A Year in War: Russia and Ukraine’s Historic Conflict in Three Phases

by Cliff Vacin ‘25

What was once predicted to last less than a month, the war between Russia and Ukraine will have its one-year anniversary next month. As the war moves into its second year, the risk is that Americans will continue to turn their attention away as the conflict continues into 2023.

Phase 1: Russia Invades; Evidence of War Crimes
Russian President Vladimir Putin announces his decision to launch a military operation in eastern Ukraine on February 24. Explosions were reported in Kyiv, Odessa, Kharkiv, and the Donbas, with Ukrainian officials reporting that troops had landed in Mariupol and Odessa, coming from Belarus. More than 130 Ukrainian citizens are confirmed dead on the first day of the invasion that marked the start of the war. The regional drama theater in Mariupol, sheltering around 1,000 civilians, is bombed. A mass murder of Ukrainian residents takes place in Bucha, with at least 300 people killed and 280 of them buried in mass graves.

Phase 2: Russian Advance Stopped                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The area of heavy fighting shifts to the South and East of Ukraine, with Russia aiming to overtake Donbas and Southern Ukraine. By June 2, Russia controlled 20 percent of Ukrainian territory. Russia’s State Duma starts preparing legislation to convert to a war economy to be able to order companies to produce war supplies and make workers work overtime. Filtration camps are set up by Russia on seized Ukrainian territory to prevent Ukrainians from taking refuge in the European Union. Ukraine joins NATO’s Multilateral Interoperability Program that “achieves international interoperability of Command and Control Information Systems at all levels from corps to battalion, or lowest appropriate level, in order to support multinational, combined and joint operations.”

Phase 3: Ukraine Counterattacks
On August 29, Ukraine launches a counteroffensive in the South. Forces retake Kupiansk, Izium and parts of Kharkiv Oblast, recovering 770 square miles. By September 12, Ukraine claims they reached the Russia-Ukraine border, retaking a total of 2,300 square miles. Putin officially announces partial mobilization to begin immediately. Over 194,000 Russian citizens, primarily fighting-age men and their families left Russia after announcements of a draft. A Ukrainian armored offensive burst through Russian lines in the south, this being the biggest Ukrainian advance since the war began. Ukraine blows up the Crimea bridge, killing 4. Forty percent of residents in Kyiv are left without water after missiles are launched at power sites, and 270,000 apartments are left without electricity. Putin acknowledges that the “special military operation” is taking longer than expected. The threat from the Russian nuclear arsenal has thus far prevented the conflict from escalating outside of Ukraine.