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A Month Into Russia’s Conquest Of Ukraine: What Was Lost, And What’s At Stake?

A Month Into Russia’s Conquest Of Ukraine: What Was Lost, And What’s At Stake?

Russia’s conquest of Ukraine that started on February 24 continued throughout March as well. One month into Russia’s invasion of its neighbour, the world became more aware of the cruel nature of war. Below, we look at some of the major events that occurred in the first month of the Russo-Ukrainian full-scale war; especially in the three-week period from March 3 to March 24 (Thursday).  

For the events happening between February 24 and March 3 (Russia’s first week of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine), read our previous article: “The Invasion Of Ukraine: Russia’s Assault On Peace, Freedom, And Europe“.

Battle For The East

The second week of the Russian conquest of Ukraine began with some major bombardments of Kharkiv. Universities and police establishments were among the buildings struck by Russian shelling in Ukraine’s second-largest city. In Kharkiv, once a thriving academic centre, Ukrainians concentrated their resistance on the eastern front. They have so far been successful, but not without struggle and sacrifice. 

A member of Ukrainian forces rests on his position in Khrakiv. Source: L. Andrew Marienko. AP.
A member of Ukrainian forces rests on his position in Khrakiv. Source: L. Andrew Marienko. AP.

The 9th of March was a tough day for Kharkiv. Yet, the Ukrainian forces managed to repulse several Russian attacks to take over the city. By the 16th day of the war, Russians had destroyed 48 schools across Kharkiv according to its mayor Ihor Terekhov. On March 18, Russian shelling caused a fire at Kharkiv’s Barabashovo market, among the largest in Eastern Europe and the 14th largest in the world. The next day, Russian strikes demolished a six-storey building of a higher education institution in Kharkiv. The assault apparently killed one and trapped another in the wreckage. 

Since they failed to capture Kharkiv on the ground, the Russians had to rethink their strategy. After March 10 especially, Russia’s main task was the establishment of a frontline roughly along the imaginary line Donetsk-Kramatorsk-Izyum-Kharkiv. They have failed to achieve this as well. On March 22, bombardments resumed again over Kharkiv, the city that is bearing the burden of war for eastern Ukraine. 

Outcome Of Monthly War East

By the closure of the first month of the war, Kharkiv stood unconquered in the east of Ukraine. So stood Kramatorsk. The Ukrainian forces kept the Russians 15 to 20 kilometres (9.3 to 12.5 miles) away from the city centre. And that’s not all. According to intelligence reports, not only the Russians are not advancing toward Kharkiv, but they probably have given up on advancing efforts. Instead, the stiff Ukrainian resistance pushed Russians back again towards the separatists’ region, forcing them to drastically change their plans. And verily, facing a loss on all fronts, the Russians have hinted that they will concentrate on the separatists’ regions of Donetsk and Luhansk instead. 

Battle For The South

After a series of military setbacks, the Russians finally took control of the Black Sea city of Kherson. The Russian forces across southern Ukraine continued their advance and also surrounded Mariupol. At present, Mariupol stands as the last obstacle in linking up the southern conquest of Russia with the separatist Russian-backed region of Donetsk. In the early hours of Friday, 4 March, the Russian troops seized control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest such plant in Europe. The power plant, located in the town of Enerhodar, came under Russian possession after a reckless artillery fire near the reactors. This strike came close to causing a nuclear disaster and repeating the disaster of Chernobyl on a greater scale. 

A Ukrainian soldier walks near the wreckage of a house damaged by Russian rockets in Mykolaiv, 9 March, 2022. Source: Scott Peterson. Getty Images.
A Ukrainian soldier walks near the wreckage of a house damaged by Russian rockets in Mykolaiv, 9 March, 2022. Source: Scott Peterson. Getty Images.

On the 10th day of the Russo-Ukrainian frontal war, warring sides made the first progress towards smoothening the atrocities. First humanitarian corridors were opened for the residents of southeastern Ukraine’s Volnovakha and Mariupol. Yet, efforts to evacuate civilians were halted on the ground, especially in and around Mariupol. Parties blamed each other for violating the ceasefire along the agreed humanitarian corridors. However, it quickly became clear that the Russians were purposely targeting civilians in what constitutes war crime actions.

On 8 March, as in other parts of Ukraine, the Russians stepped up the shelling across southern Ukraine. Mykolaiv became Russia’s next target of shelling, after the capture of Kherson. This southern city stands in the way of possible Russian attempts to reach Odessa on the ground. Ukraine forces stand on alert in Odesa, determined to protect the country’s largest port city both from the Russian ships and infantry regiments. Mykolaiv also stands, repeatedly repelling enemy attacks.

Outcome Of Monthly War South

Shelling intensities resumed across southern Ukraine on March 15. Odessa was among the affected areas. The next day, Russian forces allegedly expanded their control over the region of Kherson. This was, however, the last reported expansion of the Russians south.  

By the 17th of March, the Russian advance had stalled on this front as well as on all other fronts. On this day, both parties used the warfare stalemate for a prisoners’ exchange. Ukraine exchanged 9 captured Russian soldiers for the release of Melitopol’s mayor, captured a week ago by Russian forces. In the battleground, the Ukrainians had counterattacked the Russians on  Mykolaiv, forcing their retreat. Unable to capture Mykolaiv, the Russians planned to bypass Mykolaiv in order to directly reach Odesa. This plan failed as well; determined Ukrainian defence caused Russian retreat even from the attempts to bypass Mykolaiv from the north.  

Mariupol

The fighting along the Azov sea coast concentrated around Mariupol. Here, the situation remains dire with terrifying fighting reported and a humanitarian crisis unfolded. Russians established a harsh siege over Mariupol, with Russian missiles targeting non-military infrastructure across the city. The cruel bombings over civilian zones rose the number of casualties among the civilian population. These assaults have especially devastated Livoberezhnyi district along the Tahanroz Gulf in attempts to completely cut Ukraine’s access to the Azov Sea. Russians permanently accomplished this.   

A satellite image showing a colour infrared view of fires burning near Fontanna Street, in eastern Mariupol, on March 14, 2022. Source: Maxar Technologies. Handout via Reuters.
A satellite image showing a colour infrared view of fires burning near Fontanna Street, in eastern Mariupol, on March 14, 2022. Source: Maxar Technologies. Handout via Reuters.

On March 10, Russians bombed a hospital in Mariupol, a truly barbaric act, condemned worldwide. On this same day, an art school where 400 residents had sheltered, was also bombed. Then, on March 12, Russian forces shelled a mosque in Mariupol where 80 adults and children, including Turkish citizens, had sheltered. It was unclear how the bombing affected those sheltered there. The bombing further confirmed Russia’s immoral war by targeting religious sites as well. 

From March 9 to March 14, 1,000 more residents in Mariupol were killed, taking the total to 2,200 civilians victims only in this city. The tally unfortunately increased further on March 17, the 22nd day of the war. On this day, a theatre was bombed in Mariupol where hundreds of civilians were sheltering. The tally of the victims, revealed later, was shocking; about 300 residents were killed in the theatre bombing. 

March In Mariupol

On March 18, the shelling in Mariupol intensified. Frustrated Russian troops, stalled on all fronts, and escalated their assaults and aggression on Mariupol. According to Ukrainian authorities, Russians were dropping 50-100 bombs on the city daily.  

By the end of the third week of the Ukrainian invasion, Russians, despite efforts, had failed to take control of Mariupol. Thus, after a week of terror, the Russians demanded the surrender of Mariupol by Ukrainian forces. The response from Iryna Vereshcuk, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister was promptly negative; Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol will not lay down their arms. 

Battle For The North

Russian troops continued to press north, especially against Chernihiv, the strategic city that lies only 143 kilometres (88 miles) from the capital, Kyiv. On March 4, a Russian air attack killed 47 people in the northern city according to regional authorities. Bombardments continued the next day, especially during the night, erupting fires and probably killing more people. The fighting in Chernihiv intensified on March 6 as Russians stepped up their efforts to approach Kyiv. Reports from the ground suggest attacks on Chernihiv both from the north and from the west. These same reports describe terrible scenes of widespread destruction in Chernihiv where dozens of civilians were killed by Russian air raids, missile attacks, and shelling. 

A satellite image showing burning buildings in a residential area in northeast Chernihiv, 16 March, 2022. Source: Maxar Technologies. AP.
A satellite image showing burning buildings in a residential area in northeast Chernihiv, 16 March, 2022. Source: Maxar Technologies. AP.

On the twelfth day, the war swept the Kyiv suburbs of Bucha, Hostomel, and Irpin. The last suburb, a key town in the fight for Kyiv, constantly suffered a relentless enemy fire. Initial attempts to evacuate civilians from these suburbs around the capital failed. Only on March 8, did warring parties open new humanitarian corridors which included Chernihiv, Sumy and Irpin among the affected areas. These new humanitarian corridors opened as Russia’s proposal to count exclusively on routes leading civilians to Russia and Belarus was rejected. Yet, what is signed on paper is not reflected on the ground. Russians did not stop shelling, dropping powerful bombs over residential areas of Chernihiv even as civilians fled. Meanwhile, a large but slow Russian convoy bore down on Kyiv directly from the north.

Indiscriminate Artillery Shelling

The shelling across northern Ukraine resumed on 14 March, including a missile blast on Kyiv apartments. The next day, such shelling swept Chernihiv, Cherkasy, and Smila as well. On March 16, the northeastern city of Sumy found itself fully encircled by Russian forces. A convoy of more than 100 buses with civilians left the besieged Sumy. Meanwhile, March 16 and into the 17th were terrible for Chernihiv; the governor reported 53 civilians killed. The shelling continued on March 19 over Chernihiv as well as Sumy. 

Chernihiv clearly bore the strategic burden of the war along the north. On March 20, Chernihiv’s mayor reported the killings of dozens of civilians by “indiscriminate artillery shelling” and the hit of a hospital. The next day, authorities had concerns over an ammonia leak at a chemical plant east of the besieged Sumy that affected the villages of Novoselytsya and Verkhnya Syrovatka. The use of chemical weapons or weaponized chemical elements may become more concerning as the war drags on. 

Outcome Of Monthly War North

When the first month of war concluded, the Ukrainians were regaining ground north. The gains were especially evident north of Kyiv with Russians there retreating. Chernihiv stood as well. Here, the Russian forces remained blocked 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) away from the city centre thanks to an astonishing Ukrainian resistance. Some 130,000 people remain still in the heroic Chernihiv, the northeaster city that had a pre-war population of 285,000.     

News From Kyiv

Since the second day of the invasion, Kyiv bore a high burden of war. Kyiv represented not only a key city for Ukraine’s north but, being the capital, represents the key to the whole country. Ukrainians cannot lose possession of Kyiv and thus mobilized forces and all help in and around the capital to defend it at all costs. Bloody battles took place over the course of a month, especially in Kyiv’s neighbourhoods of Bucha and Hostomel. By the third and fourth week of the war, Ukraine regained ground north of Kyiv, destroying Russian ground units. Unable to stand the resistance and keep the offensive alive, the Russians closed the month by retreating from Kyiv. 

Ukrainian firefighters and soldiers searching a destroyed building after a bombing in the capital, Kyiv. Source: Vadim Ghirda. AP.
Ukrainian firefighters and soldiers searching a destroyed building after a bombing in the capital, Kyiv. Source: Vadim Ghirda. AP.

Outcome Of Monthly War In Ukraine And Toll

A quick observation of the war in a month revealed that war is a terrible event for everyone involved. By the end of Russia’s first month of the conquest of Ukraine, about 3.5 million Ukrainians had fled the country. Most of the refugees, about 2.1 million people, are in Poland. Almost all of them are women and children, split into almost equal halves. When counting the internally displaced as well though, the situation is far more concerning; in all, 10 million people have been displaced from their homes in a country with a pre-war population of about 44 million people. 

Photo showing damaged radar arrays and other equipment at a Ukrainian military compound outside Mariupol. Source: Sergei Grits. AP.
Photo showing damaged radar arrays and other equipment at a Ukrainian military compound outside Mariupol. Source: Sergei Grits. AP.

Since the war began, Russia has conducted 1,804 air raids in Ukraine, including 467 missiles, according to Ukraine’s defence ministry. Russian authorities say 1,351 of their troops have fallen in combat since aggression against Ukraine started. However, a pro-Kremlin newspaper, the Komsomolskaya Pravda, briefly revealed a worse reality; 9,861 Russians have been killed since the war started, with some other 16,153 Russians wounded. Numbers of fallen Russians thus greatly vary from 1,351 to more than 12,000.  

In a month, the United Nations has confirmed the killings of 1,081 Ukrainian residents. Of these, 136 were children according to Ukraine’s office of the prosecutor general (some other 199 children were wounded). Only these terrible stats alone constitute a ground for war crimes committed by Russia either through deliberate or indiscriminate firings over civilians. Assaults on medical precincts have also been a major issue. According to the Associated Press, 34 assaults on Ukrainian medical facilities happened within a month.

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