One hundred days ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Now much of the vast country in Eastern Europe lies in ruins, thousands of civilians and soldiers have been killed and the world’s superpowers are engaged in a perilous global struggle.
(CN) — Friday marked the 100th day since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a massive invasion of Ukraine in February and upended world politics by launching a major war in Europe and turning his country definitively away from the West.
Intense and bloody fighting continued to rage along 620 miles of front lines in eastern and southern Ukraine on Friday with Russian and pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels close to seizing the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk and shelling the neighboring city of Lysychansk.
After 100 days of horrific fighting, much of Ukraine lies in ruins and the country, the second largest in Europe after Russia, faces even more destruction and death because there is little hope for a ceasefire any time soon as peace negotiations have stalled or ceased altogether. The last serious attempt at a ceasefire took place in Istanbul at the end of March before quickly falling apart.
Russian forces now occupy about 20% of Ukraine, an area slightly larger than Croatia or a little smaller than West Virginia, and new pro-Russian administrations are being established in eastern and southern territories taken away from Kyiv. In cities like Kherson and Mariupol, residents now line up for Russian passports, use the ruble as currency, get Russian channels on their televisions and are switching to Russian curriculum in schools.
Before the invasion, Ukraine had lost control of about 7% of its territory following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the occupation of parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions by pro-Russian separatists who declared themselves breakaway republics.
The war’s death toll stands in the thousands, though the number of civilians and soldiers killed remains murky.
The United Nations’ human rights agency has recorded 4,183 civilian deaths, but the real toll is much higher. According to news reports, Ukrainian officials say as many as 50,000 people may have died in Mariupol, a southeastern port city that was the scene of horrific battles and bombings. The city fell to Russian forces last month when thousands of Ukrainian soldiers holed up inside the bunkers of the Azovstal steelworks surrendered.
Russian troop deaths have been estimated between 15,000 and about 31,000 by Western and Ukrainian officials, but Russia’s defense ministry has not provided a figure.
Ukraine, too, has not said how many of its soldiers have been killed, but recently Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said between 60 and 100 soldiers are being killed each day in the battles in Donbas, the name for the eastern regions of Ukraine. Ukraine’s losses may be as bad and perhaps even worse than those suffered by Russia, which has the upper hand in firepower and troop levels.
According to U.N. data, more than 6 million Ukrainians fled the country, though about 2.2 million have returned following Russia’s retreat from areas surrounding Kyiv. In addition, about 7.1 million Ukrainians have become “internally displaced,” a term given to people who remain in their home country but who have been forced to flee their homes. Before the war, Ukraine had a population of about 43.5 million people.
Incessant shelling and fighting has caused immense damage to roads, hospitals, bridges, hospitals, municipal water systems, electrical grids, dams, housing stock and so much else.
In April, Ukraine said about 30% of its infrastructure was destroyed or seriously damaged at a cost of more than $100 billion. This week, Ukrainian officials estimated about 14,900 miles of roads and 300 bridges have been destroyed.
Ukraine’s parliamentary commission on human rights says Russia’s military has destroyed almost 38,000 residential buildings. Nearly 1,900 educational facilities from kindergartens to grade schools to universities have been damaged, including 180 completely ruined. About 500 factories and about 500 hospitals have been damaged, according to Ukrainian officials.
In reality, this war started eight years ago in 2014 following the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in a violent mass uprising called the “Maidan Revolution” or the “Revolution of Dignity.”
Yanukovych, who was accused of corruption, was democratically elected but he caused great anger in parts of Ukraine, especially western Ukraine, by rejecting a deal to put Ukraine on the path of becoming part of the European Union. When he deepened Ukraine’s alignment with Russia, protests broke out and turned violent.
After Yanukovych fled the country and a pro-Western government was installed in Kyiv, protests broke out in eastern and southern parts of Ukraine, home to many ethnic Russians.
The crisis worsened dramatically after Russia’s military illegally annexed Crimea, a peninsula with deep ties to Russia and the base for its Black Sea Fleet. Fighting then broke out between Ukraine’s army and pro-Russian insurgents who declared two eastern regions independent.
Over eight years of fighting in Donbas, about 14,000 people were killed and up to 2 million people were forced out of their homes. Ceasefire deals, overseen by France and Germany, cooled the fighting in eastern Ukraine, but failed to end the conflict and tensions over Ukraine escalated following the election of Joe Biden to the White House.
The war in Ukraine can also be seen as a titanic struggle for global supremacy between superpowers with China tacitly aligning itself with Russia while the United States, the European Union and others, such as Japan and Australia, are standing with Ukraine.
In launching the invasion, leaders in Moscow said they could not allow the United States and NATO to encroach on the borders of Russia by turning Ukraine into a NATO ally. More broadly, Russia’s political leaders talk about upending a world order dominated by the U.S. and say they want to expand their influence in the developing world.
Biden and Western allies say Russia under Putin has become the world’s No. 1 pariah and that it must be defeated in Ukraine to protect democracy from autocracy. Upon taking office, Biden talked about the need to face the threat to democracy posed by Putin and other authoritarian leaders.
Increasingly, Western elites and experts talk about not only wanting to defeat Russia’s military in Ukraine by arming Kyiv with advanced weapons and providing billions of dollars in support but to weaken and even neuter Russia’s global ambitions through a massive economic embargo.
Russia has been hit with more than 5,000 sanctions, more than any other country, according to Evgeny Gontmakher, the academic director of European Dialogue.
Some $300 billion of Russian gold and foreign exchange reserves in the West have been frozen, he added. Most Western businesses have left Russia, the MOEX Russia stock index is down nearly 40% from the start of the year and inflation in Russia is soaring.
But the West too is being hit hard by the economic fallout with inflation rising as the price for fossil fuels and commodities continues to climb.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.