Early Thursday morning, nearly 200,000 Russian troops crossed into Ukraine, targeting a number of the country’s key military sites and marking the official start of war.
In September 2021, Ukraine conducted military exercises with NATO forces. The Kremlin warned that NATO expanding military infrastructure in Ukraine would cross “red lines” for Putin. Since then, Putin demanded legal guarantees from US President Joe Biden that NATO wouldn’t expand eastward or put “weapons systems that threaten us in close vicinity to Russian territory.” Both of these demands were rejected by the United States and NATO.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, NATO expanded and eventually took in most of the European nations that had once been part of the Soviet Union. As a result, NATO continued to move closer to Moscow and in 2008, stated that eventually they hope to enroll Ukraine, though this was still a far-off prospect.
Putin has described the Soviet collapse as the demise of “historical Russia” and a catastrophe that robbed Russia of its rightful place among the world’s great powers. He spoke on the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO, stating that it would be a “major threat” to his country.
While under Putin’s leadership, Russia has shifted to authoritarianism, a stark contrast to his neighbour’s democratic leadership.
On 24th February, just hours before Russian forces launched the full-scale invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy released a short address directed to both the Ukrainian and Russian people. You can read an excerpt below:
“Today, I initiated a phone call with the president of the Russian Federation. The result was silence. Although there should really be silence in the Donbas.
This is why I want to appeal today to all the citizens of Russia. Not as president. I am appealing to Russian citizens as a citizen of Ukraine.
We are separated by more than 2,000 kilometers of a shared border. Today, your forces stand along that border, almost 200,000 soldiers and thousands of military vehicles. Your leadership approved their step forward into the territory of another country. And this step could become the beginning of a large war on the European continent.
Today, the whole world talks about what could happen any day now. A reason could arise at any moment. Any provocation. Any spark. A spark, which could burn down everything. You are told that this flame will bring liberation to the people of Ukraine. But the Ukrainian people are free. We remember our past, and we are building our future ourselves. Building, not destroying, as you are told every day on the television. Ukraine in your news and Ukraine in real life are two completely different countries. And the main difference is that ours is real.
You are told that we hate Russian culture. How is it possible to hate culture? Any culture? Neighbors always enrich one another culturally. However, this does not make them a single entity. This does not dissolve us in you. We are different. But this is not a reason to be enemies.
We want to define and build our history ourselves. Peacefully. Calmly. Honestly.
Many of you have been to Ukraine. Many of you have relatives in Ukraine. Some of you studied in Ukrainian universities, befriended Ukrainian people. You know our character. You know our people. You know our principles. You are aware of what we cherish. So please listen to yourselves. To the voice of reason. To common sense.
Hear us. The people of Ukraine want peace. The Ukrainian authorities want peace. We want it, and we make it. We do everything we can.
We know for certain: we don’t need war, neither cold, nor hot, nor hybrid. But if forces attack us, if someone tries to take away our country, our freedom, our lives, the lives of our children—we will defend ourselves. Not attack. Defend ourselves. While attacking, you will see our faces. Not our backs. Our faces.
War is a huge calamity, and this calamity carries a huge cost. In every meaning of this word. People lose money, reputation, quality of life. They lose freedom. But most importantly, people lose their loved ones. They lose themselves. In war, there is a lack of everything. That which there is an abundance of—pain, filth, blood and death. Thousands and tens of thousands of dead.
I know that they will not show this appeal of mine on Russian television. But the citizens of Russia must see it. They must know the truth. And the truth is that this needs to stop, before it is too late. And if the Russian leadership does not want to sit down at the table with us for the sake of peace, then perhaps, they will sit down at the table with you.”
Since the initial invasion on Thursday, almost 3,000 Russians have been arrested after speaking out against their countries’ decision and protesting all across the country.
Over half a million people have now fled Ukraine and have crossed the borders into their neighbouring countries to escape the conflict. The European Union estimates that up to 4 million people may try to leave the country because of the Russian invasion.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson released a statement on Thursday after the initial attack:
“Shortly after 4 o’clock this morning I spoke to President Zelenskyy of Ukraine to offer the continued support of the UK, because our worst fears have now come true and all our warnings have proved tragically accurate.”
“Innumerable missiles and bombs have been raining down on an entirely innocent population.”
“We have Ukrainian friends in this country, neighbours, co-workers.”
“Ukraine is a country that for decades has enjoyed freedom and democracy and the right to choose its own destiny.”
“We – and the world – cannot allow that freedom just to be snuffed out. We cannot and will not just look away.”
“Our mission is clear. Diplomatically, politically, economically – and eventually, militarily – this hideous and barbaric venture of Vladimir Putin must end in failure.”
“I say to the Ukrainians in this moment of agony, we are with you we are praying for you and your families and we are on your side.”
“And if the months ahead are grim, and the flame of freedom burns low, I know that it will blaze bright again in Ukraine because for all his bombs and tanks and missiles I don’t believe that the Russian dictator will ever subdue the national feeling of the Ukrainians and their passionate belief that their country should be free.”
Choose Love has launched an appeal with funding going to Ukraine, Poland and Romania. It provides emergency medical care, food, shelter, clothes, legal support, support for the LGBTQIA+ community and mental health support.
Come Back Alive is a local organisation which The Kyiv Independent has suggested donating to. It supports the Ukrainian military by offering supplies, protection, training, and psychological support to soldiers.
UNICEF, together with its partners, is at the forefront of the humanitarian response in eastern Ukraine and is supporting vulnerable children and families affected by the conflict with essential services, including health, education, protection, water, and sanitation.
CARE has launched a relief effort in Ukraine along with local partners on the ground. With a goal of £20 million, it is poised to help at least four million Ukrainians with immediate aid and recovery in the form of food, water, hygiene kits, psychosocial support services, and financial assistance.
Save the Children have set up a Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund to help Ukrainian families meet their basic needs such as food, medicine and shelter.
Local donation centres have been put up across the UK and are calling for items including warm clothing and bedding to be donated.
One donation centre is The White Eagle Club in Balham, south London. Donations made here will be sent overseas to aid Ukrainian refugees fleeing the country. The venue is open Monday 28 February 10am-1pm, Wednesday 2 March 3pm-8pm and Friday 4 March 10am-5pm.
Volunteers say their most needed items include batteries and flashlights, clothes, shoes, sanitary products and bedding.
There are also calls for people to lobby their MPs. Campaigners are urging people to write to their MPs and demand the government place further sanctions on Russia.
You can get in touch with your local MP via email or post to their constituency address.
Amnesty International work to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied. Find out how you can get involved and take action below.
UN Women is the global champion for gender equality, working to develop and uphold standards and create an environment in which every woman and girl can exercise her human rights.