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A day full of “the brightest feelings.” A day to “to wish that your loved ones surround you with attention and warmth.” A day for “sincere words of admiration and gratitude” to wives, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, daughters and girlfriends.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s video message of congratulations “from all my heart” to Russian women on International Women’s Day — one of Russia’s favorite holidays — struck an awkward note, as Russia shells civilian areas in Ukraine, mothers and newborns in a maternity hospital shelter in a Kyiv basement, and Human Rights Watch reports that Russian forces bombarded a road with fleeing civilians for hours Sunday, killing a couple and their two children.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also mentioned International Women’s Day briefly in a speech Tuesday in which he pressed the West to do more to stop Russian “genocide” against Ukrainian civilians. He said he could not congratulate women over the holiday “when there are so many deaths.”

In Putin’s message, he said “we live in difficult times” and pointed to Russia’s “inevitable need to protect our people and our country.” He spoke of “global economic challenges,” implying that the crash of Russia’s ruble and job losses as Western companies pull out of the country were due to widespread problems, rather than a Russian economic crisis triggered by sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

“I would like to address the mothers, wives, sisters, brides and girlfriends of our soldiers and officers who are now in battle, defending Russia during a special military operation,” he said. “You can be proud of them just as the whole country is proud of them and worries about them with you.”

He also revived memories of World War II, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War, amid Russian propaganda that has recast the invasion of Ukraine as a defensive battle against “neo-Nazis.”

“Even during the most difficult trials of the Great Patriotic War, nothing could prevent the men of Russia from confessing their love to their women, and this love served as a support and inspiration,” Putin said.

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