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8 Months into War, Russian Invasion in Disarray

By Neel Sengupta MSc Development Studies

In the 8 months since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the conflict has shifted in tone and material reality. The first months were characterised by a defence on the part of the outnumbered and supposedly outgunned Ukrainian Armed Forces against concerted Russian efforts to seize the capital of Kyiv and to push past the eastern frontline around the Dnipró river. The surprise success of Ukrainian forces and the poor planning and execution of the Russian offensives, particularly against Kyiv, led to the Ukrainian recapture and stabilisation of their northern border and the slow liberation of Russian occupied territory in the regions of Chernihiv, Kharkiv and the suburbs of Kyiv. 

These Ukrainian counter offensives led to the discovery of the brutal reality of Russian occupation. A Human Rights Watch report in April documented looting, summary executions, and sexual violence against Ukrainian civilians, including  children. A  report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine published on 23 September, confirmed those early findings and found similar war crimes across 30 occupied settlements and received ‘consistent accounts of ill-treatment and torture, which were carried out during unlawful confinement,’ according to Erik Mose, the head of the UN’s investigation team. Of particular note is the situation in the liberated settlements of Buch, Hostomel and Borodianka, which were occupied by Russian Armed Forces for about a month. Ukrainian and UN investigations found dozens of mass graves where civilians  had been tortured,  and buried. The UN investigation also documented a wide range of sexual violence against Ukrainian civilians, with Mose stating that ‘the age of victims of sexual and gendered-based violence ranged from 4 to 82 years.’

Ukraine’s steady consolidation of territory and materiel would have been unlikely without the large supply of arms and military equipment Ukraine has received from NATO and European countries. According to a brief for MPs by Claire Mills, as of the 14 October the UK has committed £2.3 billion in military assistance since February, along with a long-term training program for the Ukrainian armed forces to potentially train up to 10,000 soldiers over 4 months. The EU has also  provided £2.5 billion worth of military aid to Ukraine and is working on a similar training program. The US has provided approximately £16.8 billion in military assistance since February 2022 and authorised the transfer of US-origin equipment from 14 NATO allies and US partners. Of particular note among all of this military assistance is the provision of various long-range artillery and rocket systems, which have allowed Ukraine to target and destroy Russian supply lines, logistics and military infrastructure well behind the frontlines. In the intervening months, Ukrainian forces rearmed with the weapons sent to them from NATO and other partner nations and have steadily degraded the Russian armed forces ability to maintain a coherent defence against small probing attacks and incursions throughout the summer, while preparing for a major counter-offensive.

On 29 August the Ukrainian Armed Forces and government announced the start of their long awaited counter-offensive along the Dnipró river. Ukrainian forces had fended off Russian attacks in the southern part of the frontline, and in the ensuing two weeks of heavy fighting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that Ukrainian troops had retaken more than 6,000 square kilometres from Russian control since the start of the offensive including several key cities in the Kharkiv region. As the counter-offensive progressed into October, Ukrainian forces continued to gain ground and liberate new villages across the east and south of the front, along with eliminating or forcing the surrender of several small pockets of encircled Russian forces. 

“Throughout the war, the Russian military has responded to strategic and tactical defeats with missile and artillery strikes against civilian population centres in addition to war crimes on the ground.

Throughout the war, the Russian military has responded to strategic and tactical defeats with missile and artillery strikes against civilian population centres, in addition to war crimes on the ground. The most recent strikes took place through the week of 10 October after the Kerch land bridge connecting occupied Crimea to the Russian mainland was bombed in an event disputed by both the Russian and Ukrainian governments. Directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian cruise missiles were launched against cities from Kyiv to Lviv, Ternopil and Zhytomyr in western Ukraine, well away from the frontlines. According to Ukrainian officials at least 11 people were killed and many more injured, alarmingly ,  the strikes also suspended Ukrainian energy exports to Europe.  

Zelenskyy has renewed his calls for Western powers to provide additional air defence, and countering firepower in order to protect Ukrainian civilians from Russian attacks.

Photo caption: Map of Ukrainian occupied territories and offensives as of 13 October 2022. (Credit: Institute for the Study of War)

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