It’s been nearly three months since Russia invaded Ukraine – a 12-week period in which Russian forces wreaked havoc on the country and its people, resulting in large-scale deaths and causing millions of people to flee.
But the invasion was not the military success Moscow had hoped for and is now in its second phase. Most of the fighting has shifted eastward following failed Russian advances into central Ukraine. Defenders are even focusing on retaking some key areas near the Russian border, while Moscow sees its troops defeated in some key battles.
Western aid is also flowing into Ukraine, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) must be strengthened as countries seek to join the alliance. The first Russian soldier accused of war crimes has been tried.
See what has happened in several key areas since the beginning of the war.
After weeks of intense fighting, Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region is “completely destroyed”, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday.
He accused Russia of a “deliberate and criminal attempt to kill as many Ukrainians as possible” after a village in Chernihiv was hit by missiles, leaving many dead.
Authorities in the region say the front line is being bombed “day and night”, with Russian forces trying to break through Ukrainian lines.
A NATO military official told the CNN on Wednesday (18) that the alliance expects an impasse in the coming weeks. But the official said NATO believed the momentum had shifted significantly in Ukraine’s favor and the debate within alliance circles was now over whether Kiev could retake Crimea and the Donbass territories, both taken by Russia and the separatists backed by Russia. Russia, respectively, in 2014.
Ukrainian forces resisted Russian attacks on the second Ukrainian city of Kharkiv and advanced towards the border in several places to the north and east of the city.
Ukrainian officials said last week they were liberating villages on the outskirts of the city. Their advances led to the symbolic and embarrassing expulsion of Kremlin forces back to their own border, while posing the strategic threat of cutting Russia’s supply lines to Ukraine and its forces further south in Donbass.
Anastasia Paraskevova recently returned to her home in Kharkiv for the first time since fleeing the city two months ago. The site was under constant bombardment ever since, until Russian forces were repulsed.
Paraskevova said the overall experience was good. “The city was much more alive. People were walking through the streets. And some stores were working. It felt like some life was back, much better than when I was here in March.”
Every day, hundreds or even thousands of people try to flee the Russian-occupied Kherson region of southern Ukraine.
The city has been under Russian control since the beginning of the invasion. Ukrainians are leaving for many reasons: to avoid being detained or to escape the heavy actions of Russian forces, or because of the chronic shortage of medicine and other essentials in Kherson.
Last week, a convoy of around 1,000 vehicles tried to leave Kherson. The Russians finally let the convoy move in groups — but only after holding them in place for most of the day.
The port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov is finally under Russian forces after weeks of relentless bombing.
The city has seen some of the most intense fighting since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. It was there that Russia carried out deadly attacks on a maternity hospital and the bombing of a theater where hundreds of civilians were taking refuge from the violence.
Mariupol became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance when its defenders held out at Azovstal, a large steel mill where around 1,000 civilians sheltered at one point, with supplies of food and water dwindling.
Ukraine’s military announced on Monday that its forces had completed their “combat mission” in Azovstal, effectively ceding the city to Russian forces. On Friday (20), Ukraine ordered its fighters to stop defending the plant.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday that nearly 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered in Azovstal. THE CNN could not independently verify this number.
With the city now almost entirely under Russian control, there is concern that evidence of any potential war crimes – such as those allegedly committed in Bucha and Borodianka – could be lost or destroyed.
More evidence of possible Russian war crimes is emerging in Bucha, a city in northern Ukraine near the country’s capital Kiev. A New York Times investigation reported that Russian paratroopers carried out summary executions of at least eight Ukrainian men in Bucha on March 4.
Evidence of mass graves and executions of civilians in the towns of Bucha and Borodianka continued to emerge since early April following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Kiev region.
Images of bodies strewn across the streets of Bucha have sparked international condemnation and fueled calls for an investigation into possible Russian war crimes.
In April, the CNN visited the site of mass graves in Bucha after Russian forces withdrew, revealing to the world the horrors of their occupation. Correspondent Fred Pleitgen was one of the first to arrive at a mass grave that residents dug while the site was under Russian occupation because so many residents were killed and the longer funeral ceremonies would have been too dangerous amidst the shooting and shelling.
A soldier is judged
This week saw the start of Ukraine’s first war crimes trial since the invasion began. A 21-year-old Russian soldier named Vadim Shishimarin pleaded guilty to killing an unarmed 62-year-old man.
The first day of the trial was attended by so many journalists that Kiev authorities were forced to move it to a larger location. Since then, the trial has produced several dramatic moments, including a confrontation between the soldier and the victim’s widow, as well as testimony from Shishimarin himself.
In a speech on Friday, Shishimarin acknowledged that he was responsible for the murder, but asked that he “sorry and sincerely regret it.”
“I was nervous the moment it happened. I didn’t want to kill. But it happened and I don’t deny it,” he said.
Shishimarin’s attorney, Viktor Ovsyannikov, argued that while his client was guilty of the death, it was not murder.
“Shishimarin was in a state of stress caused by the combat situation and pressure from his commander. The analysis of these circumstances allows me to conclude that Shishimarin had no direct intention of murder,” Ovsyannikov said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that Russia has no details on Shishimarin’s case and considers the allegations “unacceptable”, “outrageous” and “staged”.
Return of the diplomats
Foreign diplomatic missions began to come back to life in Kiev this week after diplomats fled the city en masse at the start of the conflict.
The US flag was flown over the US Embassy to mark the official resumption of operations on Wednesday, while the Swiss Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it would also reopen its embassy.
The US and France began sending diplomats back to Kiev in late April.
U.S. lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill that will send about $40 billion to Ukraine to bring in military and humanitarian aid, including funding that will help Ukrainian military and national security forces, help replenish stockpiles of US equipment sent to Ukraine and will provide medical and public health assistance to Ukrainian refugees.
US President Joe Biden signed the aid package while in South Korea.
Developments in the Nordic countries
Russia stopped shipping natural gas to Finland on Saturday and Sweden applied to join NATO.
Helsinki and Stockholm have for decades avoided joining the alliance, but have cited the invasion of Moscow as the final impetus to do so now. The two countries formally delivered their orders on Wednesday.
Most NATO members seem willing to support both proposals, with the exception of Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that his country “will say no to Sweden and Finland joining NATO”, citing his support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The party seeks an independent state in Turkey and has waged an armed struggle with Ankara for decades. It has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Some experts say Erdogan may be seeking concessions or to highlight grievances Turkey wants to bring to the attention of the international community.
(From CNN’s Rob Picheta)
Source: CNN Brasil