It has been a considerable time since I sat down to write a blog specifically on what has been happening in Ukraine, but I’ve been keeping up with developments and honestly struggling to come to terms with the atrocities I am hearing.
The last time I put pen to paper on this tough topic was in mid-May when the siege of Mariupol ended with a Ukrainian defeat, and it looked like Russia was settling into the Donbas. Ukraine had just won Eurovision and the rest of the country looked to be returning to some type of norm.
Today, that is far from the case with recent Russian attacks once again aimed at the capital Kiev and Russia taking control of the Luhansk Region.
After Russia met fierce opposition from Ukrainian forces earlier in the war and had to re-think their strategy the Donbas became the key Russian focus. This is the region that is home to the breakaway states of Donetsk and Luhansk, both backed by the Russians. To read more about these two states you can read the blog: Understanding the Regions at the Centre of the Conflict.
In the best interest of the Ukrainian defenders the decision was made by the Ukrainian leaders to withdraw troops from Luhansk as the major cities still within Ukrainian control fell to the Russians on 3 July 2022.
Just days earlier Ukraine experienced an ideological win after Russian troops withdrew from Snake Island. This island had symbolic meaning for Ukraine as it was from this island on the first day of the war that Ukrainian soldiers told the Russian War Ships where to go (to put it kindly). For that story click here
According to Russian sources this removal of forces was a “good-will” gesture.
Good will? How can the Russians claim to have made a good will gesture and yet they continued to bomb innocent people in their homes across Ukraine? It doesn’t make any sense to me.
The map below from the BBC shows what Ukraine currently looks like:
Kiev is in central Ukraine, which is why, now that Russian troops have long withdrawn from the capital, it is hard to understand why the city is facing bombardment again. It isn’t just Kiev that is under fire but many surrounding central towns and cities.
One of the main attacks by the Russians that has received much coverage was that on a shopping centre in the city of Kremenchuk (about 300km south of Kiev) on Monday 27 June 2022.
A dual missile attack on the busy centre caused a fire that spread throughout the complex sending around 1,000 shoppers running for their lives. At the time of the attack sixteen were confirmed dead while more than 60 people were injured with it expected that the numbers may actually be higher.
The attack was condemned by the world with Ukrainian President Zelensky declaring it one of the worst terrorist attacks on civilians with no military targets located anywhere near the site. Thus, Russia had specifically targeted the civilian population. This marked a rise in Russian hostilities that we can see continuing into this week.
Pictured Above: Firefighters battle the fire at the Kremenchuk Shopping Centre (Source: US News) and the aftermath of the missile strike and fire (Source: ABC News)
According to the BBC, as of the 24 June 2022 there had been an estimated 10,500 deaths in Ukraine with the heaviest losses seen in Mariupol, Kharkiv and Bilohorivka. Of the number above between 3,500 – 5,000 are civilian deaths.
According to Russian reports however, there have been over 20,000 Ukrainian soldier deaths since the start of the conflict however they fail to report upon their own deaths. In contrast the Ukrainian Government released figures suggesting that 35,000 Russians had died.
While the figures noted above cannot be verified the BBC have been able to ascertain some correct figures. Their figures suggest that at least, just shy, of 4,000 Russian soldiers had been killed including 4 generals and 685 officers. To read more about the actual number of deaths visit this BBC article from 2 July: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-61987945
So where do things stand as I post this piece on the war?
The withdrawal and loss of the Luhansk region is devastating but it by no means signals the end of Ukrainian resistance in the Donbas. Large portions of Donetsk are still under Ukrainian control with the Ukrainian forces regrouping and preparing new defensive lines. Having said that the region is under intense bombardment by the Russians with hostilities increasing on the evening of the 3 July to coincide with the fall of the Luhansk.
The BBC map below shows just how much territory Russia has gained in the Donbas over the past months. While this map dates to last week, the small portion of Luhansk not coloured red is now, as of yesterday, red and under Russian control.
The war is now on day 131 as I write this on Monday 4th July 2022. This is 131 days far too many.
This morning I shared a story on social media (re-posted at the end of this blog below) about the end of the “Whisky War” last month. One of the comments made was that Putin could learn something from the story. Indeed, he and Russia could.
The End of the "Whisky War"
If you Google “Hans Island” the first option that comes up is “Hans Island Meme”.
That kinda says it all, doesn’t it?
Rather than being a highly political issue it is illustrated by a well-known meme.
Hans Island is located in the strait between Greenland and Canada and is uninhabited. It lies exactly 18km from each land mass.
Until last month it was claimed by both Canada and Denmark (Greenland being a Danish land).
Unlike many disputed territories, Hans Island, hasn’t seen any warfare; rather the flag of each nation was periodically removed by the other and alcoholic beverages, native to the respective countries, was left behind.
This was how the “whisky war” title was established.
After years of negotiations the ownership of the island was finally settled with it divide down the middle giving the European and American continents another land border in principle (the other being between French Guiana and Brazil/Suriname in South America).
This new international border is also now the most northerly and one of the shortest between nations.
As the meme says, this is how disputes are resolved between “nice” nations!
Further Reading (A selection):
*This blog has been put together with multiple current news sources such as the BBC World News Podcast, local nightly news and media outlets such as News.com
Articles and Websites:
"Ukraine War in Maps: Tracking the Russian Invasion", BBC News (23 March 2022), <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60506682>
"War in Ukraine", BBC World News (multiple articles), <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-60525350>
War in Ukraine (website of the War in Ukraine hosted by Ukraine), <www.war.ukraine.ua>
"Global Conflict Tracker", Council on Foreign Relations (Updated 18 March 2022), <https://www.cfr.org/global-conflict-tracker/conflict/conflict-ukraine>
Disclaimer: The observations and comments made in this blog are made after reflecting on the news stories and histories I read. History plays a big part in how I understand the present so my comments largely take into account history and the role it has in the present. After all, those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.