Far From The Front: A brief overview of the Russo-Ukrainian War

Credit: Financial Times

If you’ve been following global news lately then I’m sure you would be aware or have at least heard of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the 24th of February when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he was commencing a special military operation and Russian armed forces had begun their advance into Ukraine from the Russian and Belarussian borders. This moment is one for the history books  as the Russo-Ukrainian War is the largest war to have been fought in Europe since WW2 and with the rising number of deaths in the conflict it could also be one of the greatest tragedies of our time. In less than a fortnight, the death toll stood at more than 400, with double that figure injured amongst Ukraine’s civilian population while estimates on military personnel lost in the fighting vary. The figures for Russian military casualties could be anywhere from 2-11 thousand, on the other hand the figures for Ukrainian military casualties could be anywhere between 2-6 thousand killed in action . The invasion wasn’t the beginning of this conflict, tensions have been running high between the eastern nations for years. 

A brief background on Ukrainian and Russian relations

Credit: E-Ir News

Ukraine has been a part of Russia since the 18th Century when the Russian Empire still existed and only briefly gained independence during the 1917 communist revolution before it was later put back under Russian control in 1921 with the formation of the Soviet Union later known as the USSR. The USSR expanded its control over eastern Europe for many years until the start of the cold war. In response to the establishment of the international body NATO by the Western countries, the USSR formed the Warsaw Pact. This saw Ukraine remain under Soviet control for many years until the collapse of the USSR. The USSR collapsed in 1991, and many soviet republics declared independence, and as a result of this Ukraine became what we know today. With the collapse of the USSR many Warsaw pact countries overthrew their communist governments as the USSR dissolved into 15 countries including Russia and Ukraine. Former Warsaw pact nations would eventually move on to join NATO (The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) and this saw tensions across Eastern Europe rise as NATO expanded into the old sphere of Soviet influence. Much like other countries under Soviet Influence Ukraine would fight hard to establish a national identity outside of Russia’s influence as the country became a NATO partner in 1994 and in 2013 would reach an association deal with the European Union however the deal would later be cut due to Ukraine’s pro-Russian government at the time. This caused outrage amongst the Ukrainian people and many took to the streets in peaceful protest however the government began to brutally crack down on protesters which eventually led to the pro Russian government fleeing the country after widespread protests and riots caused by the decision. This would create the catalyst for the conflict as in 2014 Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula then Russian backed separatists captured the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in Eastern Ukraine truly kickstarting the war.

Back to current events

Credit © ROPI via ZUMA Press

For 8 years the war had remained at a standstill after its peak in 2014, however that changed with the Russian Invasion this year. As of the 7th of March, Russian troops have advanced as far as Kherson and Mariupol in the South which have been targeted heavily as those two cities provide Ukraine with maritime access and the chance to be supplied via sea. If Mariupol falls in particular, one of Ukraine’s largest ports would be out of action and it would create a land corridor for Russian forces between Crimea and the Russian Sepratist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. While in the North they’ve advanced into the regions around the city of Sumy which serves more or less as a gateway to Kyiv and Russian forces have been fighting a constant battle with Ukrainian forces outside of the cities Kyiv and Kharkiv. Both Kyiv and Kharkiv the two largest cities in Ukraine and home to both military and political assets have been the center of brutal firefights between the two sides with Russian forces shelling and bombing the two cities heavily causing causalities amongst the Ukrainian army and the civilians trapped in the cities. As of the 9th of March, 170 civilians including 5 children have been killed in Kharkiv since the beginning of the Invasion according to the head of police in Kharkiv. Alongside the unnecessary deaths of civilians caused by Russian artillery and bombings numerous accusations of war crimes committed by the Russians have come to light as Ukranian Officials, have stated that Russian troops had damaged or destroyed 202 schools, 34 hospitals and around 1,500 homes have been deprived of basic necessities such as water, light and heat due to the damage caused by the Russians. “The Russian army doesn’t know how to fight against other armies. But it’s good at killing civilians,” Mr Podoliyak said. Other reports have also mentioned Russia soldiers taking away food, fuel and equipment of Ukrainian citizens in Staromayorsk while the city council of Mariupol has reported more than 1200 civilians were killed in the nine days siege and shelling by the Russian Army. Although some of these accusations are yet to be proven there definitely is truth to it as numerous pieces of combat footage showing dead civilians in the streets after Russian artillery strikes have emerged over the course of the invasion and as of the 10th of March it has been confirmed that Russian forces bombed a children’s and maternity hospital in Mariupol. 

Author’s Note

It should be known that there have been several false accounts of how the war has progressed in recent weeks, like the supposed Russian landings in Odessa in late February. Another thing to be highly careful of when looking into this conflict is propaganda. As with any war, there will be propaganda floating around, and with the instant access of social media, it will be at our fingertips. So, choose your information carefully. A majority of my knowledge has come from combat footage, information posted by civilians and the various reports that have been proven truthful from what we know of as obviously some information will be swept under the rug. 

“In the Luhansk region, the entire front line is littered with corpses and lined equipment of the invaders,”

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence

“We do not want to lose what we have, what is ours – our country Ukraine – just the same way as you once didn’t want to lose your country when Nazis started to fight your country and you had to fight for Britain.” Taken from President Zelensky’s speech to the British house of commons on the 2nd of March.”

“Today is the day that defines everything. It defines who is on which side.” President Zelensky’s comment regarding the Russian bombing of the children’s maternity hospital in Mariupol.”