Almost twelve months ago, as dawn broke on 24 February, Vladimir Putin began his “special military operation” in Ukraine. The Russian armed forces unleashed a barrage of missile strikes across Ukraine and tanks rolled across the border; after years of rising tensions, the countries were now at war.
Fierce fighting erupted as Russian troops tried to take Kyiv. The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky – now a well-known figure around the world – filmed himself walking the streets of the capital with a defiant message: “I am here. We will not lay down any weapons.”
It was proof that he had not fled, and a rallying cry to Ukrainians and the rest of the world: we will not be defeated.
Despite initial predictions by analysts that the country would fall within a matter of days, the quick victory for Russia never materialised. Ukraine managed to hold on to most of its territory, forcing the Russians back to the eastern edge of the country.
Yet reports of a fresh Russian offensive are under way, and the conflict appears to have no end in sight. Here’s what the past 12 months looked like in data:
Before the invasion, Russia had claimed to control Crimea and parts of the Donetsk region following a separatist war that has been going on since 2014. After the 24 February invasion, Putin’s forces advanced north to Kharkiv and south towards Crimea with hopes of creating a “land corridor” from Crimea to the Donetsk region, bordering the Sea of Azov.
However, Ukraine staged fightbacks around Kherson in the south and Kharkiv in the north, forcing Russian troops to retreat. Fighting remains intense, with reports of villages changing hands in hotly contested battles and battlefield claims from both sides difficult to independently verify.
As of 18 February, the US think-tank the Institute for the Study of War said Russian forces continued offensive operations north-west of Svatove and in the Kreminna area, as well as around Bakhmut and western Donetsk Oblast. Russia is also maintaining defensive positions in occupied Zaporizhia Oblast.
There have been almost 19,000 civilian casualties in Ukraine in the past year, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Since 24 February 2022, 7,199 people were killed and 11,756 injured, and as of 12 February 2023, 438 of those killed were children.
Most of the casualties recorded were caused by shelling, rockets and missile strikes in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions where fighting has been most intense. OHCHR say figures are likely to be higher as it takes longer to receive and verify information from places such as Mariupol, Lysychansk, Popasna, and Sievierodonetsk, where there are allegations of numerous civilian casualties.
Millions of refugees
The fighting and destruction of critical infrastructure has caused millions of refugees to pour into neighbouring countries to seek safety, while many more have been displaced within Ukraine.
As of 13 February 2023, there are more than 8 million Ukrainian refugees across Europe, according to data from UNHCR, which is about 19 per cent of the total Ukrainian population.
Almost 5 million people registered for Temporary Protection, an exceptional measure put in place by the EU to provide quick and effective assistance to those fleeing the war. There is, however, a growing number of Ukrainians returning to their home country since early May last year, with roughly 30,000 per day as of mid-February.
Top 10 countries for accepting people from Ukraine who registered for temporary protection or similar national protection schemes include Poland, with 1,563,386 people, Germany with 881,399, the Czech Republic with 488,227, Italy with 169,837, Spain with 166,832, the UK with 161,400. Meanwhile, Bulgaria is reported to be sheltering 152,515 people from Ukraine; France 118,994; Romania 113,086; and Slovakia 108,985.
Following losses on the battlefield, Russia began a campaign of bombing civilian infrastructure, including power grids, water plants, railways and pipelines, plunging cities into darkness and leaving millions of people without heating or electricity.
In December, the UN estimated that Russia had destroyed roughly half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in the depths of winter. The worst-affected were those close to the frontline.
Benjamin Jensen, a defence strategist, wrote for The Conversation that this tactic of crippling infrastructure has long been part of Russia’s military playbook.
“These operations select targets primarily for their psychological effect,” he said. “The belief is that hitting key infrastructure and creating prolonged blackouts, alongside disruptions to the ability to travel and transport goods, make political leaders and the population less willing to resist an attacking force.”
The targeting and destruction of healthcare facilities – which constitutes a war crime – is also one of Mr Putin’s brutal tactics, which echoes what has been carried out in Syria.
The World Health Organisation said Russia has attacked more than 700 healthcare facilities since its invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, a report by the Ukrainian healthcare Centre (UHC) found that 80 per cent of healthcare infrastructure in Mariupol, one of the country’s largest cities in the east, was destroyed.
“This destruction of healthcare facilities is a very, very serious war crime,” Pavlo Kovtoniuk, UHC co-founder and former Deputy Minister of Health of Ukraine, said. “Russia did the same in Syria, but in Ukraine, what it has also done is that it has not distinguished between military and civilian infrastructure – the goal has been to just destroy everything, and in Mariupol, we saw this philosophy at its most concentrated.”
To combat Russia’s invasion, Western countries have poured military aid and weapons into the country at an unprecedented rate.
EU countries and institutions pledged nearly €52bn (£45bn) to Ukraine in military, financial, and humanitarian assistance up until 20 November, according to the Kiel Institute’s Ukraine Support Tracker.
More than 30 countries have provided military equipment to Ukraine since the start of the war. The top five suppliers of military aid include the US, UK, Germany, Poland, Canada and Norway, according to the Kiel Institute.
Commitments from 24 January to 15 January show the US contributed €44.3bn; the UK €4.9bn; Poland €2.4bn;
Germany €2.4bn; Canada €1.3bn, Netherlands €0.9bn; Italy €0.7bn; France €0.7bn; Norway €0.6bn; and Denmark €0.6bn.
Separately, the UK government claims it has provided £2.3bn of military aid to Ukraine in 2022 as well as £220m in humanitarian assistance. The US Department of State puts it assistance for Ukraine at about $27.5bn since the beginning of the Biden Administration.
Some of the heavy machinery pledged to Ukraine includes tanks, including 14 Leopard 2 tanks from Germany, as well as a number from Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Poland, and Norway; 31 Abrams tanks from the US and 14 Challenger 2 tanks from the UK. There has also been 200+ Soviet T-72M1s from Poland, the Czech Republic and a small number of other countries pledged.
Missile systems include Patriot Missile System from the US, Germany and the Netherlands, Nasams provided by the US, the Starstreak missile provided by the UK and the Himars rocket launcher system, provided by the US and several European countries. Other equipment that has played an outsize role in the conflict includes Bayraktar TB2 drones from Turkey as well as ammunition supplies which Nato has called for European countries to ramp up to match Russia’s firepower.
According to the Atlantic Council, Russia is now one of the most sanctioned countries in the world, with 11,496 sanctions in total; 78 eight per cent of those sanctions target individuals, while about 21 per cent target Russian entities. The US leads the pack with the most sanctions against Russia – more than 2,600 – and the UK and European Union have announced significant sanctions of their own to choke off Mr Putin’s sources of revenue.
But the war is also having a negative impact on the rest of the world. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) warned that the war in Ukraine will cost the world economy $2.8trn in foregone global economic output by the end of this year.
It has caused energy prices to soar, particularly in Europe, causing inflation to reach “levels not seen since the 1980s”, the OECD reported.
As the war enters its second year it shows no signs of abating. With a renewed push by Russian forces in the east and increased shelling of infrastructure as well as Mr Putin’s decision to suspend Russia’s participation in a key nuclear monitoring treaty, the war is set to enter a dangerous new phase.