By Siya Chhabra (’24) and Jaxson Kaplan-Rudolph (’25)
This special report has stopped daily updating. To see previous daily updates, scroll down to given dates.
The Russian Federation and Ukraine are now fully engaged in an intense and world-altering conflict. Some important questions to answer: why the aggression between the two nations? Why does Russia care so much about having control of their neighbor, which has been independent since 1991? What caused such a dire situation in Ukraine? And specifically, what caused Vladimir Putin to choose now to ignite an international crisis?
The Historical Context
To answer all these questions, we must go back to the 9th century. Kievan Rus was the first Eastern Slavic state, founded by the Viking ruler Oleg united and conquered various Finnish and Slavic tribes and created a singular state in 882 after taking the cities of Smolensk and Kiev. The title of Grand Prince of Kiev passed down through the first half of the 13th century before its fall to the Mongols. Ronald Suny, a historian at the University of Michigan, elaborates on Putin’s various claims: that Russian civilization has always been an integral part of Ukrainian welfare, that Ukraine should be friendly towards Russia, and the subordination of the area under the Soviet Union means that the sovereignty of Ukraine as an independent nation should be questioned. There is some historical inaccuracy behind these remarks; Ukraine was given the right to secede without condition and treated well under Lenin, but was harshly repressed and Russianized along with much of the USSR under Stalin. Due to this wavering policy, Soviet-era Ukraine modernized to celebrate Ukrainian culture and language while simultaneously limiting freedoms and national rights.
This Russianization, or the process of promoting Russian language and culture over its native counterparts, is eminent even in the modern day; it even extended to the pronunciation of the capital city of Ukraine. ”Kiev” as it has traditionally been named has always been a city of great historical importance, notably being the center of Slavic civilization centuries before Moscow was even built, but to stay faithful to Ukrainian language the city should be called Kyiv. Recent policies in the last decade or so try to restore some of the damaged Ukrainian identity, but much culture still has yet to heal after decentralization. Of course, Russianization is firmly against former Soviet nations promoting nationalism and Western policies, which is some of the basis for Putin’s aggression in the first place. Factors like the power of NATO, decreased Russian influence within Ukraine overall, and close Western ties and weapons placed in countries on Russia’s border all contribute to Putin’s obsession with taking Ukraine.
Due to post-war motivation and a desire for democracy, Ukraine gained independence in 1991. After the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, several new nations transpired; Ukraine was one of the largest. Democracy’s progression eastward created moments of optimism, particularly when Ukraine marked their first election. Despite its momentous prevalence, democracy was not a match for Ukraine’s historical roots and political geography. Pro-Russian and Pro-Europe discussion became abundant, and tore the nation apart, while simultaneously fueling revolutions and protests that eventually led to the infamous 2004 presidential election between Viktor Yanukovych and Viktor Yushchenko.
Now, let’s flash forward to 2013. Pro-Russian sentiment and unrest in the Ukrainian province of Crimea led the Crimean parliament to vote to join the Russian Federation, a move heavily criticized by the West, possibly due armed people present at voting stations combined with a 97% popular vote to join Russia. After denouncement by the Ukrainian government, deliberations, and protesting, Putin signed a decree ratified by the Russian parliament on March 18th, 2014, annexing Crimea and placing it in control of the Russian government. Holding the province with troops and forces, economic maneuvering, and some popular support, unofficial militaristic Russian groups caused small insurrections and skirmishes to begin occurring in eastern Ukraine, which resulted in an unsolved conflict for several years, while similar unrest occurred in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. This was consistent for several years until the situation faded into a frozen conflict and then a political reform movement. The ousting of Ukrainian president Poroshenko and fights against corruption lead to the election of current president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, which lead to a relative peace. Unfortunately, it was only tentative.
The Beginning of the Current Crisis
After multiple notable historical interactions between Russia and Ukraine, the past few months brought the movement of troops that has led both nations, the surrounding regions, and notably other world powers to the situation at hand. It is important to keep in mind that this uncompromising territorial dispute has been ongoing for several years, but the compelling events of later 2021 to early 2022 have contributed considerably to the present predicament. In November of 2021, satellite footage appeared to indicate a new build-up of Russian troops along Ukrainian territory, with Kyiv claiming Moscow was authorizing 100,000-soldier mobilization, as well as military equipment. The month of December brought the textbook response to preceding a crisis (especially considering NATO was a factor): President Biden’s forewarning to Russia, and Putin’s demands on halting NATO expansion further into Eastern Europe, specifically highlighting restrictions on Ukraine’s partnership with the West. In the first week of the new year, President Biden spoke to incumbent Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, scheduling further diplomatic meetings, and even mentioning that the United States would “respond decisively” to an invasion and fully back Ukraine in their defensive endeavors.
Soon after Russia’s vocalization of their stringent international security desires, Washington distributed a written response to their demands. In early February, President Vladimir Putin continued negotiations over Russia’s essential parameters of security in Eastern Europe, yet concurrently issued a cautionary warning about the prospect of war with the West. Putin engaged in a meeting spanning five hours with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, leaving the world grasping at the already attenuated straws of Russian plans. Subsequent to this meeting, the French president pursued discussion with Ukraine. At the same moment, President Biden engaged in conversation with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz “further strengthening U.S.-German relations and working with the new Chancellor to deepen the transatlantic partnership”. Despite bilateral relations being broken beyond repair, the optimism resulting from diplomacy between various influential nations was immense, but everyone’s curiosities were satiated on February 21st, 2022, when Putin signed a Presidential Decree recognizing Donbas’ independence, a region composed of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and the “Luhansk People’s Republic”. The contentious, Moscow-supported Ukrainian statelets’ recognition by Russia toppled over the dominos of conflict engagement between the neighboring nations. According to AlJazeera writer Mansur Mirovalev, “after almost eight years of existence, the republics are understood to have evolved…into an autocratic, illiberal governance method.” What resulted after this revealed the crisis at hand.
Daily Updates (all times in EST):
Daily updates will be added for the foreseeable future of the conflict. More information that encapsulates a day’s worth of events
February 23rd, 2022
Image credit to Vox
- Putin announces a “special military operation” into Ukraine to supposably “demilitarize” the nation.
- Ukrainian president Zelenskyy activates martial law across the country and urges citizens to remain calm.
- Multiple reports and videos are heard and seen of Russian forces crossing the border in the north, south, and east.
- Explosions are heard in several Ukrainian cities, notably counting the capital Kyiv.
- Several representatives such as European Union officials and the Australian Prime Minister impose various sanctions on Russian individuals and institutions tied to the Kremlin.
February 24th, 2022
A diagram of bombardment and battle locations throughout Ukraine on Thursday. Image courtesy of Associated Press.
- Over 100 missiles are reported to have been fired towards Kyiv as the Russian military attacks from three sides.
- Occupation of southern Ukraine near Crimea and bombardment of southern cities Kherson and Melitopol as well as the port Odessa is clearly visible.
- Russian victory at Chernobyl, site of the world’s greatest nuclear meltdown, leads to some hostages being taken near the area.
- President Biden issues additional sanctions on Russia and Putin’s close associates and denounces “the unprovoked and unjustified” attack on Ukraine.
- US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, spoke with the United States’ European allies discussing assessments of Russia’s attack.
- Russian police countered anti-war demonstrations by arresting 1,600 protesters at around 11:00 PM.
- UN refugee subcommittees and non-governmental organizations have estimated that 100,000 have fled their residences in hope of shelter in neighboring countries or home nations.
- Reuters reported at 7:45 PM that “some 57 people were killed and 169 were wounded on Thursday, Ukraine’s health minister said, while the interior ministry said 13 border guards died when a Russian vessel shelled Ukraine’s Zmiinyi Island, south of the Black Sea port of Odessa.” Neither Reuters nor the IA Overachiever can independently verify these claims.
- Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba spoke out in a fiery tweet: “Last time our capital experienced anything like this was in 1941 when it was attacked by Nazi Germany. Ukraine defeated that evil and will defeat this one. Stop Putin. Isolate Russia. [Sever] all ties. Kick Russia out of [everywhere].
February 25th, 2022
The body of a Russian soldier lay next to a Russian vehicle in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Friday. Image courtesy of Tyler Hicks of The New York Times
- Ukraine asks Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to mediate negotiations with Russia.
- Techniques to make Molotov cocktails and various other incendiary weapons are being continuously circulated via radio.
- Famed former Carnegie Hall conductor Valery Gergiev, a Putin supporter, is in a unique stalemate situation if he does not denounce the invasion of Ukraine.
- The Kremlin claimed the Ukraine was under “Nazi rule”, along with other absurd accussations regarding the highest powers within the confines of the Ukrainian government.
- President Zelenskyy shared a video on social media at 5:38 PM portraying him standing alongside other state officials and announcing that the country’s leaders did not flee Kyiv as Russian soldiers advanced.
- NATO to deploy more troops to Eastern Europe, which includes the activation of the Rapid Response Force. BBC has created a comprehensive summary of NATO and Putin’s goals within the Ukraine region.
- Afghani refugees who fled to Ukraine in the hopes of refuge are now in the midst of another dire situation.
- Ukrainian civilians volunteer to fight Russian invaders. Queues form to collect weapons.
- Russia rejects a United Nations Security Council resolution denouncing the invasion, which was notably backed by the United States. Eleven nations voted in favor of the solution, one against, and three abstentions, including China. Russia has veto power as a permanent member of this charter. These events transpired at around 5:00 PM.
- Travel restrictions will also be imposed on President Vladimir Putin at 3:00 PM.
- The Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN, Sergiy Kyslytsya, asked for a moment of silence for all those affected in Ukraine, and asked his Russian counterpart to “pray for salvation”. Widespread applause was heard after this moment.
- Satellite imagery and on-ground reporting has caused a live, reliable tracking map to emerge.
February 26th, 2022
Civilian volunteer militia fighters prepare for Russian onslaught in Kiev. Image credit to the New York Times.
- Intense street fighting reverberated throughout Kyiv today as Russian troops set their sights firmly on Ukraine’s heavily guarded capital.
- The sound of air raid sirens awoke Kyiv residents for the third day in a row, beginning a little after 7:00 AM EET local time.
- On Saturday, Ukraine’s health minister announced that Russian forces had taken the lives of 198 people. This number includes three children. According to the ministry, 1,115 total individuals have been injured.
- Facebook’s parent company, Meta, is preventing the Kremlin from posting state advertisements or information. The company’s head of security says, “We are now prohibiting Russian state media from running ads or monetizing on our platform anywhere in the world. We also continue to apply labels to additional Russian state media. These changes have already begun rolling out and will continue into the weekend.”
- The Biden administration and other influential executives of several European countries said they will remove the access of some Russian banks to the SWIFT finance system.
- On Saturday morning, a Russian rocket made contact with a residential building in the capital, located only a mere 1.5 miles away from the Sikorsky International Airport.
- Poland’s soccer federation head announced his national team’s refusal to play Russia in a World Cup qualifier match in March. FIFA is facing rising pressure to prohibit Russia from competing.
- Opposing parties and Indian citizens have been critical of the nation’s decision to abstain from the Security Council vote on February 25th. For reference, thousands of Indian citizens (particularly expats) are trapped in Ukraine. It is important to note that India is in a Gordian-knotted security situation with China over the Himalayas.
- President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine sent a video early Saturday commending his fighters for holding off the evening’s attacks in Kyiv, as a means of garnering international support and quietly rejecting the U.S.’s offer of evacuation.
February 27, 2022
A Ukrainian Territorial Defense fighter in Kharkiv sifts through a destroyed Russian infantry vehicle after Russian forces were driven back late Sunday. Image credit to NPR (Sergey Bobok/AFP via Getty Images)
- Late Sunday Russian forces captured the city of Berdyansk on the Azoz Coast, population 100,000. Other populous cities in the same area such as Kherson and Mariupol are under assault.
- Faina Bystritska, a Jewish survivor of World War II, said to AP News on Sunday that sirens blared non-stop through her residence. “I wish I had never lived to see this.”
- The UN General Assembly has organized a meeting set for Monday on the topic of the invasion.
- Street fighting continued throughout Kyiv as the city’s government resolved to hand out firearms to anyone willing to fight. Local leaders expressed doubt that Kyiv citizens could be evacuated with Russian troops closing in around the capital.
- Russia finally conceded to Ukraine’s calls for peace with a suggested diplomatic meeting for President Zelensky to meet with Putin in the city of Gomel in. Belarus UPDATE: As of 10:00 ET Zelensky has refused to meet at the planned city, complaining that neither the Belarusian nor Ukrainian government agreed to the location. Time will tell if diplomacy will follow through or not.
- Local troops in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, recommended civilians to take cover as the Russian military entered the city. The U.K. ministry of defense reports that there were “intensive exchanges of rocket artillery” throughout the day.
- NPR and Reuters report that regional governor Oleh Sinegubov claims that Ukraine has complete control over Kharkiv after a day of hard fighting; “Control over Kharkiv is completely ours! The armed forces, the police, and the defense forces are working, and the city is being completely cleansed of the enemy.”
- Putin has placed nuclear “deterrence” forces on alert after Sunday’s hostilities, citing “illegal” sanctions and “aggressive” NATO statements as rationale. This might cause an escalation in the conflict or simply be an effort to remind NATO and Ukraine of Russia’s nuclear capabilities. Russia and the U.S. jointly control 90% of the world’s nuclear warheads.
February 28th, 2022
- Russian forces shelled Kharkiv Monday, disrupting at least one major residential neighborhood. A convoy of 40 miles containing tanks, infantry, and other military forces is slowly closing in around Kyiv.
- Zelensky gave a speech late Monday in which he addressed Russia’s new pressure. He did not go in detail on the peace talks that occurred at the border between his administration and Putin’s.
- However, he did say that he is not going to make concessions, especially when “one side is hitting the other with artillery.”
- Kyiv sent an application mid Monday to join the European Union; a largely ceremonial move at this point, but one likely to make an impact regardless.
- The head of the Russian delegation at the peace talks this Monday gave a brief statement: “the envoys found certain points on which common ground could be foreseen“.
March 1st, 2022
Russian artillery strikes a radio tower in Kyiv on Tuesday.
- Despite peace talks the previous day, hostilities only rose on Tuesday. Kharkiv was surrounded by Russian forces and a 40-mile convoy continued en route to Kyiv. Both cities were heavily bombed by Russian weaponry well throughout the day.
- Russian troops began targeting less militaristic locations in Ukraine’s two most populous cities early Tuesday after full infantry offensive operations into Kharkiv and Kyiv failed to take either city. A residential apartment building was shelled late Monday and following into the first of March a maternity clinic, Holocaust memorial site, and radio tower(above) were all targetted.
- After heavy fighting and artillery, Russian forces appear to have taken the Ukrainian city of Kherson.
- President Biden gave the annual State of the Union speech at 9 Tuesday night, where he announced a cut-off of all Russian air travel from U.S. airspace. He also congratulated Ukraine for “fighting back with pure courage” and thoroughly denounced Putin’s “menacing ways,” adding that the Russian president “badly miscalculated.” Putin will not likely respond to Biden’s remarks.
U.S. President Joseph Biden delivers his 2022 State of the Union speech to Congress. Image credit to Associated Press.
- The UN refugee sub bodies record over half a million refugees that have fled Ukraine during the invasion and predict many more to follow. The UN resolved $1 billion in relief for Ukrainian refugees and defense.
- Boeing and Ford, two major vehicle manufacturers, have suspended all business activities in Russia after the attack on Ukraine. Boeing also released a statement saying they had removed all technical support and trade of parts within Russia-controlled territory..
- FIFA, one of the world’s most important soccer associations, has ejected Russia and removed it as a competitor in the FIFA World Cup.
- CNN reported that “at least 136 people, including 13 children, have been killed in Ukraine since Thursday, February 24, the UN said Tuesday.” The Ukrainian Interior Ministry reports even higher numbers.
- Outrage stirred across the community of Indian students in Ukraine as one, Naveen Shekharappa, was killed leaving a bunker in Kharkiv. Before the war, as many as 20,000 young Indians looking for jobs traveled to Ukraine. India’s Foreign Ministry accounts for 8,000 that still need to be evacuated.
- A spokesperson for Vladimir Putin said that a second round of talks will begin Wednesday. He did not disclose any more information.
March 2nd, 2022
Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees flood into a Lviv train station on Wednesday, waiting to evacuate. Image credit to Ivor Prickett of the New York Times.
- It was confirmed by Ukrainian officials on Wednesday that Kherson has been taken by Russian forces. This strategic location allows Russia to control a moderately large portion of Southern Ukraine, which has not stopped them from continuing strikes on civilian territories.
- The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution 141-5 with 35 abstentions including China and India. The 5 votes against were Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, and Syria. The resolution called for an immediate end to the conflict in Ukraine and implores Russia to complete peace talks and stop all civilian-targeted warfare and war crimes. The UN secretary general added “The territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine must be respected in line with the UN Charter.”
- The peace talks planned for Wednesday did not take place due to a dispute over the territory they were to be held at. A tentative round of talks is to take place Thursday around the western Belarus border with Poland.
- The United States delayed a routine unarmed ballistic missile launch Wednesday in order to avoid accidentally escalating conflict. This is after Putin put his nuclear forces on high alert Sunday, so it might be a reasonable precaution to take.
- President Leyen of the European Commission announced Wednesday that the EU would jointly provide funds for the acquisition and distribution of weapons to Ukraine.
- The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal court will open an investigation on war crimes committed by Russia since the Crimea crisis in 2013. 39 countries have already referred allegations to the court, allowing the prosecutor, Karim Khan, to proceed.
March 3rd, 2022
An empty shop in besieged Kharkiv on Thursday. Image credit to NPR.
- The 40-mile Russian convoy was stalled late Wednesday and early Thursday as fierce Ukrainian opposition has finally started to ebb away Russian morale. Fuel shortages, limited food availability, and deserting soldiers all have limited the progress of the force moving towards Kyiv.
- A captured Russian soldier was seen in a video on Thursday being offered tea and a FaceTime with his mother at a Ukrainian outpost. Ukrainian soldiers have generally treated POWs well and some are even being set home.
- Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine was seen on fire today in the town of Zaporizhzhia with security footage showing Russian vehicles and infantry entering the city and firing after attacking a training building just outside the town’s border. Presidents Biden and Zelensky issued statements on Thursday that Russia must “cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site,” and that Russia’s “intentional” attack was a terrible war crime that, if the power plant melted down, could be “the end for everybody, the end of Europe.” The New York Times reported these statements late Thursday.
- Russian forces continue to lay siege to the Baltic port of Mariupol, as civilians are trying desperately to find refuge. Volodymyr Zelensky has requested additional international assistance to help Mariupol and the surrounding area.
- Certain refugee and humanitarian measures have been agreed upon in a round of peace talks Thursday. However, a Ukrainian spokesperson at the peace talks said that the diplomacy today did give much-needed results.
- The International Atomic Energy Agency is on “full 24/7 response mode” after damage in Zaporizhzhia.
- The mayor of Kharkiv said under siege that Russia’s civilian attacks means they are “intentionally trying to eliminate Ukrainian people.” CNN reports that “The state emergency services in Ukraine on Thursday morning said 34 civilians in the Kharkiv region had been killed in just 24 hours, and another 285 injured.”
As the conflict and humanitarian violations continue to unfold in Ukraine, we must be reminded of the history that brought us to this tragic period in time. Throughout history, there is always a large period of relative peace that could be described as “the calm before the storm.” No storm is ever the same; some are milder than expected, while others are devastating, and occasionally the former occurs just before the latter. But regardless of what continues to happen in Russia and Ukraine in the future, we can suffice to say that in our current state of international affairs, the calm is over.