2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine
On 24 February, in the early hours of the morning Ukraine time, Russia launched an all-out invasion after weeks of tense speculation. They had clearly been amassing troops along their border with Ukraine, as well as in Belarus along their border with Ukraine, for many weeks. The US had been warning shrilly that a Russian invasion was imminent for weeks. Russia had been denying that anything was happening and that their only concern was to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO for just as long. And the Ukrainian government itself had been complaining that American alarmism was unhelpful and causing it economic damage, hoping a diplomatic solution could be found to stave off war.
Directly, the conflict stems from the unresolved nature of the 2014 Ukraine conflict. Russia’s immediate pretext for invading was supposed Ukrainian aggression against the separatist regions of Ukraine (in the Donbas region) whose independence Russia had recognised three days earlier. They were also angry that neither Ukraine nor NATO was ruling out the former ever joining the latter, just as they were angry about the possibility of Georgia joining NATO in 2008. Russia has long been pissed off about the idea that more of its neighbours might join the US-centric club that is NATO (this part is understandable) and has also been keen to re-establish itself as a force to be feared and obeyed, especially in its own region, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the 10–15 years that followed where they were engulfed in crisis and in no position to enforce their will abroad. This latter part is imperialism, and not defensible at all. Putin has also been increasingly trying to stir up Russian ethnonationalism, making provocative speeches about Ukrainians merely being part of a broader Russian nation, and their existence as an independent nation being artificial.
The Russian people, though, are not enthusiastic about war with Ukraine. Polling has suggested that they’re about equally split on the question of whether the Donbas “people’s republics” should remain part of Ukraine on the one hand, or become independent or be annexed into Russia on the other. Russian media has been almost uniformly depicting a confrontation as inevitable, and the Levada Center reports that people are fatigued: they don’t war, they want negotiations, but they feel that it’s out of their hands. Nonetheless, there were a large number of anti-war protests in Russia once the invasion began: as of Feb 28, over 5,800 protesters have been arrested across 67 cities, which is indicative of a huge protest wave (and the intolerance of Russian police to dissent). There have also been at least 10 media outlets punished by the state censor for publishing content unsupportive of the war (or exposing Russian actions that the government does not want to be public knowledge, or even just describing the war as a war or invasion), and a number of Russian public figures – including Russia Today journalists, museum and theatre directors, tennis players, and so on – are signing public statements or making their own statements in opposition to the war, even though this puts their livelihoods at great risk. There has been speculation that as the war drags on, and footage of dead Russian soldiers keeps filtering back into Russia, anti-war sentiment could sharpen. Already, over 4 million Russians have left the country since the beginning of the war.
Only a few days into the conflict, many Ukrainian cities came under attack from shelling and missiles. Over 160,000 Ukrainians were internally displaced, with at least 116,000 more crossing the border into neighbouring countries like Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Moldova. Many more took shelter in underground metro stations repurposed as air raid shelters. The care that Ukrainians have taken to flee with their pets, and keep their pets safe, has also seen media coverage here. Ukrainian men aged 18–60 are currently not allowed to leave the country, as the government wants to keep them around to conscript them into the war effort. Many Ukrainian women and children have been forced to leave their husbands, fathers, brothers behind as they flee abroad.
As of August 2022, the situation is that Russia controls much of the territory in Ukraine’s east and south, in a contiguous strip from Crimea and Kherson in the west to the separatist parts of the Donbas region in the east. Particularly worrying is Russia’s control over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, where it’s feared the risk of another nuclear disaster is high.
In September 2022, Ukraine made a pretty major push and was able to reclaim a lot of lost territory in the vicinity of Kharkiv. This included the major railway junction Izium, which meant they severed Russia’s supply lines to Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine’s southeast.
In areas under Russian occupation, residents have suffered innumerable war crimes, including torture, rape, and summary executions (including of people with their hands tied behind their backs, i.e. they were undeniably prisoners, and not posing an active threat to Russian troops). Residents have also reported being confined together in overcrowded rooms, sometimes stripped naked, as a form of humiliation.
Flashpoints of the War
I’m not a professional news-watcher and it’d be too much to expect me to record every single thing that happens over the course of this war. Nonetheless, here’s a list of particularly notable moments.
- Massacres in Bucha: Frustrated by their inability to capture Kyiv, Russian forces withdrew from the north-central region of Ukraine in order to redouble their efforts in the east. When they did, and Ukrainian forces (and global media) returned to the city of Bucha, they were horrified by what they found: hundreds of corpses in the street, many with their hands tied behind their back, and mass graves.
- The destruction of Mariupol: Mariupol is a port city on the Black Sea coast that lies between Russian-controlled Crimea and the separatist-controlled Donbas region. Russia carpet-bombed the city to the point that barely a building remained standing, including significant buildings like the city theatre, which had children and other civilians sheltering within it. Russia has also been notorious for offering safe passage for civilians to get out of the city, only to not cease their shelling during the designated time, making it impossible for them to actually leave.
- Mass graves in Izium: After Ukraine recovered the railway junction Izium from Russian occupation forces, they discovered a mass grave in the surrounding area containing the bodies of ~440 people, of which Ukraine estimates 99% died violently. “Several” had their hands tied behind their backs, and one had a rope around his neck.
See Also / References
- Jacobin: Putin’s Anti-Bolshevik Fantasies Could Be His Downfall (26 Feb 2022)
- ABC: Russian invasion of Ukraine will create new challenges at home for Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin (25 Feb 2022)
- Meduza: Traumatized by the news: Levada Center director Denis Volkov on why we shouldn’t expect a ‘Donbas consensus’ following Putin’s recognition of the ‘republics’ in eastern Ukraine (23 Feb 2022)
- Kevin Rothrock on Twitter: Police in 58 cities across Russia arrested 1,787 anti-war protesters yesterday. (…) (25 Feb 2022)
- Jacobin: Ordinary Russians Don’t Want This War (24 Feb 2022)
- TSN Sports on Twitter: Russian tennis player Andrey Rublev writes “No war please” on the camera (…) (26 Feb 2022)
- ABC Live Blog: More than 160,000 Ukrainians forced to flee homes, UNHCR says (27 Feb 2022)
- ABC: Russian police arrest 2,667 protesters during anti-war demonstrations according to a human rights group (28 Feb 2022)
- The New Daily: Russia accused of ‘genocide’ as Ukraine horrors emerge (4 April 2022)
- ABC News: Inside the remains of the bombed Mariupol theatre, in Ukraine’s Donbas region (4 April 2022)
- ABC News: Ukraine finds mass burial site containing more than 440 bodies in forest near recaptured city of Izium, police say (16 Sep 2022)
- The Guardian: Russia-Ukraine war latest: what we know on day 206 of the invasion (17 Sep 2022)
- CNBC: UN report details horrifying Ukrainian accounts of rape, torture and executions by Russian troops (16 Jan 2022)