you characterize it well. I mean, it’s been astonishing. I think you’re right. Very few people expected that Vladimir Putin would actually go ahead with this invasion, at least because it didn’t seem to make any sense. And remarkably, on Day One, the Russians landed on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv. On Day Two, we could even see them from the balcony from our live position. I think the way the country rallied together was also remarkable, not just fighters but volunteers and others all lending a hand to this war effort. But the costs — as you can see here, this is just one cemetery of many, many around the country — have been absolutely enormous. Death, displacement and destruction.

DeMARCO MORGAN: And we know that Ukrainians have managed to push Russian troops away from Kyiv and other cities. One year later, what’s the state of the war, and is there any sign that either side is winning?

PANNELL: Yeah, again, the very good question. I think a lot of people are asking that. I mean, there have been a number of key victories, again, against the odds for the Ukrainians. But I think right now, neither side is clearly winning. I mean, the battle in the east of the country in particular is really brutal and bloody. It’s a war of attrition. You’ve said trench warfare, mass bombardment, street-to-street fighting. Putin is desperate for some kind of victory, especially as we approach this one-year anniversary. The progress is incredibly slow and costly in terms of casualties and people wounded on both sides. And the numbers you quoted earlier are likely to be far, far higher when you take into account military casualties.

RAMOS: And Ian, you heard from President Putin yesterday saying that Chinese President Xi Jinping would visit Russia. This comes just days after he also announced that he will temporarily pull out of a nuclear arms treaty, the last remaining one between the United States and Russia. What do you think, Ian? What is Putin signaling with this impending visit?

PANNELL: Russia’s trying to portray this as a fight for a multipolar world. In other words, they’re trying to resist what they see as United States domination and that of NATO. I think if a visit does go ahead, and the Chinese haven’t confirmed this, it gives Putin much-needed moral support. He starts to look less isolated. And, of course, the Russians are also looking for Chinese weapons and ammunition. Not just the Ukrainians are low on those things. The Russians, too. I think if you listen to some of the rhetoric this week, it certainly had echoes of the Cold War, and I think not just from President Putin, but also from President Biden.

MORGAN: And Ian, as if we haven’t already seen enough, there is also concern that Russia is planning an attack for the anniversary of the war. What are people saying on the ground?

PANNELL: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of anxiety about what Putin might do, although, again, I think on one level it’s hard to see what else he can throw at the Ukrainians. I think, nevertheless, there are well-founded fears of a large-scale bombardment. And government workers, for example, have been told to stay at home, and school kids are back to online lessons. I think everyone is bracing to see what the anniversary would hold. I think a lot of people will stay at home.

RAMOS: Well, Ian, thank you for your reporting, your incredible reporting there on the ground. Thank you so much for joining us.

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