Ukraine War: Two Years of Tragedy

The war between Ukraine and Russia has lasted for the past 2 years.The war between Ukraine and Russia has lasted for the past 2 years (Politico).

On Feb 24, 2022, more than two years ago, Russia conducted an invasion of Ukraine that continues to sabotage the lives of millions of Ukrainian residents, as well as the hearts and minds of those around the world.


BBC shows the stalemate on the Ukrainian front.


Historical Context


Why did Russia want to invade Ukraine? Since it was previously integrated into the USSR, Putin has never acknowledged Ukraine as having a separate identity from Russia. During the Cold War, democratic nations in the West established NATO, with the United States taking the lead. In response, the Soviet Union created the Warsaw Pact, a treaty between the USSR and its puppet states. When the USSR fell apart, that formerly vast nation became Russia and a host of other ex-Warsaw Pact countries. NATO has since emerged triumphant and promised Russia that it will not expand eastward—in that it will not accept membership from countries that are within the Russian sphere of influence.  


The promise to not expand eastwards occurred in 1990 and was made verbally during conferences of global leaders. However, now NATO has grown from 17 states to 30, with several being ex-USSR countries. Ukraine has been seeking NATO protection and has ventured fairly far into the acquisition process. That’s a big reason Putin wants Ukraine—he doesn’t want Ukraine to flee to NATO. 


So in 2022, Putin met with President Xi Jinping of China, who promised him a “no-limits” friendship between China and Russia, after which Russia invaded Ukraine. Although it’s a war between two countries, it’s also a larger conflict between two great powers and two ideologies. The democratic, capitalist West fully supports Ukraine. The Ukraine Defense Contact Group connects over 50 countries, channeling over $87 billion to Ukrainians since 2022. China, on the other hand, has supplied abundant raw materials to the Russian war effort and smaller military capacities like drones, although there is no outright lethal military aid. The stalemate on the Ukrainian front lines is a representation of the tug-of-war between NATO allies and a new Russo-China allyship. 


Status of the War


Any bomb landing in Ukraine is like a massive rock crashing onto thin ice. The fighting has directly affected a majority of Ukrainian citizens, resulting in the deaths of over 30,000 civilians. The total number of military casualties is topping half a million. War crimes are unfortunately common. As Ukraine retook much of the territories, there’s increasing evidence of torture, assault, and looting by Russian soldiers. Moreover, Russian drone strikes and missiles have consistently targeted global humanitarian convoys and other nonviolent, helpless civilians. The death toll is expected to be far greater than reported, especially given that many lay buried under the debris from Russian bombs.


The bigger issue, geopolitically, is that of refugees. Over 8 million people have fled to Europe, and such a large influx was completely unexpected. European countries struggle to provide adequate support and protection. Being a refugee often meant being ripped away from your loved ones, and struggling to adjust to a different host nation. In places like Poland, housing is running out, and the system is so backlogged that around a quarter of refugees lack proper documentation to receive full protection. Coming out of a COVID-19 recession, Europe now has to handle millions of displaced individuals, with this issue continuing to worsen. The strain could prove critical to policies and economic recoveries, as Europe looks to rebound to its pre-COVID state.


Lastly, food is a pressing concern since both Russia and Ukraine are major producers of wheat. Around 85% of Africa relies on imported wheat, and a bulk of that is from these warring nations. To continue with humanitarian efforts, organizations are depleting the global stock of wheat. Additionally, the fuel crisis is hitting energy-dependent industries, like the agricultural sector. Many farmers in developing countries already face small margins of profit, and this war is threatening to drive them out of business. The Black Sea Grain Deal, which helped secure grain exports from Ukraine, fell apart in 2023 as Russia backed out. This means that food will remain a concern internationally as long as the war continues.


Russia also has no intentions of ending this war. The front lines have remained stable for over a year, and both sides have established long barricades and trenches, reminiscent of WWI strategies. However, Ukraine has made good progress, reoccupying 54% of captured territory and holding off attacks on major cities. The Russian aggression has been curbed, at least so far.


Funding for Ukraine is also facing setbacks. Capitol Hill has come under increasing pressure as an aid package to Ukraine continues to be delayed. The Republican Party insists on including tighter border policies as a condition of this package. Business Insider writes that Ukraine is facing a $43 billion budget shortfall in 2024, meaning that without support from major donors like the US and the EU, it will struggle to amass the necessary military and humanitarian equipment to continue in this war of attrition. 


Biden and Zelenskyy meeting regarding aid packages to Ukraine

Zelenskyy and Biden meet to discuss the urgency of a Ukraine aid package (France 24).


However, President Biden, the US Congress, and President Zelenskyy are all in agreement that Russia cannot end victorious. In December 2023, Zelenskyy met with members of the US leadership, in meetings that he called “positive” and “very constructive.” Both parties agree that support for Ukraine is vital, and Putin cannot further his agenda. Ukraine’s success in its counteroffensive and battles in the Black Sea sounds like an encouraging bell, giving Congress more reason to send aid. Just a few days ago, President Biden convened the top four Congressional lawmakers to decide upon a package for Ukraine. The EU is also working on a 3-year, $52.6 billion aid package, and Ukraine has received many smaller donations from influential countries like Japan and the UK. Zelenskyy emphasized that aid to Ukraine is necessary and bipartisan, noting that there will and must be a Ukrainian victory. For Zelenskyy, that means a 10-point plan that includes a complete withdrawal of Russian troops and documents that prevent future instances of escalation.


Stories from the War


Darkness is the theme of this inhumane humanitarian crisis (AP News).


Darkness often fails to describe the extent of the war crimes in Ukraine. The one that caught my eye was headlined, “How Moscow Grabs Ukrainian Kids and Makes Them Russians.” It talks about Olga Lopatkina, a Ukrainian mother of six who hadn’t heard from her children, the oldest being only 17. And this was because Russian soldiers would abduct Ukrainian children to be placed in basements or orphanages, at the hands of Russian-backed management. Many of these kids are taken without consent and given Russian citizenship to be raised under Russian guardian families. Eventually, Lopatkina found her children but she feared that tens of thousands of children were facing a form of cultural cleansing that they were helpless to fight.


In another story, the transcripts of an intercepted call from a Russian soldier to his mother read, “We have the order: It does not matter whether they’re civilians or not. Kill everyone.” And violence has been strategic. At the start of the war, Russia held no prisoners to blitz their way towards Kyiv. When they failed, they turned towards bombing and attacking Ukrainian infrastructure. Ukraine has several nuclear power plants, and an explosion in any of them could threaten the entire nation. Russia constantly uses drones and missiles to target every single facility on the map, leaving none untouched. Around 11 million households are left vulnerable, facing below-freezing winters without heat or electricity. In a war where international laws are disregarded, perhaps the only way out of the darkness is Ukrainian victory.

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