As hard as it is to believe, it’s been one year since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his army to cross an international border and invade the sovereign nation of Ukraine. It was Europe’s most extensive invasion since World War II. Every Ukrainian man, woman, and child will remember where they were and what happened to their homeland on February 24th, 2022.
It was the 24th day of the month. In an address to his nation, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his intent to launch a “special military operation” in neighboring Ukraine. He said his goal was the “demilitarisation and denazification” of his neighbor. In a world-class act of blame-shifting, Putin stated, “all responsibility for possible bloodshed will be entirely on the conscience of the regime ruling on the territory of Ukraine.” As part of this speech, he said that Russia had no plans to occupy Ukraine and that the people of Ukraine would maintain the right to choose their leaders.
Mere minutes after ending his talk, explosions rang out in many of the largest cities in Ukraine, including the capital of Kyiv.
Russian forces crossed the border from all directions. Mercenaries from the Wagner group left Africa and made their way to Ukraine. Ukrainian President Zelensky was filmed walking brazenly through multiple areas of Kyiv. He obviously was not hiding. Zelensky had a message for Putin and the rest of the world. “I am here. We will not lay down any weapons”.
Many nations in the West added sanctions to Moscow, and those who already had them made them more severe. The United Nations condemned the unprecedented military action, and millions of Ukrainian citizens left their homes for safety in other nations.
On February 28th, Ukraine applied for membership in the European Union
Russian forces laid siege to Mariupol and Kharkiv. In the latter, a missile attack hit the city center, killing 21 and injuring hundreds. In the former, it was the beginning of months of shelling, driving thousands of people underground, scrambling for food, water, and medical attention.
The Russian assault on Kyiv, which Putin had claimed would be taken in days, begins to stall. The invading army outruns its logistics and supply troops, and soldiers go without food and water. Vehicles run out of fuel. Some soldiers quit and want to return home. A few simply vanish.
Senior Russian military leaders are killed as they go to the front to attempt “hands-on” troop leading.
At the beginning of the second week of the month, a Russian missile impacts a train station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk. Scores of men, women, and children are killed. Hundreds more are wounded. It is apparent that Putin is targeting civilians in this conflict and makes no distinction between them and combatants.
The Kyiv region is liberated from the Russian invaders, but only after Russian soldiers torture and kill hundreds of innocent civilians. In the city of Bucha, local authorities claim to have recovered more than 400 bodies from mass graves, nine of which were children under the age of 18. Some had their hands tied behind their backs, and many showed signs of being executed with gunshots at point-blank range. Russian authorities counter, saying that the Ukrainians faked the footage.
Amid the lengthening war, Finland and Sweden clamored to join NATO. President Putin had stated that fears from NATO had been one of his reasons for invading Ukraine. The war only serves to strengthen the allied nations. On the 9th day of the month, Russia holds its annual Victory Day parade celebrating the defeat of Nazism in World War II. On that same day, US President Biden signs the Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022. This provides the USA with a means to further support Ukraine with military equipment and supplies to aid its war against Russia.
The last Ukrainian resistance fighters holed up in the Azovstal steel mill surrender after surviving many weeks underground in squalid conditions.
By now, the bite of western sanctions is starting to show in Russia. Nike is the last of a group of high-profile western brands to leave the nation. One hundred days of war have now passed. Tens of thousands have died.
Ukraine was given EU candidate status. They have worked towards this since first applying in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea. The move puts them one step closer to joining the European Union and one step further away from Russian ties.
The world feels the pinch as deliveries of grain from “the breadbasket for the world” have been cut off for over three months. UN projections show that over 180 million people in 41 nations face acute food shortages as a direct result of Russian actions in Ukraine.
On the 23rd of the month, the first M142 HIMARS multiple rocket launchers sent from the US arrive in Ukraine. These will allow the Ukrainian Army to strike Russian targets at a greater distance than before.
On the first of the month, a Russian missile attack kills 22 people in the town of Serhiivka in Ukraine’s Odesa Oblast.
In the eastern Luhansk region, the city of Lysychansk falls to the Russians. Ukraine begins to focus on the defense of Donetsk. The Ukrainian flag is again flown on the liberated Zmiinyi (Snake) Island. Russians continue to kill civilians and launch missiles at residential buildings. They strike two buildings in Chasiv Yar, in the Donetsk region, ultimately killing 45 and injuring 9. Days earlier, they had struck the city center of Vinnitsia, killing 26 people. Three of them were children.
On the 22nd of the month, the Black Sea grain initiative was signed. It was supposed to unblock some of the shuttered Ukrainian seaports for grain exportation. Despite the agreement, Russia still blocked some ships from leaving.
One week later, the mass murder of Ukrainian POWs in occupied Olenivka was announced. Forty were killed and over 100 were injured.
In other news, inflation in the EU reaches record highs when the euro and dollar achieve parity, meaning one Euro equals one US dollar.
US HIMARS are put to good effect when the Ukrainians begin using them to destroy Russian command and control centers and logistics resupply points.
An Amnesty International report causes an uproar in Kyiv after they accuse the Ukrainian military of endangering citizens by placing military bases and weapons in residential areas (including schools and hospitals). The report reads in part, “Ukraine’s tactics have violated international humanitarian law as they’ve turned civilian objects into military targets. The ensuing Russian strikes in populated areas have killed civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure.” President Zelensky denounced the report.
The US government announces its 19th aid package to Ukraine. This one is worth $775 million and includes more HIMARS, 1,000 Javelin anti-tank missiles, 40 MRAP vehicles, and AGM-88 HARM missiles.
In Lviv, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres meets with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and President Zelensky. They discuss the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the exchange of prisoners of war and a grain export deal.
On the 27th of the month, Russia blocked a draft of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is subject to review every five years. Many interpret this as a sign that Putin may be willing to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine.
August 31st sees Russian-owned energy giant Gazprom halting all gas exports to Europe, claiming routine maintenance on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline necessitated the action. Gas prices skyrocket accordingly.
Vladimir Putin announces that 300,000 Russian troops will be called to duty in what he calls a “partial mobilization.” This causes a mass exodus of young men from the country to avoid conscription. Over a thousand protesters are arrested in cities all across Russia as they protest the call-up and Russian actions in Ukraine in general.
Almost all of Kharkiv was liberated from Russian control and returned to Ukraine. This is more than 8,500 square kilometers of territory.
A significant POW exchange takes place where 215 Ukrainians being held by Russian forces were released from captivity. Five Azov commanders were released under the condition that they remain in Turkey until the end of the war. Ukraine released 55 Russian soldiers back to the Russian army.
The United States claims that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are forcibly relocated from Ukraine to Russia. On the 30th of the month, Russia officially annexes Luhansk, Kherson, Donetsk, and Zaporizhzhia. Putin states that they will forever be part of Russia.
After the liberation of Kharkiv, mass graves and torture chambers were found. In the town of Izium alone, 447 bodies of men, women, and children were removed from one burial site.
A bridge connecting Russia with Crimea is rocked by a huge explosion. The bridge had been serving as a major supply route for Russian forces. Ukraine denies responsibility for the blast. All signs indicate a knowledgeable special operations forces team operating deep behind enemy lines likely caused the damage.
Anticipating the coming winter months, Russia begins targeting Ukrainian energy infrastructure. Many of the missiles attack Kyiv and other large cities. Many thousands are left without electricity or running water. The Ukrainians vow that this will not break their morale.
UNICEF puts out a report stating that inflation caused by Putin’s war with Ukraine plunged an additional four million children into poverty. Over half of them, 2.8 million, are Russian.
In a massive effort, the Ukrainian port city of Kherson is liberated and returned to Ukrainian hands. The city of a quarter million people was one of the first to fall to the Russians in the early days of the war.
The entire world is on edge as reports surface of missiles impacting Polish soil. The initial implication is that they are Russian in origin. If true, this would force action by NATO. After careful consideration and evaluation of the situation, it was determined that the damage in Poland was caused by errant Ukrainian air defense missiles.
Inflation in most countries of the EU hits 10% in November. Russian leaders hope this, along with ever-increasing numbers of Ukrainian refugees, will quell European leaders’ enthusiasm to support ongoing war efforts in Ukraine.
NATO reaffirms its commitment to Ukraine and promises the nation future membership. Exactly when this is to occur is not decided upon.
Ukraine experiences its first extensive blackout caused by intense, focused Russian attacks on infrastructure. Ukraine temporarily shuts down all of its nuclear reactors.
Russia becomes the most sanctioned nation on the planet as the EU implements its 9th sanctions package on Russia.
President Zelensky heads to the US on his first state visit outside his nation since the beginning of the war. President Biden promises him that we will send Patriot Missile Batteries to help ease the constant Russian attacks on the Ukrainian infrastructure. Moscow warns the US that they find this act inflammatory and it will only serve to prolong the war.
On Christmas Day, Putin announces that Moscow is ready to negotiate with Ukraine. Zelensky does not believe this to be the case. Ukraine doubles down and states it will “not rest” until every Russian soldier has left its territory, including Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. CIA Director William Burns weighed in with the US viewpoint while acknowledging that most conflicts end in negotiation; it was the assessment of the CIA that Russia “was not serious about real talks.”
It should be noted that December marked the first time that Putin referred to his “special military action” as a war.
The new year rings in, and the two nations are still at war. After many months of saying “nein,” Germany agrees to supply Ukraine with Leopard 2 main battle tanks. President Biden was quick to follow suit and announce that the US would provide Ukraine with 31 M1 Abrams main battle tanks. In the defense community, this brought about much talk about whether the Ukrainians could maintain them and utilize them to full effect. Almost as soon as Germany gave the green light to the tanks, Kyiv requested fighter jets. A request that Germany firmly and flatly denied.
Ukraine admitted to withdrawing from the bitterly contested Donbas town of Soledar on the 19th. This gave the Russians their victory and acquisition of new territory in months. But Ukrainian forces were quick to tell the BBC that the move was a controlled and pre-planned tactical retreat. Soledar is a small salt mining town of approximately 10,000 residents.
In January, Russia and Belarus began holding joint military drills causing many to wonder if they intended to join the fray. The authoritarian leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, is a strong ally of the Kremlin and insists he will join Russia in their war effort if his nation is attacked.
Early in the month, there was another Ukrainian prisoner swap with Russia. This one was brokered by the UAE. One hundred sixteen Ukrainian POWs were repatriated, including the bodies of two British aid workers killed near Soledar. Russian officials indicate that 63 troops were returned.
Leading up to the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion, both US and Russian leaders took advantage of the occasion to ramp up geopolitical tensions. Putin bizarrely continued to blame the West for his war in Ukraine and continued to state that he is fighting for what he called “historical lands” in Ukraine. In a recent rally, he led crowds in a chant of “Russia, Russia, Russia!”.
On the US side, President Biden this week stated during a trip to Europe that Russia would “never” win the war. He also criticized his Russian counterpart for suspending their participation in the New START nuclear arms treaty with the United States.
Looking ahead, it is more than a bit concerning that Putin seems to be deepening Russian ties with China. Just this week he welcomed a top Chinese diplomat to the Kremlin. Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Putin in Moscow this spring.
What does the rest of 2023 hold? No one knows for certain, but make sure to keep reading SOFREP to keep up with the latest news and intel.