Ukraine Under Attack

The Eastern European nation battles for its survival after an invasion by Russian forces.

Photo by ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images

Ukrainian tanks head into battle with Russian forces on Friday, February 25.

Early in the morning on Thursday, February 24, Russia’s military attacked several cities in the neighboring country of Ukraine. Five days later, hundreds of Ukrainians have been killed or wounded, and millions of others have been forced to flee their homes. Meanwhile, Ukrainian fighters are putting up a fierce resistance against the much larger Russian forces.

Many world leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, have condemned the invasion. 

Here’s what you need to know.

What is Ukraine’s history with Russia?

Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe that borders Russia (see map, below). From 1922 to 1991, the two were part of the same country, the Soviet Union. The massive nation had a Communist government. After World War II (1939-1945), the U.S. and the Soviet Union were the world’s two superpowers. They were also rivals. A long period of tension between the two countries, known as the Cold War, followed. It ended in 1991, when the Soviet Union broke into 15 separate countries, including Russia and Ukraine. 

Jim McMahon/Mapman®

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is one of America’s top adversaries. Since coming to power in 1999, he has kept tight control of Russia’s government and its people. He has jailed Russians who criticize him and politicians who challenge his power.

Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president of Ukraine in 2019. Since then, he has worked to become a closer ally with the U.S. This has angered Putin. 

Why did Russia invade Ukraine? 

Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Putin has said the goal of the invasion is to “perform peacekeeping functions.” He claims Russia is defending two regions in eastern Ukraine. Those areas are controlled by separatists—people who want to break away from Ukraine. 

But experts believe Putin is trying to build Russia into a superpower like the Soviet Union once was. U.S. officials say Russia wants to remove Zelensky from power and replace him with leaders who are loyal to Putin.

How has Ukraine reacted to the invasion?

Photo by Ukrainian Presidency / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

President Zelensky gave an impassioned speech hours before the invasion. He warned Russia that the Ukrainian people would not back down.

“When you attack us, you will see our faces, not our backs,” he said. 

Ukrainians have rallied around their president. Though badly outnumbered, Ukrainian forces have surprised Russia by putting up a brave defense of their homeland. Across the country, civilian volunteers have taken up weapons to try to stop the Russian assault.

What is the rest of the world doing to help?

Many world leaders have spoken out against the invasion. President Biden has stated that he will not send U.S troops to fight for Ukraine. However, the U.S is one of many nations sending weapons and supplies to Ukraine to aid in its defense.

The U.S. and its allies in Europe have also announced severe sanctions against Russia. Sanctions are official actions meant to punish a country by hurting its economy. For example, several of Russia’s biggest banks have been blocked from doing business in many countries. The goal of the sanctions is to make the war too costly for Russia to continue fighting. 

“Putin chose this war,” Biden said in a speech on the first day of the attack. “And now he and his country will bear the consequences.”

Meanwhile, crowds have gathered in major cities around the globe to protest the Russian invasion. Demonstrations have even taken place in Russia, where thousands of protesters have been arrested. 

Photo by GENYA SAVILOV/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters work on a bombed-out apartment building in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, on February 25.

What will happen to the people of Ukraine?

Officials from Russia and Ukraine met on Monday to discuss an end to the fighting, but they did not reach an agreement. At the same time, Russia stepped up its bombings of major cities. For days, countless Ukrainians have been seeking shelter in basements and subway stations.

Throughout the country, up to 7 million people have left their homes, according to one estimate. More than 600,000 of them have fled to neighboring countries as refugees.

A 40-mile-long line of Russian tanks and other military vehicles is slowly moving toward Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. On Sunday, a reporter from The New York Times interviewed a woman about 6 miles from capital. Though she’d been sheltering in a parking garage for days, she said she wouldn’t abandon her home country.

“We can’t just leave, we cannot just surrender,” she said. “We will always stay on our land.”

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