Russia is now six months into its long-dreaded full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24 when Vladimir Putin announced his “special military operation” in a televised address to his citizens.
Since then, Ukrainian towns have come under attack, with locals bravely resisting at street level to ensure conquest is far from the formality that Mr Putin and the Russian military seem to have assumed.
While the country’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, leads by example from the streets of the capital Kyiv, tirelessly rallying the international community in support, his troops are holding back the Russian armed forces as best they can.
Meanwhile, the aggressor continues to employ brutal siege warfare tactics, surrounding cities across the country and subjecting them to intense bombing campaigns, a strategy already seen in Chechnya and Syria.
Cities like Kharkiv and Mariupol have been battered by Russian missiles in pursuit of incremental territorial gains in eastern and southern Ukraine, while the targeting of residential buildings, hospitals and nurseries has led to outraged accusations of intentionally targeting civilians and war crimes. engaged.
In the west, more than 5 million refugees have fled the fighting, pouring into neighboring Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova, creating a major humanitarian crisis.
US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres joined other world powers in condemning Moscow’s ‘unprovoked and unwarranted’ attack and vowed to stand by it “responsible”, with the Western powers subsequently introducing another round of harsh economic measures. sanctions against Russian banks and companies.
The Russian ruble has since fallen to historic lows against the US dollar, forcing the country’s central bank to introduce capital controls as Russian businesses are boycotted around the world and its sports stars and musicians banned participation in international competitions while Mr. Putin presides over a pariah state of his own making.
Tensions in Eastern Europe have rumbled since December, when Russia stationed around 130,000 troops along its western border and then stationed another 30,000 in Belarus, consistently denying it intended to make incursions into Ukraine.
The situation worsened considerably when Mr Putin decided to officially recognize the pro-Russian breakaway regions of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) as independent states, which allowed him to transfer military resources into these regions in anticipation of coming aggression under the guise of extending protection to allies.
The decision to recognize the self-declared DPR and LPR, which first declared independence in May 2014 and have since been embroiled in a bloody conflict, came after a direct appeal for military and financial assistance from their respective leaders, Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik.
Russia has previously denied accusations by Ukraine and NATO that it helped arm and fund rebels in a fight that claimed more than 14,000 lives.
The international community immediately denounced Russia’s calculated chess game, with the United Nations Security Council expressing “great concern”.
Vassily Nebenzia, the Russian ambassador to the UN, insisted at the time that there would be no “new bloodshed” in eastern Ukraine, but warned the West to “think twice” before making matters worse.
Behind all this lies Mr. Putin’s fierce opposition to Ukraine joining NATO in search of greater protection.
He is believed to want the return of former Soviet satellite states like Ukraine, Georgia and possibly Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to the arms of what he still considers their homeland , lamenting their independence since the collapse of the USSR in 1989.
The Kremlin leader previously annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014 in response to Ukraine’s vote against his ally Viktor Yanukovych, ignoring the protests and international condemnation that followed.
Here are two maps to explain Ukraine’s predicament as the conflict begins.
The first shows its borders within continental Europe (Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland lie to the southwest and west while Belarus lies to the north) and its main cities.
The second details the incursions of Russian troops, tanks, armored vehicles and artillery units, which remain grouped to the east and south.
The Russian military has a strong presence in Crimea as well as naval forces hiding in the Black Sea, which has blocked grain exports for most of the summer, creating shortages in European supermarkets.
Adding to the seriousness of the situation for Ukraine is the significant gap in military strength between the two combatants.
While Ukraine had less than 250,000 soldiers at the start of the conflict, Russia has almost a million soldiers.
It also has much more sophisticated and abundant military equipment, although the donation of weapons to Kyiv by the allies has helped to level the playing field in this regard.
Speaking about the disparity between the two armies, Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, said it was unfortunate that his country was not in NATO.
“We are not part of this family and we are alone against the biggest army in Europe,” he said.
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