BRUSSELS (AP) – Around the world, nations paid tribute with moments of silence and solemn ceremonies for their fallen soldiers in the First World War and since then an armistice day pierced by the rumblings of Russia’s war in Ukraine it showed once again that peace is too often elusive.
On the continent that has already spawned two world wars in just over a century, casualties since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 are estimated at around 200,000 and gave everyone memories of Friday on the horrors of past wars a poignant ring of the present.
“Since 1918, we have celebrated Armistice Day and honored the brave men and women who served to give us peace. Yet as we salute our troops this year, that peace was shattered by an aggressor Russian,” said British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly. “As we honor the war dead of the past, we also remember Ukraine’s fight for freedom today.”
The thought echoed around the world, starting in Australia and New Zealand, where dawn first appeared on the anniversary of the November 11, 1918, truce that ended the First World War.
In the heart of Flanders Fields in western Belgium, where many of the war’s bloodiest battles took place and where a huge tower was built under the motto ‘Never again war’, the tributes resonated too contemporary.
“These words sound different this year,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said. “Today we not only commemorate Armistice Day, but also the courageous struggle of Ukrainians for their freedom and their country.”
In Australia, the phrase “Let’s not forget” – etched in gold in the Moruya granite of Sydney’s Cenotaph – dominated the wreaths and flowers that people brought.
“We must always remember the brave men and women who stood up for our nation when we needed them, who made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
Along with soldiers from New Zealand and other parts of the British Commonwealth like Canada and South Africa, the Australians joined the 1914-1918 war in Europe to make it the first truly global conflict.
World War I pitted the armies of France, the British Empire, Russia, and the United States against a German-led coalition that included the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. Nearly 10 million soldiers died, sometimes tens of thousands in a single day.
For decades in Europe, the return of such mass carnage seemed impossible, but the scenes in Ukrainian cities and countryside made people think again.
Armistice Day, known as Veterans Day in the United States, was marked from the smallest cemeteries of Flanders Fields in western Belgium to the Champs-Élysées in Paris and countless streets and offices beyond.
City workers from Lloyd’s of London stood, almost with military rigor on six floors of their head office, to mark the day.
In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe. Later, Macron will take part in the annual Paris Peace Forum, leading a debate on how Russia’s war in Ukraine is testing the ideas of universalism and multilateralism that flourished after the world wars of the last century.