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Two Years Of War: How The Russia-Ukraine Conflict Has Unfolded

23.02.2024 14:57

Pivotal incidents and key moments since a war with significant global consequences erupted in February 2022.

The Russia-Ukraine war will enter its third year this Saturday, marking another grim milestone in a conflict that the UN has warned will leave an impact to "be felt for generations."

Since Feb. 24, 2022, the war has claimed the lives of at least 10,582 civilians, including 5,017 men, 3,093 women and 587 children, according to the latest UN figures published this week.

The number of injured is at least 19,875, including 6,524 men, 4,546 women and 1,298 children, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported, stressing that the actual figures are likely "significantly higher."

UN data shows almost 6.5 million Ukrainians have sought refuge globally, with some 3.7 million more displaced inside the country.

By all estimates, prospects for peace remain dim at the moment as the two sides remain at odds over the way forward.

Kyiv wants Moscow to abandon all its territorial claims, withdraw its forces from Ukrainian territory and give financial compensation for the damage inflicted.

Moscow, on the other hand, insists that Ukraine shelve a law banning talks with Russia and wants it to return to its neutral, non-aligned and non-nuclear status, as well as ensure the rights and freedoms of its Russian-speaking citizens.

The festering conflict has seen several pivotal incidents and strategic turn of events over the past 24 months.

Here are some of the key moments:

'Special military operation'

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the start of a "special military operation" in Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, three days after saying that Moscow would recognize Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions as independent states.

The global response to Putin's announcement was overwhelmingly negative, with Western countries slapping Moscow with what would be the first of many sanctions.

Push for Kyiv

In the initial phase, Russian forces made significant advances toward Kyiv.

Fierce clashes occurred in Irpin and Bucha, with the latter gaining global attention as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of committing war crimes there, a claim denied by Moscow.

In late March, Russia announced it would "radically reduce activity" in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions, while Ukraine said on April 2 that it retook control of the entire Kyiv region.

Control of Zaporizhzhia

On March 4, Russian forces gained control of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe's largest nuclear power plant and one of the biggest in the world.

Moscow and Kyiv have since regularly accused each other of shelling the plant and its surroundings, stoking fears of a nuclear catastrophe.

Grain deal

Türkiye, the UN, Russia, and Ukraine reached an agreement in Istanbul on July 22 to resume grain exports from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports that were suspended due to the war.

Under the deal, a coordination center was established to conduct joint inspections at entrances and exits of harbors and ensure the safety of routes.

The deal, initially set for a period of 120 days, was renewed several times, before Russia eventually pulled out in July 2023.

Partial mobilization in Russia

On Sept. 21, Putin gave his nod for partial mobilization in the country for the first time since World War II, under which 300,000 Russians between ages 18 to 50 would be called up for military service.

Unilateral annexation of Ukrainian regions

Putin declared the unilateral annexation of four Ukrainian regions – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson – on Sept. 30.

The announcement came after pro-Russian authorities conducted referendums in the regions on Sept. 23-27.

The international community, including Türkiye, the US and several European nations, condemned the referendums and refused to recognize their validity.

In response, Zelenskyy signed a decree declaring Russia's annexation of the four regions, as well as the 2014 annexation of Crimea, null and void.

Crimea Bridge blast

On Oct. 8, a massive explosion damaged the Kerch Bridge, a key passage linking Russia and Crimea.

At least three people were killed in the blast, which Putin said was a "terrorist attack" carried out by Ukrainian intelligence, claims that Kyiv would confirm 10 months later.

Russia's Kherson withdrawal

On Nov. 9, Russia ordered its troops to withdraw from Kherson, a port city in southern Ukraine, to the left bank of the Dnieper River.

Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said the decision was taken to save the lives of Russian soldiers.

Two days later, the Defense Ministry announced that Russian forces had completed their withdrawal across the river.

Zelenskyy heads to US

On Dec. 21, Zelenskyy visited the White House, his first overseas trip since the start of the war, for crucial talks with US President Joe Biden and senior American officials.

During the visit, the Biden administration announced the transfer of the first Patriot air defense system to Ukraine as part of a new $1.85 billion military aid package.

Drones above the Kremlin

On May 3, 2023, Moscow said it had shot down two Ukrainian drones over Putin's Kremlin residence, calling it a "terrorist" plot to assassinate the Russian president.

Zelenskyy flatly denied any involvement, emphasizing that Ukraine's focus was on reclaiming its own territories rather than attacking foreign nations.

Battle for Bakhmut

On May 21, Russia declared full control over the city of Bakhmut, an important transport and logistics hub in the Donetsk region, which is situated within the predominantly Russian-speaking industrialized Donbas region.

Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials initially denied Russia's claims, but on May 30, Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatyi admitted that the city was under Russian control.

'Ukrainian sabotage group' in Belgorod

The governor of Russia's Belgorod region claimed on May 22 that a "Ukrainian sabotage group" had entered the area, saying Russian forces and other government services were taking measures to "eliminate" the threat.

Ukraine has since then purportedly launched a series of attacks on Russia's border regions, notably Bryansk and Belgorod, including drone and artillery strikes and raids by paramilitary groups.

Russia-Belarus nuclear pact

On May 25, Russia and Belarus signed a deal on the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus.

The agreement specifies the conditions for storing these weapons in a dedicated facility. Moscow said the decision was taken in response to what it described as an "extremely sharp escalation and the activity of NATO's joint nuclear missions."

Kakhovka dam explosion

Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for blowing up the Kakhovka dam on June 6, which flooded surrounding areas and forced thousands of people from their homes.

Moscow accused Ukraine of attempting to cut off fresh water to Crimea, while Kyiv claimed that Russia blew up the dam to slow down an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive.

'Counteroffensive and defensive actions'

On June 10, Zelenskyy announced that Ukraine had launched a counteroffensive and was also taking defensive actions.

By the end of 2023, the Ukrainian counteroffensive was widely acknowledged to have failed to deliver any sort of decisive breakthrough.

Wagner rebellion

On June 24, the Wagner paramilitary group accused Russian forces of attacking its fighters, moving them from Ukraine to the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

Russian authorities labeled it "an armed rebellion" and initiated a criminal case, while President Putin denounced it as an act of "treason."

The very next day, Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin and his fighters were 200 kilometers (125 miles) away from Moscow when they decided to retreat to avoid violence.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko acted as a mediator, saying he engaged with Prigozhin to help the two sides reach a quick solution.

Prigozhin's death

On Aug. 23, exactly two months after the rebellion, Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash in Russia.

The Wagner chief and nine other people, including the group's co-founder Dmitry Utkin, were aboard a private jet that crashed in the Tver region, north of Moscow.

Cluster bombs, depleted uranium shells, longer-range missiles

On July 8, President Biden announced that the US had started deliveries of cluster munitions to Ukraine due to a lack of conventional shells, calling it "a temporary measure."

On Sept. 6, the US unveiled another $175 million military assistance package for Ukraine, which included depleted uranium shells.

Ukraine also received Storm Shadow and SCALP missiles from Western allies, with a target range of over 800 kilometers (500 miles), forcing Russia to pull out warships of its Black Sea Fleet from the port of Sevastopol.

Israel's war on Gaza

Since Oct. 7, the Gaza war has led Western financial and military aid intended for Ukraine to be redirected toward Israel.

The Ukraine conflict has also faded into the background, especially in terms of global media coverage and political attention, since Israel launched its war on the besieged Palestinian enclave.

Ukraine replaces top commander

On Feb. 7, 2024, Zelenskyy dismissed Ukraine's commander-in-chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi.

The move was widely expected as Zaluzhnyi was said to be responsible for Ukraine's unsuccessful 2023 counteroffensive and suspected of having presidential ambitions.

He was replaced by Oleksandr Syrskyi, who previously served as the commander of the Ukrainian ground forces.

Battle for Avdiivka

On Feb.17, Syrskyi ordered Ukrainian forces to retreat from Avdiivka, a city in the Donetsk region that Ukraine had been fortifying for nearly a decade, and which was targeted in a Russian operation since October 2023.

Zelenskyy blamed Western allies for the situation, saying they had created an "artificial deficit of weapons" for Kyiv. -

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