A year since Russia began its full scale invasion of Ukraine, what are the five key moments which have defined the war so far?
A year ago President Vladimir Putin launched the Russian invasion of Ukraine…
“On the 24th February 2022, Russian troops – who had been gathering along the border for weeks – began their attack.”ABC News
Western leaders who had been warned about a potential invasion were caught by surprise when Russia’s huge military force failed to take the Ukrainian capital Kyiv after meeting fierce resistance.
But twelve months on there is still no end in sight. Tens of thousands have been killed, millions forced to flee their homes, and entire cities have been reduced to rubble.
To understand the past year we’re going to go through five moments that have defined this war and to do that I’m with our Ukraine editor Nina Kuryata, who joined Tortoise soon after the invasion began.
Nina, where do we begin?
“Let’s start in Kyiv, because that was Russia’s main target at the start of the war. Russia’s idea was that they could occupy the capital and overthrow the government and then the rest of the country would fall. Russia was planning for a short war, but that’s not what happened.
It began with Russian air strikes and was followed by massive shelling, and then it involved Russian tanks, aircraft, and infantry. Helicopters with Russian paratroopers tried to land in the Hostomel Airport near Kyiv, but they were shut down. A 64 kilometre long Russian vehicle column that was heading to Kyiv was stopped in it’s tracks. Tanks did make it to the suburbs, but many were burned. Some towns around Kiev were occupied, though in places like Irpin and Bucha hundreds of civilians were tortured, killed, and buried in mass graves.”Nina Kuryata
This is Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the second day of the war, what’s he saying?
[CLIP: Zelenskyy’s war cry.]
“We know he refused to leave the country and in this speech he vowed to stay in the capital.Nina Kuryata
A month after the war began, with Russian troops struggling to break through to the centre of Kyiv, Ukraine’s counteroffensive started, and on the 2nd of April Russia retreated from Kyiv to regroup – as they call it.”
The second key moment you’ve chosen is the battle for Zmiinyi Island. Most people will know it as Snake Island.
[CLIP: Russian warship warning Ukrainian that they’re about to fire.]
Nina, what are we listening to?
“Russian warship, go f**k yourself! – the words of a Ukrainian border guard on Snake island to the crew of Russia’s Moskva battleship. The Russian warship opened fire, the island was bombarded, and Russian soldiers occupied it.”Nina Kuryata
Snake Island is tiny, why was it so important?
“Control over Snake island would allow them control the north of the Black Sea and to block the port of Odessa, which is where a lot of Ukraine’s grain is exported from. In April, two Ukraine-produced Neptune anti-ship missiles and a drone sank the Moskva flagship – which was a big loss for the Russian fleet.”Nina Kuryata
[CLIP: Igor Konashenkov statement.]
That’s a Russian general announcing the withdrawal of Russian troops from Snake Island…
“He’s saying it was a “goodwill gesture”, which became another meme of this war.”Nina Kuryata
Let’s move onto the battle for Kharkiv, why is that important?
“Reinforced concrete – that’s what locals call Kharkiv, the second largest city of Ukraine, which is 30 km from the Russian border. On the 24th of February, Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border, trying to occupy the city which was under constant missile attacks. Two Russian brigades entered Kharkiv and were destroyed.”Nina Kuryata
[CLIP: SFX of street fighting with guns and explosives.]
“There was street fighting in the city centre. Russians occupied Izium, Kupiansk and Volchansk – small cities just near Kharkiv destroying them and killing civilians. In May, Ukrainian forces pushed Russian troops out of the city.”Nina Kuryata
Then the Ukrainians launched a surprise counteroffensive in September…
“Yes and Russia retreated from the Kharkiv region entirely, calling it “regrouping”. More than 4 hundred bodies were found in mass graves in liberated Izyum. Kharkiv is still being shelled constantly, with 2 thousand buildings destroyed, more than 6 hundred civilians killed and many more injured.”Nina Kuryata
The siege of Mariupol might be one of the most infamous moments of the past year, and it’s the fourth one you want to highlight…
“Mariupol was an important industrial city. Half a million people lived there, a large steel factory was located there and there is port form which steel and grain was exported. It lies between occupied Donbas and annexed Crimea and this made it an early strategic target for the Russians so they could create a valuable supply route into Crimea… and the siege was merciless. It became one of the most heavily bombed cities in history. Ukrainian officials reported that at least 25,000 were killed.”Nina Kuryata
The Russian bombing of the theatre stood out as one of the most brutal acts of the war…
“In one of the war’s deadliest attacks, a Russian airstrike hit the maternity hospital and the theatre, even though they were clearly marked as civilian shelters. Hundreds died. Those left alive were forced to hide in tunnels under the vast Azovstal Iron and Steel works. Then in May 2022, after three months of relentless assault, the last Ukrainian soldiers surrendered and Mariupol finally fell.”Nina Kuryata
Your fifth and final moment is the story of Kherson. The city was occupied by Russia very early on…
“Russia quickly claimed control of the southern city of Kherson in early March. And for 8 months the city was occupied, local activists were captured, tortured and imprisoned. And local civilians were terrorised by Russians. But in autumn, using new American Himars rockets, the Ukrainians staged a carefully-orchestrated counter-offensive designed to cut off Russian supplies.”Nina Kuryata
And then the Ukraininans managed to do something which humiliated Vladimir Putin…
“3 people have been killed in a massive explosion of the only bridge connecting Russia with the annexed territory of Crimea. Now the blast partially collapsed the Kerch Bridge. It has paralysed a key supply route for Moscow’s faltering war in Ukraine.”CNN
“The biggest symbolic win came when the Ukraininans blew up Putin’s pet project, the Kerch Bridge which links Russia with occupied Crimea. As the ninth month of the war began, holding on to Kherson – the only regional capital that Russia had managed to take over – became impossible. In a humiliating retreat, 30,000 Russians troops withdrew and Kherson city was fully back in Ukrainian hands.”Nina Kuryata
So Nina, those were the five moments you think summarise what has happened in the first year of the war. What can we expect to happen in the coming months?
“At the moment, the battle for Bmu is going on because it’s an important place. It’s a key to Donbas cities. Also, everybody is expecting Russian offensive and Ukrainian counter offensive, and to make the counter offensive efficient, Ukraine needs Western weapons, tanks, armoured vehicles, and also it’s asking for fighter jets and Ukrainian pupil government and Army. Hope that this Western military aid will come sooner rather than later.”Nina Kuryata
“Ukraine… Ukraine will never be a Russian victory.”President Biden
“As you have heard, the president of the US, Joe Biden promised that the West will support Ukraine as long as possible, and Ukrainian people, government and army hope that Western military aid will come to Ukraine sooner rather than later because the time matters. It is critical.”Nina Kuryata
This episode was written and mixed by Rebecca Moore.