Ukraine: 31 years of independence, 6 months of war

Wednesday, August 24 marked both the 31st anniversary of Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union and six months since Russia's invasion. Here is where things stand.

 A man stands next to Ukrainian flags with names of service members, who are in Russian captivity, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, at the Independence square in Kyiv, Ukraine August 24, 2022.  (photo credit: REUTERS/VALENTYN OGIRENKO)
A man stands next to Ukrainian flags with names of service members, who are in Russian captivity, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, at the Independence square in Kyiv, Ukraine August 24, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/VALENTYN OGIRENKO)

Wednesday, August 24 marked both the 31st anniversary of Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union, and half a year since Ukraine began fighting off an invasion against the Soviet Union's successor, Russia

"Since 2014 President Putin has sought to use a mix of force and coercive diplomacy to increase and solidify Russia’s influence in Ukraine and interfere in its sovereign affairs," the UK Defense Ministry remarked on the occasion.

What's the history there?

In 2014, Russia launched a surprise invasion of Crimea, annexing the territory in a referendum that was largely rejected as illegitimate by global powers. Consequently, an insurgency began in the Donbas region, with pro-Russian rebels supported by President Vladamir Putin's government. Fighting for the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk territories continued until the official invasion of Russia on February 24, 2022. 182 days later, the area is the main theatre of fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces.

In his speech commemorating his country's independence, President Volodymyr Zelensky promised that Ukraine would recapture lost territory in both Donbas as well as the Crimean peninsula

 A Ukrainian national flag waves in front of the Independence Monument in the centre of Kyiv, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, Ukraine August 24, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/VALENTYN OGIRENKO) A Ukrainian national flag waves in front of the Independence Monument in the centre of Kyiv, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, Ukraine August 24, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/VALENTYN OGIRENKO)

"What for us is the end of the war? We used to say: peace. Now we say: victory," he said, according to Reuters.

On Tuesday, Ukraine listed its ultimate objective to not only repel Russian invaders but to restore its former borders.

Prior to the Independence anniversary, Zelensky warned Ukrainians that Moscow intended to launch a "particularly vicious" offensive.

 Relatives of defenders of the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol hold a rally demanding authorities' assistance with the release of Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) from Russian captivity, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in the center of Kyiv, Ukraine, August 24, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/VALENTYN OGIRENKO) Relatives of defenders of the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol hold a rally demanding authorities' assistance with the release of Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) from Russian captivity, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in the center of Kyiv, Ukraine, August 24, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/VALENTYN OGIRENKO)

Will the war ever end?

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday that he couldn't share any intelligence on an Independence Day offensive, but said that after 6 months of the war, "There is no question in our minds that Russia will continue its brutal assault on the Ukrainian state, on the Ukrainian people, on Ukraine’s independence, its democracy, its territorial integrity as well."

An offensive would come as the war continued to be a fight of artillery attrition, in which Russians and Ukrainians bombard one another largely on static battlefronts. This form of war contrasted with the failed blitzkrieg launched in February, in which Russian troops made a play for the capital of Kyiv, and a quick resolution to the war. 

Many analysts believe that Ukraine would collapse quickly under the assault, as it had lost in Crimea. A bulk of observers were similarly incorrect when they assured that Russia would not invade Ukraine.

"Russia launched a full invasion of Ukraine six months ago, with the aim of toppling the government and occupying most of the country," said the UK Defense Ministry. "By April, Russia’s leaders realized this had failed, and reverted to more modest objectives in eastern and southern Ukraine."

Since the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has faced an intra-organizational issue that was only exacerbated by sanctions-related complications. 

Russia has been attempting to resolve the supply problem of materials and components that exacerbates logistical issues.

 A boy waves a national flag atop of armoured personal carrier at an exhibition of destroyed Russian military vehicles and weapons, dedicated to the upcoming country's Independence Day, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in the centre of Kyiv, Ukraine August 21, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/VALENTYN OGIRENKO) A boy waves a national flag atop of armoured personal carrier at an exhibition of destroyed Russian military vehicles and weapons, dedicated to the upcoming country's Independence Day, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in the centre of Kyiv, Ukraine August 21, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/VALENTYN OGIRENKO)

Russia has, in addition, been increasingly using contracted professionals - contraktniki in Russian - to replace conscripts in elite military units due to an unending issue of low morale among its troops. 

Due to the alleged mass refusal of Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) officers to participate in combat in Ukraine, the Russian paratrooper command has begun trying to hire contractors to fill the vacant positions, but even they do not seem keen to fight, according to Ukrainian intelligence. 

Rusian forces withdrew from deep in Ukrainian territory and began to lean to its advantage in artillery and airstrikes. 

Just last month, a US defense official said that the Soviet-era military equipment that had been supplied by US and Western allies was running out. To solve the issue, the US looked into acquiring more of the Soviet equipment and also slowly facilitate a switch to NATO armaments. 

Some of the modern weapons that have been supplied to Ukraine were the US M-777 howitzers, including a two-week maintenance training seminar for troops. 

According to a BBC estimate from July, over 30 countries have supplied arms to Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion, with the US taking the lead on pledged equipment, estimated at $25 billion. 

"There’s another side of the equation," added Price, "and it’s what we’re doing to hold President Putin and key decision makers in Moscow to account for this brutal, unjustified war against Ukraine. 

Sanctions have been imposed on Russia since its annexation of Crimea in 2014. When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, that set the floodgates open for more. So far, the EU has imposed sanctions against individuals, "economic sanctions, and diplomatic measures," according to the EU.

"Since that date, we have taken steps to impose visa restrictions on 5,000 individuals in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We’ll continue to identify those who are responsible for Russia’s invasion, and we’ll promote accountability for their culpability for Moscow’s aggression," added Price. "We are looking at all appropriate tools to hold Moscow to account for this war."

Recently, the UN brokered a deal that unblocked Ukrainian seaports, bringing the estimated exports from Ukraine up to about four million tonnes. 

According to the Ukrainian General Staff, 45,700 Russian troops have died since the start of the operation.