During the early morning of February 24, Ukrainian citizens living in major cities such as Khrakiv, Odessa, Kramatorsk, Mariupol, and the capital of Kyiv, woke up not to the usual sunrise, but to explosions signaling the start of an extensive attack on their country. As of midday February 24, at least 40 people had been killed and many more had been injured as Russia, who has been at odds with Ukraine for many years, began to launch brutal attacks on many of Ukraine’s military assets and defense facilities, including airstrikes and troop advancements. Russia’s attack on Ukraine has become the “largest military operation in the region since World War II,” but it is different from any military operation from that time period in that almost the entire world has become aware of it in the blink of an eye thanks to the Internet and social media (Business Insider). As a result, factual information about Russia and Ukraine’s tense history and potential effects of their conflict has had to compete with misinformation spread rapidly without checks for complete accuracy. Combined with the situation’s complexity, many are confused about what has happened, what is happening, and what could happen next.
What happened before the attack?
Since the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse and Russia and Ukraine’s separation as their own respective countries, Russian President Vladimir Putin has continuously denied Ukraine’s independence. Adding to the tension between the two countries, Ukraine has expressed great interest in joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a 30-country military alliance including the United States, Canada, many western European countries, and over the past two decades, an increasing number of eastern European countries. Putin has long opposed the eastern expansion of the NATO alliance, calling the possibility of Ukraine joining the organization a “hostile act” and demanding a guarantee from the U.S. and NATO that they would rollback NATO military footprint in eastern and central Europe and never have Ukraine join the alliance (USA Today). These security demands were quickly shot down by the U.S. and its allies.
Tensions in the area escalated on February 21 when Putin recognized the “independence and sovereignty” of the two eastern Ukraine provinces, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), who broke away from Ukrainian control in 2014 and have expressed their support of Russia in the past (USA Today). By officially recognizing the independence of the DPR and LPR, Putin was able to move Russia’s military into those areas in what he called a “limited peace-keeping operation” at the time (Business Insider).
In response, United States President Joe Biden announced “full blocking sanctions” on the Russian capital of Moscow on February 22, effectively cutting off the Russian government from Western financing and trading on its markets or raising money from the region (USA Today). That same day, Germany announced it would stop the certification process for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which runs from Russia to Germany and would allow Russia to avoid using land routes that pass through Ukraine and other Baltic states to export gas to central and eastern Europe. This pipeline is one of Putin’s main priorities, because Russia currently pays Ukraine “$2 billion a year in transit fees to send the gas through its lines” (USA Today).
How has the attack unfolded?
With an estimated 190,000 troops and the country’s military resources in place in the DPR and LPR, Putin authorized a complete invasion of Ukraine that began with fighting at Ukraine’s borders and missile strikes and bombings pounding the preivously mentioned Ukrainian cities. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has begun to mobilize his country’s reservists, National Guard, and border-control service, and has put the entire country under martial law and is urging citizens to stay home as much as they can while the invasion is underway. As the first day of the invasion passed, long lines of Ukrainian citizens at ATMs, supermarkets, and gas stations could be seen at every corner as they contemplated leaving to one of Ukraine’s nearby allies or weathering the attacks in their homes. Major highways out of Ukraine were flush with traffic, while those directed into the country only had a few cars on them at a time. Underground subway stations have even become full with citizens trying to protect themselves from the explosions as what former Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk describes as “a critical moment” that “could be the start of a third world war” unfolds. “We should realize it,” he says, “because Putin will not stop” (USA Today).
On February 24, Russian forces also captured Chernobyl, a decision that former commanding general of the U.S. Army Europe, retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, attributes to its strategic location on a direct path to Kyiv and less than 10 miles from the border of Russia’s ally, Belarus. “If Russian forces were attacking Kyiv from the north, Chernobyl is right there on the way,” he says (AOL). The effect of this movement has been realized, as on February 25, The Hill reports that Russian forces have entered Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.
Putin and Russia’s motive has transitioned from a supposed peacekeeping mission to protecting Russian-speakers in Ukraine, especially those in the DPR and LPR, and he has warned other countries that any attempt to stop the attack would “lead to consequences you have never seen in history” (USA Today). Standing behind and having expressed verbal support for Russia are Belarus and China, while Russia’s other allies haven’t taken a stance as of February 24. On the other hand, many other countries around the world have stood behind Ukraine, supporting Biden’s statement that “[t]he world will hold Russia accountable.”
What could happen next?
As Russia’s attack on Ukraine is unfolding every second, the potential consequences it could bring on both local and global levels continue to evolve. While some of NATO’s members are supplying “arms, ammunition, and other equipment” to Ukraine, NATO as an organization isn’t, as of February 24, due to the fact that Ukraine isn’t an official member (USA Today). However, on February 25, NATO’s response force was activated for the first time ever- not to fight in Ukraine, but to protect NATO countries close to Ukraine that are worried about what Russia could do next. If Russia were to move into NATO territory, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced that the alliance would “defend every inch of its territory” (USA Today).
The combination of the February 22 sanctions imposed on Russia, along with those announced on February 25 that the U.S., European Union, and England are freezing Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s assets, expresses the West’s hope to damage the Russian economy so much that Putin ends the invasion. Another potential option is to remove Russia from the SWIFT financial system, which “shuffles money from bank to bank around the globe,” which would block the country “from most international financial transactions,” including those for oil and gas production that make up 40% of Russia’s revenue (USA Today). While these sanctions are being put in place with careful concern for their effects on the U.S. and other Western economies, the potential still exists for them to suffer. Russia could retaliate by stopping the export of oil and gas to those countries, and Europe receives around 40% of its gas from Russia, setting up for major shortages and price inflation.
What can I do to learn more?
Attached to the bottom of this article are all the sources whose information has been compiled for this article. This is an incredibly complex and constantly-evolving situation, and it’s important to check what sources your knowledge of the conflict is coming from to make sure it’s as accurate as possible. Attached is a media source credibility checker attached to help with this. There are also many resources available to help the citizens of Ukraine as a potential refugee situation evolves in neighboring countries, also attached to the bottom of this article.
Alex Martinez-Garcia, Editor-in-Chief of The Colonel Newsmagazine and Horizons Yearbook
Senior Alex Martinez-Garcia is an Editor-in-Chief for the 2021-2022 Colonel Newsmagazine and Horizons yearbook. If she’s not in a swimming pool, she’s probably hanging out with her friends or brothers, playing lacrosse, indulging in a good book, or living her dream life vicariously through Pinterest and Netflix shows.
Resources to Help the Citizens of Ukraine: https://www.npr.org/2022/02/25/1082992947/ukraine-support-help, https://time.com/6151353/how-to-help-ukraine-people/
Media Source Credibility Checker: https://adfontesmedia.com/interactive-media-bias-chart/
Articles Referenced in this Guide:
Map of Russian Attacks (Business Insider): https://www.businessinsider.com/map-of-explosions-attacks-in-ukraine-as-russia-invades-2022-2
Russian Motives for Attack + Responses to and Potential Effects of the Attack (USA Today): https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2022/02/24/russian-invasion-ukraine-questions-explained/6921368001/
February 22 Sanctions Information (USA Today): https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2022/02/22/russian-invasion-ukraine-sanctions/6892993001/?gnt-cfr=1
Summary of February 25 Sanctions on Russia (Associated Press): https://news.yahoo.com/world-leaders-fine-tune-sanctions-052635863.html?fr=sycsrp_catchall
Live Coverage of Russo-Ukrainian War Events (The Hill): https://news.yahoo.com/live-coverage-russian-forces-enter-131135546.html?fr=sycsrp_catchall
Information about NATO Respnose Force Activation (CNN): https://www.cnn.com/2022/02/25/politics/nato-ukraine-russia/index.html
Motives for Chernobyl Takeover (AOL): https://www.aol.com/why-russia-want-chernobyl-220627796.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly9yLnNlYXJjaC55YWhvby5jb20vX3lsdD1BMGdlSy5LWUhSbGlkODRBRkRsWE55b0E7X3lsdT1ZMjlzYndOaVpqRUVjRzl6QXpFRWRuUnBaQU1FYzJWakEzTmovUlY9Mi9SRT0xNjQ1ODQxOTQ0L1JPPTEwL1JVPWh0dHBzJTNhJTJmJTJmd3d3LmFvbC5jb20lMmZ3aHktcnVzc2lhLXdhbnQtY2hlcm5vYnlsLTIyMDYyNzc5Ni5odG1sL1JLPTIvUlM9cENoZGJRY0pnbTM5WnY3cnhoTUZQczdxUHlnLQ&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAExSycEUlYXNqNxG7ks6rwz_fjihK8OY9WtG3Jlx6xjrOqkCv7R67Lks0X9AVCkfzF-_kbyYUb5qKS9dhgIiSFeOvPFPj2MO77PNN5xUx3f8OtDrjIZyBm0NTLMmibJ9VT1SxMS0jcvGfmeMOjIjfWsyJWjf7QpyDiFDNWWU_L1i