CNN  — 

“When you attack us, you will see our faces. Not our backs, but our faces.”

The words of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hours after Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022.

They were prophetic. Many analysts expected Ukrainian resistance to crumble in days. But for a year, the Ukrainian military has faced down a much larger force, rolling back the Russians’ initial gains in Kharkiv and Kherson, holding the line in the hotly contested Donbas region.

In the process the Ukrainians have inflicted stunning losses on the Russian army, and laid bare the outmoded tactics, stale leadership and brittle morale of a force more impressive on parade than on the battlefield.

By contrast, Ukrainian units have proved nimble and adaptive, harnessing drone technology, decentralized command and smart operational planning to exploit their enemy’s systemic weaknesses.

And few would have bet that one year into this war, the vintage Ukrainian air force would still be flying.

Perhaps one of the most impressive examples of Ukrainian agility came on the first day of the invasion, when a large Russian helicopter assault force seized an airfield on the outskirts of the capital Kyiv, threatening to turn it into a decisive bridge for the invading force to surge further reinforcements.

The following night, Ukrainian special forces, supported by accurate artillery, penetrated the base, killed dozens of Russian paratroopers and disabled the runway. The Russian concept of operations, so confidently rehearsed on table tops, was crumbling in its first phase.

This action underscored Zelensky’s determination (“I need ammunition, not a ride,” he said as he rejected an offer from the United States of evacuation from Kyiv), as did the defiance of a small detachment on Snake Island with their vernacular retort to a Russian warship, a gesture that became a national meme within hours.