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One year of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine

“The longest day of our lives. The hardest day [in] our modern history. We woke up early and haven’t fallen asleep since,” Zelenskyy said in his speech delivered on the morning of February 24, 2023, describing the day exactly 12 months earlier. The day when Russia decided to finish the job it started in 2014, and gobble up the entirety of Ukraine. The day it launched its full-scale invasion.

World-changing events, even if they are infamous, also produce great men and great quotes.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s response to a U.S. offer to airlift him, his family, and his government out of Kyiv before the capital will inevitably fall, as was then supposed by almost everybody will be quoted in history books describing the day when Russia decided that it is not satisfied with Crimea or waging a constant war in the Donbas with the use of its renegade proxies.

“I need ammunition, not a ride,” was reportedly Zelenskyy’s response.

The response of the defenders of the Snake Island, telling a Russian warship to… let us rephrase it politely – to leave, will also go down in history, but it is unlikely to be considered fit for print in school textbooks.

But a lot more has happened in the past year since those fateful first days of the conflict. A conflict, that has in fact lasted since 2014 when Russian “green men” occupied Crimea in order to organize an illegal referendum that was to justify Russia’s annexation of the peninsula and launched a series of attempts to establish breakaway so-called “Peoples’ Republics” with an ultimate goal of annexing them as well. Only in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions did Putin see some success, but the war in the east of Ukraine remained a festering wound in Ukrainian territorial integrity, claiming thousands of lives.

However, the world only appears to have taken notice when the Kremlin despot launched his supposedly three-day-long “Special Military Operation”, as Russian propaganda tends to call this invasion, to take Kyiv.

Now, we are on day 366.

And here is TVP World’s summary of the most important events of the past 365 days of Putin’s disastrous attempt to conquer Ukraine.

February 24, 2022 – war begins

Falsely accusing Kyiv of perpetrating genocide against its own Russophone population, the Kremlin dictator Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine.

Russia invaded Ukraine from three fronts in the biggest assault on a European state since World War II. Throngs of Russian tanks crossed from the occupied Crimea and began making their way toward the southern Ukrainian port city of Kherson. In the north, Russian forces stationed on the territory of Belarus begin making their way toward Kyiv. In the northeast, the invaders rapidly approach Kharkiv, the second most populous city in the country.

Russian rockets struck targets throughout the entire country. They do not spare residential areas. The nature of the way Russian forces intended to conduct themselves becomes immediately apparent.

Tens of thousands of civilians flee. Others brace themselves to resist the invaders.

“We are already handing out weapons and will hand them out to defend our country to everyone who wants and has the capacity to defend our sovereignty,” said President Zelenskyy. “The future of Ukraine depends on every citizen.”

“The Russian military has begun a brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, without provocation, without justification, without necessity,” said U.S. President Joe Biden “This is a pre-meditated attack.”

The White House immediately hits Russia with a wave of sanctions. Measures that impede Russia’s ability to do business in major currencies along with sanctions against banks and state-owned enterprises are introduced.

“This is a deliberate, cold-blooded, and long-planned invasion,” said Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary-General of NATO. “Despite its litany of lies, denials, and disinformation, the Kremlin’s intentions are clear for the world to see. Russia’s leaders bear full responsibility for their reckless actions and the lives lost.”

The opening days

Russian airborne troops, the VDV, launch an attack on Hostomel airport in the suburbs of Kyiv on the first day of the war. The Ukrainian garrison tests the elite status of the VDV. The Russian paratroopers do not pass the test. However, reinforcements quickly arrive and the following day the invaders successfully take the airport.

Chechen Rosgvardia units, dubbed Kadyrovites after the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, are part of the reinforcements. As with the VDV, they are surrounded by an aura of elite troops. This was quickly dispelled as well. But it was reported that their task was to eliminate President Zelenskyy and other top officials in order to decapitate the Ukrainian state.

Presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak later told the “Ukrainska Pravda” that Kyiv’s “foreign partners are talking about two or three attempts. I believe that there were more than a dozen attempts.” Oleksiy Danilov, head of Ukraine’s National Security Council, said that Zelenskyy had survived three assassination attempts in one week alone.

As the fighting continues waves of war refugees appear at the country’s western border. Most of them are women and children, as men of military age have been banned from leaving the country. The majority crosses into Poland, where the entire nation has been galvanized to assist their neighbors, distributing food and blankets at the border. Across Poland, families open their homes to strangers in need.

Kharkiv is relentlessly pounded by constant bombardment. One attack carried out on March 1 targeted residential areas in the regional administration building. The final death toll was 29, with more than 35 people wounded.

The following day, Russian forces seized the city of Kherson after several days of fighting over the Antonivskyi Bridge. To the visible bewilderment of the Russians, who were told by their officers they will be treated as liberators, they are instead welcome by angry crowds waving Ukrainian flags, attempting to block armored columns, and calling them “occupiers” and “fascists”.

Several days earlier, the invaders successfully occupied the Kherson International Airport in Charnobaivka. “Charnobaivka” soon became a household name, the airport has become a target of Ukrainian strikes, each damaging large numbers of expensive items of equipment and revealing the inability of the Russian air defenses to prevent them. And the inability of the top-heavy Russian military to learn from their mistakes.

Kherson became the only regional capital that the Russians managed to capture since February 24.

Only days later, on March 4, Russian forces seized control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Since then, shells and rockets would periodically fall dangerously close to its facilities, raising concerns about the potentially catastrophic consequences.

While all this was happening, Ukraine has been calling for NATO to declare Ukraine a no-fly zone. But at that stage, in spite of the sympathy for Ukraine and growing respect for the tenacity and the spirit of the Ukrainian people in the West, few were ready to commit to what was still a war with an uncertain outcome.

“The only way to actually implement something like a no-fly zone is to send NATO planes into Ukrainian air space and to shoot down Russian planes and that could lead to a full-fledged war, in Europe. President Biden has been clear that we are not going to get into a war with Russia,” said Antony Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state on the same day Russia occupied the NPP.

A view of the destroyed Ukrainian Antonov An-225 Mriya cargo aircraft, which was the largest plane in the world, among the wreckage of Russian military vehicles at the Hostomel Airport on March 03, 2022 in Hostomel, Ukraine. Photo: Serhii Mykhalchuk/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

The siege of Mariupol begins

The Russians were determined to establish a landbridge that would connect Russia and the parts of the Donbas region that it already had under its control through the so-called People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk with the occupied Crimea.

The port city of Mariupol on the Azov Sea was sticking out like a sore thumb. Russians have encircled it and a months-long siege began. The disregard of the invaders for the lives of the civilians quickly became blatantly apparent. As did the fact that in spite of the Kremlin’s claims that they came to protect the local, largely Russophone, population, the Russians did not care what language the people they murdered were speaking.

Ukraine accused Russia of bombing a children’s hospital in the city during a supposed ceasefire, meant to enable some of the hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in the city to escape. Russia had said it would hold fire to let civilians flee Mariupol and other besieged cities on March 9. But the city council said the hospital had been hit several times.

The pattern of announcing a ceasefire and establishing humanitarian corridors for the civilians to allow a way to evacuate and then disregarding them became a staple of the Russian actions over the following weeks. Those who could, however, would head toward Zaporizhzhia, the nearest large city still in Ukrainian hands, which became a key transit point for evacuees fleeing from Mariupol.

In the meantime, the city was quickly reduced to rubble by Russian tanks, artillery, and air strikes to try to dislodge its defenders. In the captured areas of the city and its surroundings, civilians, mostly men, began being rounded up for the process of “filtration”. Russians were trying to weed out anyone whom they considered possibly dangerous. The identifying marks of a potential “troublemaker” were, as in Bucha, being a Donbas veteran, a pro-Ukrainian activist, a local or state official, etc. But this time around, the Russians had all the time they needed to do a thorough job. Some went through the process several times. Many have not returned from the “filtration camps”. It can be assumed that many never will.

Estimates by the United Nations speak of 90 percent of the buildings being destroyed. Kyiv estimates that 22,000 civilians were killed throughout the entire siege, and many more were displaced, reducing the once thriving city of more than 400,000 people to little more than a ghost town. But that was still in the future.

Biden’s visit to Warsaw

“Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia. For free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness,” U.S. President Joe Biden said on March 26 during his visit in Warsaw, the capital of Ukraine’s neighbor and staunch advocate, Poland. The visit was seen as a way to stress the importance of Poland in helping Ukraine. And showing support for Poland’s efforts was a way of showing support for Ukraine.

The visit took place almost a month after the invasion was launched. Although Russia would make incremental gains in the east of the country later, it was around that time that it had reached what would later prove to be the greatest extent of its control over Ukrainian territory. It was already becoming apparent that Putin’s war against Ukraine had been a strategic failure for Moscow, and that a turning point was around the corner.

“We will have a different future, a brighter future rooted in democracy and principles, hope and light, of decency and dignity and freedom and possibilities,” promised Biden, and then exclaimed, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

His staff would later downplay these words as uttered in the heat of a moment by a man who has been overcome by emotions. But these words resonated perfectly well with those who have been advocating for the West to take the Russian threat seriously. The Poles, the residents of the Baltic States, i.e. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, and of course, the Ukrainians themselves.

Just days later, on April 1 still before dawn, two helicopters carried out an air strike against a fuel depot in the Russian city of Belgorod, some 50 kilometers from the border with Ukraine. The taste of their own medicine was bitter for the Russians. And they did not like it. The Kremlin responded that an incident the Kremlin said could affect peace talks, but a top Kyiv security official denied responsibility.

Oleksiy Danilov denied Ukraine was behind the attack, joking that it was carried out by the “People’s Republic of Belgorod”, mocking Russia’s long-standing narrative about their Donetsk and Luhansk puppets being anything other than proxies.

The U.S. would later say that its intelligence confirmed the attack was indeed carried out by the Ukrainians. This claim Kyiv did not dispute. Were Ukrainians encouraged by the U.S. President’s words uttered in Warsaw to act so boldly or was it indeed a false-flag operation by Russia? It did not matter for those who wanted to see the Ukrainians victorious. But the brief moment of joy quickly came to an end the very same day.

The US President, Joe Biden delivers a speech at the Royal Castle on March 26, 2022 in Warsaw, Poland. Biden arrived in Poland yesterday, meeting with the Polish president as well as U.S. troops stationed near the Ukrainian border, bolstering NATO’s eastern flank. (Photo by Omar Marques/Getty Images)

Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka… and Kramatorsk

Initially, April 1 brought more exhilarating news. Having failed to take Kyiv in spite of sustaining heavy losses, the Russians withdrew from the north of Ukraine back to Belarus to lick their wounds and attempt to use those forces somewhere where they could perhaps have more luck. Still, the rapid and disorganized withdrawal forced the Russians to abandon a lot of equipment and ammunition. As well as many of their own troops.

As Ukrainian forces rolled into Bucha, yet another horrifying truth of the nature of the Russian art of war had been revealed to the world. The streets of the town were littered with corpses.

There was perhaps no Russian atrocity revealed on territories liberated later that could not be found in what was once a quiet suburban community.

Some people were found with their arms tied behind their backs and shot execution style. Russians have specifically targeted some groups of people, for example, local officials and Ukrainian activists, former army veterans, especially those who were found to have fought against Russians in Donbas, or local civilians who attempted to form self-defense units.

But there was no apparent reason for some deaths other than just savagery. Some bodies lay in the streets, clearly, passers-by who simply had the misfortune to become a target for Russian soldiers, seemingly frustrated by their failure to take Kyiv where they hoped to be cheered as liberators.

But later reports by Western and Ukrainian intelligence revealed that the servicemen were encouraged by their officers. Russia would naturally deny any of that, but Russia also denied that it had anything to do with the massacre. The Kremlin called the Bucha Massacre a Ukrainian provocation, going so far as to accuse the Ukrainians of perpetrating the atrocity. But the state of decay of the bodies, numerous CCTV footage, and even satellite images taken over the preceding months have shown, that the killings, as well as other horrifying examples of Russian barbarity, have started soon after the arrival of the Kremlin horde.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the town the following day. He saw the carnage and stood over a mass grave dug in the very center of the town, or perhaps more appropriately over an open corpse pit, as the fleeing aggressors did not have the time to even cover it.

Within a span of five weeks, a comedian-turned-politician-turned-wartime-leader appeared to have aged by a decade. But the stakes of the game have now become apparent.

“These are war crimes and they will be recognized by the world as genocide,” he told the press. “You are here today and can see what happened. We know of thousands of people killed and tortured, with severed limbs, raped women, and murdered children. I think it is more than… This is a genocide.”

Bucha was not the only place like this in the vicinity of Kyiv. Irpin was another one. Several days later Zelenskyy said that what he saw in Borodyanka was “significantly more dreadful” than Bucha, but by then the name “Bucha” has become synonymous with the Russian genocide against Ukrainian people.

Sadly, more such places would be discovered later. While the 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade, one of the units stationed in the area and responsible for the murders, would soon thereafter be granted the elite status of a “Guards” unit by Putin himself, who called their deeds “heroic”.

Even before the forensic investigators began the gruesome and grueling task of exhuming the bodies, every world leader that would come to visit Kyiv for the first time since the Russian threat to the capital, would be taken to the city to see what was it that the West has been battering Ukraine for by years of continuing to do business with Putin’s criminal regime.

Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Commission was not the first person to come to Kyiv. Even before the Russians were pushed back, the city was visited by Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki, Polish Deputy PM Jarosław Kaczyński, Czech PM Petr Fiala, and then-PM of Slovenia Janez Janša.

But it was Ursula von der Leyen that had the dubious honor of being the first Western leader to see the grave pits of Bucha.

On the same day, she handed a questionnaire on European Union membership to Zelenskyy, pledging a speedier start to Ukraine’s bid to become a member of the EU. Zelenskyy returned the completed questionnaire to the EU’s ambassador to Ukraine ten days later.

For the Russians, the visit of a world leader to Kyiv was not a reason to stop killing Ukrainian civilians.

On the same day, a cluster bomb missile struck a train station in Kramatorsk in the east of the country. The station was packed with people awaiting to be evacuated from the city. The final death toll was 60 people, and in excess of 110 were wounded.

Russian propaganda machine initially boasted that a Russian missile had struck a major concentration of Ukrainian troops, but these were soon removed and replaced with Moscow instead saying the missile was Ukrainian.

It was not yet two months into the war, but if in many respects the Russian military has proven woefully inept, it definitely had a knack for killing civilians en masse.

Crosses, floral tributes and photographs of the victims of the battles for Irpin and Bucha mark the graves in Irpin cemetery on May 16, 2022 in Irpin, Ukraine. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The sinking of the Moskva

The Moskva cruiser was the flagship of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet. The warship was instrumental in the capture of Snake Island on the first day of the war. The innocuous rocky island does not even have a source of water, but it is strategically located along major shipping lanes.

It was the Snake Island garrison, initially feared completely wiped out but later proven to have been merely taken into captivity, that told the Russian warship what it can do.

Whether the radio operator of the garrison somehow managed to put an actual curse on the ship or was it karma for the strike on Kramatorsk train station that caught up with the Russian armed forces is a metaphysical question.

But the effect of a strike by Ukrainian cruise missiles was indisputable.

Moscow said the ship sank while being towed in stormy seas after a fire caused by an ammunition explosion. Ukraine said one of its missiles had caused it to sink.

The number of casualties is unverifiable, but the Kremlin’s claim that of the entire 500 crew members, the explosion and subsequent sinking claimed only the life of the captain was something that was not taken seriously by anyone.

The hysterical reaction of Russian propagandists, such as Margarita Simonyan, that howled like a banshee about the need to strike Kyiv in retaliation for striking Moskva (Moskva is Russian for Moscow) on public television did not really help to support the narrative that the cruiser spontaneously became a submarine.

Nor did the Kremlin’s decision to immediately strike the Ukrainian factory that manufactured the Neptune cruise missiles used to sink it.

Nor the April 15 ceremony held in Moskva’s home base in Sevastopol in the occupied Crimea, seemingly meant to allow the crewman to commemorate their ship and captain. The small number of sailors in attendance and their sour faces told the world much more than the Kremlin was willing to admit.

The Donbas offensive

On April 18, the Russian forces launched an offensive in the east. With the capture of Kherson now being several weeks in the past, Russia needed a victory that could be presented as something that would resemble achieving a goal. The successful capture of the entirety of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, whose pro-Russian puppets claimed their administrative borders as their territory, would look like something that could be called a success.

“We can now say that Russian forces have started the battle of the Donbas, for which they have long prepared, said President Zelenskyy. A very large part of the entire Russian army is now focused on this offensive.”

An aerial view of damaged sites from eastern Ukraine city of Sievierodonetsk located in Russian-occupied Ukraine on July 09, 2022. Photo: Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Azovstal stronghold

On April 10, a powerful Russian air strike hit a theater in Mariupol where people had been sheltering from the war. Hundreds of people, mostly women, children, and the elderly, who hid in the structure, were killed. Standing in the center of the city, the structure had a massive sign reading “CHILDREN” in Russian painted in front and behind the building.

By April 16, all of the city fell to the invaders with the exception of one place: a massive industrial complex that was the Azovstal steel plant. Underneath it was a maze of corridors, which offered shelter from the relentless barrages of shells and rockets. Several hundred civilians fled to the complex. But while the plant offered protection, it was simultaneously a trap for soldiers and civilians alike. Food, water, and medical supplies were scarce and running out.

The defenders were made up mostly of the local Azov Regiment of the National Guard, supplemented with some units of the 36th Independent Marine Brigade which managed to brave the siege and reach Mariupol just shortly before retreating into Azovstal.

The defenders pleaded for assistance. A relief force was unlikely to reach them, but they hoped that international pressure would force the Russians to enable safe passage for at least the civilians.

Finally, a deal was brokered with the help of the United Nations and the International Red Cross, and the evacuation of the civilians began and was completed in early May.

On May 19, the remaining defenders finally surrendered. They numbered in the hundreds. Many have become crippled by wounds and inadequate medical help that the medical personnel could offer. The siege of Mariupol was over, and the city of Mariupol was no more.

May victories

The fall of Azovstal came too late for Putin to be able to include it in his Victory Day celebrations. A grand parade organized annually on the Red Square to mark the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II (a victory the Kremlin tells the Russian people was their unilateral effort), which in the Soviet Union was and in Russia still is celebrated on May 9.

The world collectively turned its head and pricked its ears to listen to Putin’s speech. Will it be an end to the “special military operation” and a declaration of war? An announcement of national mobilization?

There was no explosive news. Bombastic as the speech was, it was, to be honest, a dud.

Although at that point the fall of Azovstal was imminent, Ukraine did score a victory. Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest in Italy on May 14 with their entry “Stefania”, riding a wave of public support to claim an emotional victory that showed the Ukrainian people that Europe supported them. It was a much-needed morale boost. And the song is not that bad either.

As for the Russian performance in the 2022 Eurovision, there was none. The European Broadcasters’ Union which organizes the event told the Russians as early as February 25 that they need not bother to come, while at the same time wasting a perfectly good, one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to head the letter with a quote from the defenders of Snake Island.

And in Ukraine, there was a victory of justice. The first Russian war criminal was sentenced.

On May 23, Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old tank commander, pleaded guilty to killing 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov in the northeastern Ukrainian village of Chupakhivka on February 28 by firing several shots at the victim’s head from an automatic weapon. The Russians feared that the man would report their presence to the Ukrainian armed forces, but Judge Serhiy Agafonov said Shishimarin was carrying out a “criminal order” by a soldier of higher rank which he should have refused. Shishimarin was sentenced to life in prison, but the sentence was reduced to 15 years on appeal.

And on May 29, President Zelenskyy also scored a PR victory. He made his first official appearance outside the Kyiv Region since the start of Russia’s invasion. And of all the places he chose to go to, he picked Kharkiv, with Russian forces still on the city outskirts and within range of the Russian artillery. The public opinion cheering for Ukraine had a field day, lauding Zelenskyy as a leader of men and a man of the people, compared with Putin who even during a meeting with his closest associates sits at the other end of a ludicrously long table for fear someone might sneeze too close to him.

Fighting in the east continues

After some initial gains, the Russian offensive in the Donbas has slowed down but has not stopped. The cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk in the Luhansk Region separated by the Donets river were the prize they were going for. They were the two last major population centers in the Luhansk Region. Their situation was precarious, as they were in a salient.

The Ukrainian defenders did all in their power to slow down the Russians’ grinding advance. Denying the Russians a propaganda victory for as long as possible was one goal. The other was to prevent a repeat of what happened in Mariupol. The fact that it contained a large nitrogen fertilizer plant where civilians were beginning to seek shelter sounded way too close for comfort. The Azot plant would later nearly become the second Azovstal.

The majority of the civilians were successfully evacuated from both cities, however, and they turned into a brutal battleground. Relentless artillery barrages followed by infantry assaults caused the casualty rates to be heavily skewed to the detriment of the Russians. This was the other goal of the dogged Ukrainian resistance: to attrite the Russians.

It worked splendidly. It took the Russians seven weeks to take Sievierodonetsk, which fell on June 25, and another week of fighting to take Lysychansk across the river before the Ukrainian President himself said that Ukrainian forces had to concede the city. The battle for the twin cities was over on July 3. At the same time, he vowed to regain control over the area with the help of long-range Western weapons, referring to the HIMARS long-range rocket artillery whose first recorded use was in late June.

Putin could proclaim A victory, announcing that the entire Luhansk Region was in Russian hands. Serhiy Haidai, the legitimate regional governor called Putin out saying that several villages remained in Ukrainian hands, but the Russian dictator would not allow such a technicality to spoil his grand conquest. Magnanimously, he announced an “operational pause” to allow his forces to recuperate. That is, those that were still alive.

The tide begins to turn, but suffering continues

Two days later Putin also earned the title of “Best Promoter of NATO Expansion”.

NATO’s 30 allies signed an accession protocol for Finland and Sweden on July 5, allowing them to join the nuclear-armed alliance once parliaments ratify the decision, the most significant expansion of the alliance since the 1990s.

The two countries abandoned a decades-long policy of neutrality, which they hoped could protect them from becoming a target of the Kremlin’s paranoia. The invasion of Ukraine made them re-evaluate the wisdom of such a strategy, and the Kremlin’s saber-rattling and nuclear threats started to inspire mockery instead of fear increasingly more often. And soon after the two Nordic states applied, the Kremlin began to downplay the significance of the expansion.

But as things were beginning to look brighter, the brutality of war was always around the corner. Mostly, death came from the sky.

In Chasiv Yar in the Donetsk Region, a Russian rocket that struck an apartment block resulted in a death toll of about 50 people.

In Vinnytsia, a city about 200 kilometers southwest of Kyiv and usually spared the worst of the missile attacks pounding the capital and the localities closer to the frontlines, an office building was hit, with more than 20 victims dead and dozens more wounded. The Russian forces also scored a massive victory in its “de-Nazifying” effort, having successfully killed a four-year-old girl and grievously wounded her mother. The pictures of the happy child on a walk with her mother that the woman took minutes before and images of the child’s mangled body set side by side made rounds around the world.

While Russian rocket artillery was practicing hitting four-year-old targets, Ukrainians began putting their HIMARS to use. The Antonivskyi bridge that the Russians used to cross the Dnipro river into Kherson at the beginning of the invasion was struck on July 27. The images of the bridge potted with holes attested to the precision nature of the HIMARS. They also helped adjust the targeting if necessary. The cavalier use of private smartphones by enemy servicemen (and likely some local civilians with their own motives) would increasingly become a valuable asset for the Ukrainians.

Russia would claim to have destroyed all the U.S.-provided HIMARS systems three times over, as proof showing a video of a school building being struck. For the Russian Ministry of Defense, this was clear proof that the Ukrainian army was hiding behind the backs of civilian children. The rest of the world was puzzled how the Ukrainians managed to park a piece of equipment weighing over 16 tonnes inside a third-floor classroom.

If the Russians could not knock the HIMARS out, they decided to take their revenge in a different way. On July 29, they said that Ukraine struck a prison in the separatist-held territory with U.S.-made HIMARS rockets, killing 40 Ukrainian prisoners of war and wounding 75. The prison was well-known as the place of detention for Ukrainian POWs, including many defenders of Azovstal, particularly reviled by the invaders.

Ukraine said that the precision nature of the HIMARS ruled out the possibility of an accidental strike. The claim Kyiv would target men who considered themselves heroes was preposterous. And the fact that soon before the strike Azov POWs were all moved into the barrack that was hit and the images of its burned-out interior with charred corpses of the prisoners clearly pointed out to a weapon of a different nature, such as a deliberately planted potent incendiary device.

But as July was coming to an end, the international pressure on Russia was beginning to make a difference.

Russia has managed to blockade Ukraine’s grain exports via the Black Sea, and global food security was in jeopardy. Russia began by withdrawing from the famous Snake Island. The Kremlin said it was a “gesture of goodwill” to show it was not obstructing United Nations’ attempts to open a humanitarian corridor allowing the grain to be shipped from Ukraine. Constant artillery and missile assaults by Ukraine were something that was not mentioned in the communique.

Finally, Russia and Ukraine signed a landmark deal on July 22 to unblock grain exports from Black Sea ports and ease an international food crisis. Aside from the UN, Turkey was heavily involved in mediating between the sides. To the shock of everyone and the surprise of a few, Russian missiles hit Ukraine’s southern port of Odesa on July 23, just one day after. The world kept its breath, but the deal stood.

The first ship to carry Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea since Russia invaded Ukraine five months prior left the port of Odesa for Lebanon on August 1 under a safe passage deal described as a glimmer of hope in a worsening global food crisis.

Being deprived of one weapon that allowed him to blackmail the entire world, Putin had to quickly come up with another ploy.

The first grain ship of Lebanon departs from Ukraine arrives in Port of Tripoli. The UN, Russia, and Ukraine signed a deal on July 22 to reopen three Ukrainian ports for grain that has been stuck for months because of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. Photo: Ahmad Said/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Nuclear blackmail, take two

If the world was slowly becoming desensitized to Putin rattling the nuclear saber. Before Putin completely buried the credibility of his being ready to unleash the atomic genie out of the bottle and drown the world in nuclear hellfire by telling everyone that his threats “are not a bluff”, he tried one more thing. He remembered that his troops still held the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest power plant of its kind, was captured by Russia in March. Fears have grown in recent weeks over its safety and the risks of a possible Fukushima-style nuclear accident.

Since capturing the plant on March 4, the Russians have been firing around the facility dozens of times, using it as an army base, mining two nuclear power units, and storing ammunition and military vehicles in its machinery rooms.

It is as if they wanted to ensure that if they do not provoke the Ukrainians into doing something foolish, they will act in a way so aggressively stupid a nuclear incident would be unavoidable.

Or at least they will get the world sufficiently unnerved by their recklessness that they will be able to obtain some concessions. Or, as Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear energy operator suggested on 9 August “The Russian military is shelling the nuclear power plant to destroy its infrastructure and disconnect it from Ukraine’s energy system.”

Since then, the plant has been disconnected from Ukraine’s power grid several times by Russian shelling, but its workers always managed to reconnect Zaporizhzhia to the Ukrainian grid and ensure it would keep generating electricity for Ukraine.

Ukrainian authorities performed disaster response drills on August 17 following repeated shelling at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest of its kind in Europe. Fighting around the plant led authorities in the Ukrainian-controlled city of the same name, some 55 kilometers to the northeast, to hand out iodine tablets and teach residents how to use them in case of a radiation leak.

Finally, a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) set off on August 31 from the Ukrainian capital towards the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to inspect for damage after shelling nearby sparked fears of a radiation disaster.

The mission, the riskiest in IAEA’s history, as it was described by the agency itself, was headed personally by Director General Mariano Grossi.

“We are aware of the current situation. There has been increased military activity, including a few minutes ago. But weighing the pros and cons, and having come so far, we are not stopping,” Grossi told the press, wearing a blue bulletproof vest stamped “United Nations”.

“We are moving now, accepting the risks are very, very high,” Grossi added, commenting ahead of their trip across the front line.

Russia has yet again successfully made a mockery of its own propaganda claims, which said that Ukraine was deliberately targeting the facilities to cause a nuclear incident.

During a tour of the facilities, the IAEA mission was shown an unexploded missile stuck in the grass. The guide helpfully explained that the missile flew in from the direction of the Ukrainian positions on the opposite side of the Nova Kakhovka reservoir. When an IAEA agent asked why the angle and position of the missile indicates it flew in from the south instead of the north then, it was clarified that it was one of those missiles that spin around by 180 degrees upon hitting the ground.

No, he actually said that was what happened, this is not a joke.

The mission left behind several of its members on the premises of the NPP to keep monitoring the situation.

In late October Ukraine accused Russia of preparing a false flag operation that see the explosion of a dirty bomb in the Zaporizhzhia NPP, which would not necessarily destroy the facility but would result in contamination of the plant and the surrounding area. Kyiv also said the Kremlin would try to pin it on Ukraine. Nothing of this sort occurred, so for now it is only a piece of misinformation made up by Kyiv or Moscow, or an actual plan that was abandoned.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, speaks to press members after inspecting the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant with delegation in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine on September 01, 2022. Photo: Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The last such summer in Crimea

The Saky air base near Novofedorivka on the west coast of the peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, suffered multiple explosions on August 9. This occurred in full daylight, to the benefit of the audience consisting of Russian tourists vacationing in the peninsula that Russia has claimed as an integral part of its territory since the illegal annexation back in 2014.

The holidaymakers did not appear to appreciate the fireworks display. The Crimean bridge, a megaproject completed several years earlier that served to provide a road and rail link between Crimea and Russia, soon became almost impossible to cross. A massive, kilometers-long traffic jam formed on the approach to the bridge from its Crimean side.

Few gave credence to the explanation that a reckless soldier on the base dropped a cigarette that caused an explosion so devastating it put more than half of the Russian Black Sea fleet’s naval aviation combat jets out of use. Talks of Ukrainian saboteurs operating deep behind Russian lines in what Russia has for years treated as indisputably Russian, found its claim challenged.

More explosions in the following days and weeks were not reassuring. While Russian-installed local officials claimed that there is no reason to panic, such words gave little comfort to those Crimeans sharing pro-Russian sympathies. Especially since the officials began selling off their properties on the peninsula.

Even though the frontlines have stagnated, the fact that Ukrainians were finally able to hit Russia where it really hurt had risen Ukrainian spirits. On August 24, the 31st anniversary of the country’s independence coincided with exactly six months since the invasion started. For fear of Russia trying to disrupt the holiday with a massive attack on Kyiv, the celebrations were subdued and did not involve mass events. But in the days leading up to the holiday, the Ukrainians decided to organize a parade.

One for Russians – with dozens of destroyed pieces of Russian equipment displayed on one of the capital’s main avenues.

The counteroffensive

After months of Kyiv announcing that the next step was to retake Kherson, the only regional capital the Russians have managed to occupy after crossing the pre-February-24 line of control.

On August 29, Ukrainian Armed Forces finally launched the counteroffensive to liberate the city.

The Russians have relocated large numbers of their best units, supplemented by some second-rate troops in the form of Donetsk separatist militia as auxiliaries, to defend the city and its hinterland, constructing several lines of defense. The importance of maintaining control of what was an important propaganda success dating back to the early days of the war was obvious, and the fact that Ukraine continued to pummel the few crossings across the formidable obstacle that was the Dnipro river made it perfectly apparent even to the Russian Ministry of Defense what the plan was. Kyiv was looking to cut off communication between the Russian forces on either side of the river, which would hamper attempts to resupply or reinforce the forces defending the occupied city. Or attempts to withdraw them in a timely fashion.

In light of this transparent plan of the Ukrainians, Russia began boosting its numbers on the northwestern bank of the Dnipro.

An example of a masterfully orchestrated military deception unfolded before the eyes of the world.

On September 7, the Ukrainian Armed Forces launched a surprise counteroffensive in the Kharkiv Region. Initially, Russian sources claimed that the area was defended by less-experienced troops, but that reinforcements were on the way. Russian state media even showed footage of columns of reinforcements that were supposed to be heading to the area.

Balakliya was later confirmed to have been liberated on September 8.

As the Russians realized what is going on, it became brutally clear that Russia was encountering an unstoppable force. But they themselves were as far removed from the definition of an immovable object as possible. The closest thing that remotely fit the bill were massive numbers of expensive heavy equipment that became immobilized and had to be abandoned by the routed invaders.

The Russian MoD scrambled to portray it as a planned and organized retreat, announcing that “a decision was made to “regroup Russian troops stationed in Balakliya and Izium” and transfer those troops to Donetsk Oblast.

The Russian Defense Ministry also claimed that a number of “feints and demonstrative operations” were conducted to support this “regrouping”. To sweeten the bitter reality-check pill, the Russians claimed that 2,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed in the area over the preceding three days. No mention was made of the loss of any territory.

Serious doubt was cast over whether the Ukrainians can defeat the Russians. After all, they would first have to catch up to them.

Apart from Izium, the Russian forces were forced to rapidly retreat from the key cities of Kupiansk and Izium, signaling a near-total collapse of the Russian line of defense in the area.

On the morning of September 10, photographic evidence of Ukrainian troops in front of Kupiansk first surfaced.

The loss of this town was particularly painful. The loss of the major railway hub was a major blow to Russian logistics, which are heavily reliant on rail transport meant the Russians were cut off not only from Izium, which was already a loss but also to large portions of the frontline in the Donbas, as far south as Sievierodonetsk.

In some places advance 60 kilometers from their initial position within a week.

This was, for example, the distance between Balakliya and Kupiansk. And that only took the Ukrainians under three days.

The liberation of these areas, some located over 60 kilometers behind where the frontline stood a week ago, represents the most significant Ukrainian achievement in the full-scale war since Russian troops withdrew from northern Ukraine in early April.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy paid a surprise visit on September 14 to the newly recaptured town of Izium and thanked his army for their success in retaking territory from Russian forces.

The next day, Ukrainian Security Services swept through recently retaken Kupiansk on September 15, assessing the damage after its months of use as an important rail hub by Russia.

Aside from extensive damage to the structures, in some localities as high as 90 percent, there was of course the familiar pattern. Mass graves, torture chambers, the usual.

In many ways, the fact that some of these areas were under Russian control for so much longer than for example Bucha, meant that the Russians and their collaborators had much more time to brutalize the local population. The rapid rate of the Ukrainian counteroffensive meant that they had no time to destroy the evidence. Not just the bloody stains on the walls of the torture chambers masquerading as “people’s police” stations. But also documentation of the atrocities. along with names of renegades who collaborated with the invaders.

“Unfortunately, this looks like a bloody soap opera. After Bucha, we’re seeing similar sights in de-occupied regions of our country. In Izium, we found 450 dead people buried,” said President Zelenskyy, relaying what the Ukrainian forces found in the liberated areas. “But there are others, separate burials of many people. Tortured people. Entire families in certain areas.”

Bodies with their hands tied were found at a mass burial site in Izium after Ukrainian forces recaptured the city, the regional governor said on September 16.

It was an intensive week and the counteroffensive finally slowed down, but the Ukrainians managed to gather the strength for one more push later in the month, successfully encircling and entering the town of Lyman, another railway hub. The bodies of Russian soldiers and abandoned vehicles testified on October 5 to Moscow’s loss of Lyman to a Ukrainian counteroffensive that has now also reclaimed parts of Donetsk province overrun by Russian forces earlier this year.

The monument, which was dedicated to the Soviet Union soldiers in memory of the II World War, is painted in the colors of the Ukrainian flag by the Ukrainian soldiers, is seen in Izium, on October 04, 2022. Russian Forces withdrew from Izium. Photo: Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Desperate times call for desperate measures

On September 21, Putin ordered Russia’s first mobilization since World War Two, making a point to stress that it was only a “partial mobilization” and that the target was to draft 300,000 men.

An invasion of a neighboring country and perpetrating genocide against it was one thing, but if there is one thing the Russians could no longer tolerate from the regime, was allowing it to send it to certain death in the Ukrainian meatgrinder.

More than 730 people were detained across Russia at protests against a mobilization order on September 24, a human rights group said.

Hundreds of thousands, mainly men of military age with the monetary means to do so fled to neighboring countries.

Although they were supposed to be provided adequate equipment and refresher training (Russia maintains a system of compulsory military service), this proved a fiction. Within days, the first draftees, contemptuously referred to as “mobiks”, appeared on the front. The lucky ones were captured. The not-so-lucky ones contributed to a sharp spike in daily losses the Ukrainians claimed to inflict on the invaders.

Seven months after the invasion, on the day the mobilization was announced, the Russian losses were estimated by Kyiv at 55,000 “liquidated” enemy troops. Just before Christmas, mere three months later, an additional 45,000 perished. The number of Russian war dead passed the milestone of 100,000.

The figure stands at nearly 147,000 mere two months later, exactly one year since the invasion started.

In his speech Putin also backed a plan to annex swathes of Ukraine, warning the West he was not bluffing when he said he would be ready to use nuclear weapons.

That the referendums would be held was officially announced on September 23. The purpose was to annex four occupied Regions of Ukraine, drawing condemnation from Kyiv and Western nations who dismissed the votes as a sham and pledged not to recognize their results. Voting in the provinces of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia in the east and southeast. None of those territories were under the complete control of Russia. In the case of Zaporizhzhia, the occupiers did not even control the Regional capital.

The referendums ran from September 23 until 27. There are no prizes for guessing what the outcome was.

On September 30 signed documents to incorporate four Ukrainian Regions representing about 15 pct. of Ukraine into Russia in a televised ceremony in the Kremlin.

On October 6 seven missiles hit the city of Zaporizhzhia. Within a week of claiming to have annexed the city over which it had no control, the Russians bombed what was supposed to be the regional capital of one of the Russian Federation’s subjects.

General Sergei Surovikin (L), commander of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (C). Photo: Kremlin Press Office / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Putin finally has enough

On October 7, Putin celebrated his 70th birthday. Sadly for the Russian despot, his troops could not deliver the birthday boy a gift worthy of a bloodthirsty war criminal of his stature.

So instead on the next day, Ukrainians delivered a belated birthday present in the form of another display of fireworks right in the middle of Putin’s pet bridge.

While not destroying the bridge spanning the Kerch Strait, the damage was sufficient to hamper the supply of fuel, food, and other products to the Russian-annexed Crimea and sent the Russians stranded there into a panic. More importantly, while Russia did control the land bridge along the Azov Sea that offered a land route linking Crime to Russia, that route could not be considered absolutely safe, potentially further affecting the resupply of the Kherson garrison.

Putin finally decided that enough is enough. After all, striking a piece of infrastructure like his shiny bridge was practically an act of terrorism. Terrorism is defined in the Russian dictionary as something only Russians believe they may do with impunity to others, but that requires disproportionate retaliation when it is done to Russians.

Desperate times called for desperate measures. More than nine months after the war started, Putin’s hand was forced to finally appoint a competent military commander at the head of the operation.

General Sergei Surovikin was such a competent commander. That does not necessarily mean he was a paragon of a chivalrous warrior in shining armor. He was a bloody butcher, who had previously commanded Russian forces in Syria, where in order to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad, he would gladly resort to terror-bombing the civilians. It seemed to work well enough there, allowing al-Assad to reclaim territory lost to the rebels. Albeit in a state of complete ruin.

But Surovikin was also a commander of the southern front, who delivered Putin the cities of Kherson and Melitopol, the Zaporizhzhia power plant, and the much-desired landbridge.

Surovikin may have been the first person in a long while to have the courage to be a bearer of bad news. Ukrainian troops were being rapidly redeployed from the Kharkiv front to the south in order to finish the job in Kherson. The Russian forces were in the position of a boxer who was just hit with a left hook in one side of the head and sent him in the direction of another hook that was to be delivered on the other side of his skull. So Surovikin realized it was time to duck.

Initially, the collaborators that served as Russian administrators were sending mixed signals. But eventually, the civilians were told to evacuate. Russian propaganda made a great fuss about the tens of thousands of people being evacuated every day fleeing from the incoming Ukrainian onslaught.

Only those who had anything to fear from the Ukrainian Armed Forces had reasons. Even then, Russians were not able to extract all their collaborators. They were not even able to evacuate all their soldiers. By this time, the Antonovskyi bridge was so damaged, that the only means to get across the river were ferries and boats.

On November 9, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered his troops to withdraw from the occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson and take up defensive lines on the opposite bank of the Dnipro river. With tens of thousands of Russian troops, it was impossible to conduct such an operation as swiftly as it was possible. Again, countless pieces of equipment were abandoned, as have stragglers who tried to avoid capture by dressing in civilian clothes.

The Armed Forces of Ukraine entered the city on 11 November. The city the Russians claimed was almost completely cleared of civilians, suddenly saw crowds flock into the streets.

The mood in the city was the polar opposite of what it was in early March. Instead of jeers, the Ukrainian soldiers were met with cheers. Again, the masses were waving Ukrainian flags at the approaching soldiers, the same flags many of them have tucked away for months, to avoid them being desecrated by the invaders.

Russians have proven to be sore losers. After all, they were the ones that were supposed to receive the hero liberators’ welcome. They decided to punish the city. Again, Russians began shelling a city they have claimed to be their own following the annexation. Kherson has been a part of Russia for eternity that lasted merely six weeks.

Civilians celebrate with Ukrainian soldiers at Independence Square after the withdrawal of the Russian army from Kherson to the eastern bank of Dnieper River, Ukraine on November 13, 2022. Photo: Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The bombing campaign

Russia began its campaign of strikes against Ukraine almost immediately after Surovikin took over. In fact, the attack on Zaporizhzhia was a test case. Realizing that the Russian was unable to defeat Ukraine on the battlefield, it was decided that the rapidly depleting stocks of missiles must be used against the Ukrainian homefront.

Russia was unable to easily replenish its stocks due to the Western sanctions which cut them off from the hi-tech components that were required to manufacture them. So the Kremlin gambled that it can knock out Ukraine’s key civilian infrastructure, especially power, ahead of winter in the hope of cooling the Ukrainians’ zeal to resist. It also supplemented the expensive and hard-to-replace missiles with much cheaper kamikaze drones purchased from another international pariah, Iran.

November 15 saw a missile attack more massive than anything since the start of the war up to that point. The energy facilities suffered a particularly punishing pounding. And something that was perhaps inevitable happened, with many experts saying that the most shocking thing about it was that it took nearly nine months to finally occur.

A missile crossed into Polish airspace and struck a grain-drying facility, tragically killing two Polish citizens on NATO territory.

The initial knee-jerk reaction of many media outlets as well as some politicians was to assume that the rocket was fired by Russian forces, possibly from the territory of Belarus.

Of course, that was not the Russian knee-jerk reaction, which denied reports that Russian missiles had hit Poland, labeling it as “deliberate provocation aimed at escalating the situation”. By this time nobody paid much mind to what the Russians said in their propaganda, so the Kremlin’s denial was more likely to add fuel to the fire.

But it quickly became apparent, that another very likely possibility was that it was a missile launched by the Ukrainian air defense in an attempt to shoot down an incoming Russian missile that missed its mark and strayed across the Polish border.

Top Polish officials, including the President, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense, and the Minister of Foreign affairs were quick to repeat and stress that the death of two Polish citizens was a tragic accident that would have never had a chance to occur if Russia had not launched the war in the first place.

Russia continued to launch further air strikes, but these were becoming fewer and farther in between.

Another large attack came on December 5, killing people, destroying homes in the southeast, and causing power outages, but Kyiv said its air defenses had limited the damage. More than 1.5 million people in Ukraine’s southern Odesa region were without power after the December 10 attack.

But rolling blackouts were introduced as a measure to conserve emergency and prevent the total collapse of the grid as well as the use of power generators, allowed to Ukrainians to slowly ease into the daily routine of being left without power for hours at a time.

The Ukrainian spirit remained unbroken. The unusually warm winter has also helped.

It is not to say that it was not cold. Russian soldiers without adequate protection from the cold have been suffering terribly under these conditions. But the Ukrainian civilians and military alike have proven to be more resilient thanks to better preparation and stronger morale, which allowed them to winter the cold season.

A historic visit

On December 21, President Zelenskyy made his first foreign trip since the start of the war. He arrived in Washington D.C. to a hero’s welcome.

Until then, various high-ranking officials have taken care of diplomatic trips, and Olena Zelenska, the First Lady of Ukraine was seen as representing her husband abroad. Whoever wanted to meet Zelenskyy in person, had to make a pilgrimage to Kyiv.

The visit had been discussed for months but the final preparations were made quickly. The two leaders spoke about it on 11 December and an invitation was extended to President Zelensky three days later. Once the visit had been confirmed, preparations for it were set in motion.

No official information about the journey was released for security reasons.

The trip came a day after Zelenskyy made a daring and dangerous trip to what he called the hottest spot on the 1,300-kilometer front line, the city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s contested Donetsk province. He praised the “courage, resilience, and strength” of the Ukrainian servicemen and servicewomen as sounds of artillery were heard not far away.

His appearance in Washington in such quick succession was the more surprising. Combining a trip to Bakhmut with a visit to the capital of the U.S. did the job of both masking the true schedule of Zelenskyy and sending a powerful message.

“Americans are ready to stand up to bullies,” said President Biden and the same displayed by Ukrainians has clearly impressed his people and won their hearts.

President Biden expressed his admiration for the Ukrainian people’s “steel backbone, the love of their country, and their unbreakable determination to choose their own path”, which they have displayed over the past ten months of the war.

Although the U.S. head of state had little doubts that Putin had any intention of ”stopping this cruel war”, he said that the U.S. will continue to support Ukraine for “as long as it takes”.

He stressed the broad support of the people of the United States for Ukraine, which unites people “of every walk of life, Democrats and Republicans alike. As he said, this is possible because Americans understand that the war in Ukraine is more significant than just a regional conflict and that Russian victory would mean consequences for the entire world.

Zelenskyy also addressed the U.S. Congress, which soon thereafter passed into law a bill that approved an additional USD 44.9 billion in emergency military and economic assistance, on top of some USD 50 billion already sent to Ukraine up to that point in 2022. And perhaps most importantly, Zelenskyy returned to Kyiv with a promise of the U.S. providing Ukraine with Patriot air defense systems, much needed in the face of continued mass missile attacks.

On his way back, Zelenskyy stopped in Poland, meeting with President Andrzej Duda. The two leaders have been working very closely, with Poland being one of the most vocal advocates of the Ukrainian cause, lobbying for all kinds of support Ukraine needs to defend itself from Russian aggression, including modern Western weapons.

“We are working towards victory,” Zelenskyy told his people once he was back in Kyiv.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meet in Kyiv, Ukraine on February 20, 2023. Photo: Presidency of Ukraine/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A somber holiday season

The promise of the Patriots was quite a Christmas gift to bring back home from D.C. They definitely lifted the spirits in light of the continued blackouts caused by constant missile strikes.

Ukrainians also found a new way of showing their defiance. The nation is multidenominational, but the majority of the nation professes Orthodox Christianity with a sizeable minority belonging to the Rome-aligned Greek Catholic Church, but both follow the Julian calendar.

In order to further distance themselves from the majority-Orthodox Russians, however, Ukrainians opted to celebrate Christmas according to the Gregorian calendar, at the same time it is celebrated in Western countries.

In former Soviet states, the holiday that is New Year celebrated with the greatest pomp is the New Year.

Each nation celebrated according to its custom.

Russia fired more than 20 cruise missiles at targets across Ukraine on December 31.

Just after midnight, as Russian soldiers, mostly recently mobilized, assembled at the temporary barracks set up in a school building to watch the New Year’s speech of their leader, a Ukrainian rocket attack struck the building, reducing it to a pile of rubble.

The Ukrainian side claimed to have successfully eliminated 400 Russian troops. The original death toll confirmed by Moscow was 63 deaths, but this was later revised to 89. But few who saw the video of the ruined building would believe that.

Ukrainians snubbed the Russian offer of a ceasefire for Orthodox Christmas, which the Russians never even began to observe. And two days later they launched a retaliatory attack which they claimed killed 700 soldiers.

Images from the site of purported carnage, however, showed untouched structures. Save for some broken windows and local reporting some of their neighbors were bruised when falling out of beds when hearing the explosion.

Sadly, on January 18, the helicopter carrying Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky and several other high-ranking ministerial officials crashed in the fog near a nursery outside Kyiv. The tragedy claimed the Minister and 13 other people including one child. Zelenskyy called it a “terrible tragedy,” before calling for an investigation.

A new spot on the war map

The eyes of the world have turned toward a new battlefield. The fighting has been raging around Bakhmut, which Zelenskyy visited before his Washington trip. For weeks since the fighting around the city which once had a population of 70,000, has raged, but Russians began making slow but steady gains. Albeit at a terrible cost.

After months of static artillery battles and grinding trench warfare in which front lines hardly budged, Russian forces reinforced by tens of thousands of fresh recruits and Wagner mercenaries began inching forward again in January.

The Wagner Group and its founder, oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, have been rather obscure until the war in Ukraine started. Progozhin was a close ally of Putin, and his catering business earned him the monicker of “Putin’s cook”. But both his and his private military company have gained notoriety since. For their brutality, but also for their recruiting tactics.

In September, a video surfaced showing Prigozhin addressing prison inmates and promising them a pardon if they can survive a 6-month contract with Wagner. The prospect of a speedy release attracted drug dealers and repeat petty offenders. For murderers and rapists, the ability to give in to their urges served as an additional incentive.

The group was previously composed largely of veterans, often with background in special ops. But it quickly ballooned to 50,000.

On January 13, Russia announced the capture of the salt-mining town of Soledar in Donetsk province, with Wagner fighters playing a pivotal role, as Prigozhin claimed. It was Moscow’s first notable battlefield success in half a year. The city was slowly becoming encircled.

But Solder’s capture just as the ongoing battle of Bakhmut has shown that earning one’s freedom through a 6-month Wagner contract was not an easy feat. The losses were atrocious, as the mercenaries were driven toward the defenders’ lines in massive human wave attacks resembling World War I tactics. And with even more horrifying losses.

Between February 7 and February 12, Wagner forces appeared to have advanced several kilometers around the north of Bakhmut and were closer than ever to encircling it.

But Prigozhin, who has been very vocal in his criticism of the Ministry of Defense must have made one snarky comment too many. He was no longer allowed to recruit prisoners, cutting him off from a source of fresh bodies to hurl into the meat grinder. How can someone do that to “Putin’s cook”?

The near future looks bleak for Prigozhin. The Ministry of Defense has also stopped supplying its mercenaries with weapons and ammunition. There is little future in the business of dealing in death when you do not have the means to do so. And oligarchs and high-ranking officials close to the Kremlin have recently developed an unhealthy habit of falling out of high windows once they have outlived their usefulness.

The tanksgiving

In the beginning of the war, many NATO countries formerly belonging to the Warsaw Pact have sent their Soviet weapons to Ukraine. It was a quick and easy solution to quickly boost Ukrainian combat capabilities: it was equipment that the Ukrainians were well familiarized with, and therefore did not require lengthy retraining. Thousands of damaged or destroyed Russian equipment more than satisfied the need for replacement parts.

But the problem with Soviet-era tech is that it is no longer in production and will eventually run out, and the Ukrainians said they need equipment that matching the Russians was one thing, but victory required modern and Western manufactured weapons. And in large numbers.

Any heavy weapons that were supplied came in small numbers. Many, especially European countries, were apprehensive about making a move they would see as an escalation. They also kept repeating that training Ukrainians on unfamiliar systems would take time.

But as it became clear that Russia was all bark about the West escalating the conflict (which Putin started himself) and no bite when it came to actually acting on any of its threats.

And as months passed, the argument about the length of time necessary to train Ukrainians on the new weapons became increasingly ludicrous.

Many European NATO members use German-manufactured Leopard tanks which Ukraine would really love to get. And there were many countries that were willing to send some of theirs. But in order to do that, Berlin would need to agree for them to be re-exported, and Berlin kept repeating that tanks are out of the question.

This increasingly frustrated countries such as Poland and the Baltic States, which see the Ukrainian fight for freedom as a fight that also protects them from Russia getting ideas about further aggressive expansion. These are countries very determined to see Ukraine win.

Exasperated, on January 19, Polish PM Morawiecki eventually told the press that “[German] consent is a matter of secondary importance here. We will either receive the consent quickly, or we will do what is right.”

If Ukraine got the tanks with or without the German green light, that would look really bad for Berlin.

“We will also supply Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine. That’s the result of renewed intense consultations with our allies and international partners,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on January 25, which was quickly dubbed “Tanksgiving”.

The number of Leopard tanks each country could provide was quickly declared by each government. To sweeten the deal, the U.S. promised some of its state-of-the-art Abrams tanks. The U.K. has already said it will send its own Challenger tanks. All in all, Ukraine could look forward to a lot of heavy metal coming its way within the coming weeks and months.

Photo: Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images

The beginning of an end

Winston Churchill famously said following the German defeat at the Second Battle of El Alamein:

“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

The situation developed rapidly and often unpredictably throughout February.

On February 8, Zelenskyy arrived in Britain, meeting with PM Rishi Sunak and King Charles III. The UK has steadfastly supported Ukraine throughout the conflict since the tenure of the occasionally controversial PM Boris Johnson. The visit came at a time when Kyiv was urging the West for more military support. Zelenskyy also met with President of France Emmanuel Macron and addressed the EU lawmakers at the European Parliament in Brussels.

The planned visit of the U.S. President to Poland was already seen as a way of supporting Ukraine by showing support for a country that is arguably Kyiv’s staunchest EU ally and friend at the moment.

It took everyone by surprise when President Biden appeared in Kyiv the day before his scheduled Warsaw visit.

“When Putin launched his invasion nearly one year ago, he thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided. He thought he could outlast us. But he was dead wrong,” Biden said and reiterated the determination of the U.S. to stand by Ukraine’s side to stand by it as long as it gets.

While many leaders have visited Kyiv since the start of the war, few ever thought that Biden’s security would ever allow the President of the United States to visit a country at war. This sent a clear message. And almost completely obscured the rambling speech by Vladimir Putin delivered on the same day to the Russian Parliament.

“Kyiv stands strong, proud, and free,” Biden told a crowd in Warsaw the following day, to roaring applause.

On the day before the earth completed its circle around the sun and arrived back on February 23, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution demanding that Russia quit Ukraine and agree to a “comprehensive, just, and lasting peace”. 141 for versus 7 against, the latter being the usual suspects, authoritarian regimes, often so closely enmeshed with Mioscow, as to effectively be their colonies: Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, Mali, Nicaragua, and Syria backed Russia. China, as befits an ancient and wise culture, chose to abstain.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meet in Kyiv, Ukraine on February 20, 2023. Photo: Presidency of Ukraine/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

One year mark

Today, on February 24, 2023, the war entered its second year. The day is almost at a close and it has been eventful. We invite our readers to take a moment to look around our page and see what occurred throughout the day, as well as opinions from experts, who have prepared exclusive reports specifically for this day.

And it is everyone’s sincere hope, that a year from now, there will be peace.

But peace can only be achieved in one way, and that is Ukrainian victory, Russian defeat, and ensuring that never again can either Moscow or any other totalitarian regime that still lingers anywhere in the world, threaten the territorial integrity and freedom of its neighbors with impunity.

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