The war in Ukraine – How much has changed after one year?

To some, it might come as a surprise, but this month strikes one year since the war in Ukraine broke out. It has been a year since the Russian armed forces invaded a sovereign, democratic nation. It has been a year since the world of millions of people was turned upside down. Many people, including myself, thought at the very beginning that the Ukrainians could not possibly stand up to the might of the Russian army, as they were outgunned in nearly every conceivable way. To think that Ukraine has lasted so long must mean quite a couple of things have happened.

Let us first look at the military situation. The start of the war could be described as one chaotic mess from the Russian side. First of all, the moment of invasion was seen as a controversial decision from a military perspective, as the frozen (winter)ground had just turned into mud. On top of that, some of the troops invading Ukraine had not been briefed that it was in fact a real invasion and not an exercise. This led to a great number of demoralised soldiers, as they were tricked into combat, feeling betrayed by their superiors. Another crucial error was the poor preparation for the war, as in the first couple of weeks it would become evident that Russian supply lines could not keep up with demand. This meant vehicles ran out of fuel, soldiers ran out of food, and combined with low morale and poor ground conditions, many vehicles were left behind, with the internet seeing many videos of Ukrainian tractors pulling Russian equipment. Despite the poor fighting conditions for the Russians in the initial stages, the Russian army gained much ground, as the Ukrainians had to defend against a superior force, being hit by many airstrikes, being outnumbered in many regards and fighting with even more outdated weaponry than the Russians. Heavy fighting was seen in countless places, and the invaders were inching ever closer to Kyiv. However, the problems for the Russians kept mounting up, because logistics were stretched thinner and thinner, with unexpected heavy resistance from the Ukrainians adding to morale problems. The offensive slowed to a halt, as supply lines were hit by drone strikes and soldiers would simply give up.

Meanwhile, the West started to realise that the Ukrainians might actually have a shot at defending their country, if they were provided with the right equipment. This presented a very unique situation to the West where they could diminish a potential enemy, without risking any Western soldiers’ lives. It was therefore that NATO members and even non-NATO members started to send weaponry in increasing numbers, on top of the humanitarian aid, and on top of the sanctions against Russia. The war would see a couple of renewed offensives, from both sides, with cities being taken and recaptured, and Russia abandoning its Kyiv strategy to focus on the Donbas and the south. Losses of material and lives on either side have been stacking up. When winter came in, much of the offensive action was dialled down, with the front changing less and less.

It is assumed that with the winter coming to an end, offences will start again as well. It is for this reason that allies of Ukraine have pledged to send more and more weaponry, for only then will Ukraine’s army be capable of taking back large swaths of ground. The weapons being sent turned progressively more offensive, where at first only short range missiles and rifles were delivered, with more recent promises of armoured fighting vehicles and longer range missiles enhancing Ukraine’s future capabilities. This recently became a heated debate amongst the allies, as Ukraine was repeatedly asking for tanks, which are very useful for attacking purposes. Tanks were seen as too much provocation by mainly Germany, fearing further escalation from the Russians, on top of Germany’s historical considerations. Eventually the Germans caved, creating an essential change, since they have nearly total control over the export of the Leopard 2 tank, which was seen as the most optimal candidate for Ukraine, requiring less fuel than the American M1 Abrams and being available in much greater numbers than the British Challenger 2. Many contributors have already given the green light for tanks, with the current list even including the American and British tanks, however, the next question has already arrived in the form of fighter jets. As the Russian Air Force has not been very active during the conflict, due to supply issues and their unwillingness to risk planes, this will be the new discussion between Western contributors. They have to determine whether or not fighter jets are necessary to rewin ground.

Apart from the obvious military situation, civilian life has changed much during the conflict. Many Ukrainians have joined the armed forces, having almost tripled the forces by November, while over 8 million fled the country. As the fighting changed focus to different areas, some Ukrainian refugees found it safe to return. Citizens have adjusted to the war, with the air alarm going off every now and then, and electricity blackouts now being a part of everyday life since Russia keeps attacking the grid. Different countries have sent teams to investigate human rights violations by the Russians, and the picture is getting clearer and clearer that many atrocities against civilians have been committed. Ukrainians have been tortured and murdered by Russians, and constant terror from missile strikes on civilian areas continues. Meanwhile, the situation for the Russian civilians is also dire, since the Russian government detains anyone protesting the war, and many citizens have been drafted into the army. People are currently being forced into the army, where they receive little training, after which they are sent to Ukraine. The war has shaken up numerous lives on both sides.

There have also been many developments in the geopolitical and economic realms of the world. As stated before, the West has issued sanctions against Russia, which led to economic problems for many people, as inflation kept rising, especially in the energy sector. It is only now that things have started to calm down, after a year of paying hefty prices for energy and even food. The war has led to an increase in defence spending by many countries, especially in NATO. The invasion of a sovereign nation was seen as a wake-up call to Finland and Sweden, opting to join NATO together after decades of neutrality. The question remains whether they will actually join, as Turkey is currently keeping Sweden from entering over political disputes.

In short, much has changed over the course of a year. Many lives have been lost and many lives have been shaken up. International politics have changed, and the invasion is quite possibly an inspiration on what (not) to do when invading a country in this day and age (looking at you, China). The future remains uncertain, as past peace talks have not amounted to anything, and there is no date for further negotiations. Another consideration is what will happen when the West sends even more weaponry, and/or when Russia starts to lose. Will they initiate a nuclear war? If so, on what scale will nuclear weapons be used, and what will be the response from the West? What if Putin is suddenly overthrown? What will happen to its nuclear weapons then? All these questions are vital in the decision-making of the West, as sending more weapons could escalate the conflict eventually and be either the solution towards victory or the end of the world.