BRUSSELS (AP) — Across the world, nations paid respect with moments of silence and solemn ceremonies for their fallen soldiers in World War I and ever since on an Armistice Day pierced by the rumblings of Russia’s war in Ukraine that showed again that peace is all too often elusive.
On the continent that already spawned two world wars in little over a century, casualties since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 are estimated at around 200,000 and gave any of Friday’s reminiscences about the horrors of wars past a poignant ring of the present.
“Since 1918 we have marked Armistice Day and paid tribute to the brave men and women who have served to give us peace. Yet as we salute our troops this year, this peace has been shattered by a Russian aggressor,” U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said. “As we honor the war dead of the past, we also remember Ukraine’s fight for freedom today.”
The thought echoed around the globe, starting in Australia and New Zealand, where dawn came first on the anniversary of the Nov. 11, 1918 truce that brought an end to the First World War.
At the heart of the Flanders Fields in western Belgium, where several of the war’s bloodiest battles were fought and one huge tower was built under the motto “War Never Again,” the tributes had an all too contemporary ring.
“These words sound different this year,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said. “Today, we do not only commemorate Armistice Day, but also the brave fight of the Ukrainians for their freedom and country.”
In Australia, the “Lest we forget” phrase — gold-engraved into the Moruya granite of the Sydney cenotaph — towered atop wreaths and flowers that people brought.
“We must always remember the brave men and women who’ve defended our nation at our time of need, who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said.
Together with soldiers from New Zealand and other parts of the British Commonwealth like Canada and South Africa, 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 U.S. against a German-led coalition that included the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. Almost 10 million soldiers died, sometimes tens of thousands on a single day.
For decades in Europe, the return of such mass carnage seemed impossible, but the scenes from Ukraine’s cities and countryside made all think again.
Armistice Day, known as Veterans Day in the U.S., was marked from the smallest cemeteries in Flanders Fields in western Belgium to the Champs Elysees in Paris and countless streets and offices beyond.
City workers at Lloyd’s of London stood, almost with military rigor across six floors of their headquarters, to mark the day.
In Paris, French president Emmanuel Macron laid a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe. Later, Macron will attend 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.