The wounds of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, six months later

Half a year ago Moscow launched its offensive against Ukraine and, beyond tactics, inflation and geopolitics, the war has marked a before and after in the lives of millions of people. From those who have been pushed into combat to those who have been forced to flee, the wounds of the conflict in Eastern Europe run deep.

Six months ago the course of the world took a 180 degree turn. With the “special military operation” that Vladimir Putin launched on Ukraine on February 24, 2022, after insisting that he would not invade the neighboring country, the geopolitical board took the biggest leap in recent decades.

However, not only the international chess pieces fell: the lives of millions of people were irremediably shaken. Half a year after the war knocked on its doors, the armed clashes have left behind the intensity of the first weeks, in which Moscow sought to strike a swift and forceful blow against kyiv that never came.

“Russia was preparing for a blitzkrieg, but the situation changed (…) Now it is one more war of positions,” says Oleksandr Slyvchuk, a Ukrainian political analyst at the Transatlantic Dialogue Center. With a more marked front line, Moscow and kyiv continue to dispute territory, especially in the east and south of the country and, in fact, Ukraine has launched a counteroffensive in the south that, at the beginning of the conflict, seemed unthinkable.

The end of the war is not in sight. The victories proposed by both sides remain elusive in the near future: Moscow seeks to secure control of the entire Donbass region and “denazify” Ukraine; the latest statement from kyiv is that the war will end “when Crimea is liberated”, the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014. Some missions are more than ambitious given the current context.

Archive image from April 6, 2022. A resident of the Ukrainian city of Bucha cries over the grave of her son, buried in the garden of her house, who died after the Russian occupation.
Archive image from April 6, 2022. A resident of the Ukrainian city of Bucha cries over the grave of her son, buried in the garden of her house, who died after the Russian occupation. AFP – RONALDO SCHEMIDT

“Russia continues with the daily bombardment (…) and shows no intention of starting diplomatic negotiations,” Slyvchuk stresses. “Ukraine says it will not negotiate until Russian troops leave its territory.”

Although the United Nations and Moscow managed to unblock grain exports from Ukrainian ports, any type of negotiation seems to stall when it comes to military points. For example, talks surrounding an international visit to the Zaporizhia nuclear plant to assess its safety remain at an impasse.

According to what was discussed by the UN on Tuesday, in a meeting at the Russian request, the visit of the experts is underway and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is talking with the parties so that they can travel as soon as possible to the nuclear power plant.

“Until now, it seems that the dominant tone continues to be betting on the militarism of the war conflict, that is, resolving it via arms, when in reality the vast majority of citizens I think understand that the best thing would have been to reach some kind of high the fire through negotiations,” criticizes Susana Mangana, an international political analyst.

Deaths on the front lines decimate both sides

Meanwhile, the war continues to claim lives every day. First, from the soldiers: the Ukrainian authorities calculate that almost 9,000 soldiers have died during these six months of conflict. Some of these casualties are among people who chose a military career before the war; others who became soldiers as a result of it.

On the Russian side, official figures speak of at least 1,351 casualties among soldiers. The latest update from the Kremlin is from March 25. However, beyond the story of the Russian authorities, the reality could be different. US intelligence estimates that Moscow’s troop losses could range between 70,000 and 80,000 soldiers, counting both wounded and dead.

Furthermore, after six months of war, the official Russian narrative has also cracked as a result of some military complaints of low rank who have criticized the poor conditions of the Army after six months of conflict.

Independent studies by the Russian website ‘Mediazona’ underlined that the majority of Russian casualties were among very young people and from traditionally impoverished areas of the Federation.

From Mariúpol to Bucha: thousands of civilians have lost their lives

The deaths, unfortunately, have not only been among people trained to hold a rifle. United Nations figures they speak of 5,514 civilian lives lost in addition to 7,698 people injured as of August 15. However, it is sensible to estimate that the real figure, which may continue to grow for a long time, is much higher.

“Russia uses massive artillery on the cities (…) And the front line passes through highly populated areas, that’s why there are civilian casualties every day,” laments Slyvchuk.

Some tragedies are hidden among these numbers, such as the endless siege of the city of Mariúpol, on the Black Sea coast, or the Bucha massacre. Months after the murders in the city near kyiv, residents are still burying the victims, 50 of whom have not yet been identified.

File: Corpses lie on a street in Bucha, northwest of kyiv, on April 2, 2022.
File: Corpses lie on a street in Bucha, northwest of kyiv, on April 2, 2022. © Ronaldo Schemidt, AFP

In Mariúpol, “people still live without gas, without electricity, without water,” recalls Slyvchuk, a situation that is repeated both in areas that have come under Russian control and in the bombed-out cities that “only survive with humanitarian aid.” The situation threatens to worsen in the face of winter, with “fierce” temperatures and weather conditions in Ukraine.

In addition, in the besieged city many still mourn the deaths of several children who took refuge in a theater. The Russian forces defend that it was a “staging”. Organizations like Amnesty International (AI) denounces the opposite and they remember that, in the windows of the building, there were large posters with the words “Children”.

AI’s report on this event features harrowing accounts from survivors. “In a second, everything changed. Everything jumped, people started screaming. Everything was full of dust… I saw people bleeding. We took our documents and left. Not everyone had the same luck, ”said a teenager who took refuge in the theater.

Since the start of the war, ‘Save The Children’ account which has a record of the death of 356 minors and 586 injured, 16% of them under five years of age.

flee to survive

These are some of the consequences suffered by minors who remained in Ukraine. But there are many who went with their families to neighboring countries, especially accompanied by mothers and female relatives who were not subject to Ukrainian martial law, which forces men to stay in the country to fight.

The AP news agency reported the story of Taisiia Mokorozb, dramatically similar to that of more than six million Ukrainians who became refugees. Mokorozb lives in Poland with her 11-month-old son, while her husband remains in Zaporizhia, her hometown and now the epicenter of the attacks on Europe’s largest nuclear plant.

“It seems that for me and for most Ukrainians, time has stopped,” he told the AP. “We live in a kind of limbo.”

Taisiia Mokrozob, a Ukrainian refugee, holds her 11-month-old son in their flat in Pruszkow, Poland, on August 17, 2022.
Taisiia Mokrozob, a Ukrainian refugee, holds her 11-month-old son in their flat in Pruszkow, Poland, on August 17, 2022. AP – Michal Dyjuk

Mokorozb denounces the difficulty of finding work as “solidarity”, which initially overflowed Ukraine’s neighboring countries, “is becoming scarcer”.

In the same vein, the analyst Mangana acknowledges that, “although the solidarity that emanated at the beginning must be highlighted”, “the war has dragged on” and “the war today shows wear and tear both at an informative level and also in the interest of the citizenship”.

From Spain, Natalia Mazur, a native of kyiv, explained the same thing. to the newspaper ‘El País’. After working for 15 years as a nurse, she now cleans a nursing home full-time for 900 euros a month. “It’s a very hard work. She had never worked so hard physically. At the end of the day, my whole body aches and when I get to the hotel, I fall into bed from exhaustion.”

The difficulties in the reception process, in addition to the relative stabilization of the war, have pushed hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians to return to their land, despite the fact that the conflict has not yet ended.

“However, most of the refugee women still remain on European soil,” says Mangana, who collaborated in the reception in the Basque Country, in northern Spain. “The vast majority of Ukrainian children here in the Basque Country are already in school,” she celebrates.

Women, doubly victims

In addition to bearing the burden of migration on their shoulders, women have also suffered the unequal burden of war. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), it records that 54% of people who need humanitarian aid in Ukraine are women.

In addition, war is always a fertile field for sexist violence, both as a weapon from the opposite side and as aggression within the same group. According to United Nations figures, the least 124 acts of sexual violence related to the conflict, a figure that is surely higher in reality.

The report of the Special Representative for Sexual Violence in the Armed Conflict of the UN states that the complaint line for this type of aggression in Ukraine “has received several alarming reports” since the beginning of the invasion, ranging from “gang rapes to coercion, where a loved one must see an act of sexual violence committed against a partner or a child.”

However, the harshness of the war on women is not only measured through sexual and gender-based violence. Several reports report that the interruption of social services, such as schools, has disproportionately burdened women. Many have ended up in charge of caring for minors, older adults or sick people, among others.

And it is precisely children, the elderly and the sick who are being wounded by this war, six months after it began.

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