Russia Invades Ukraine: Everything You Need to Know

On Feb. 24, Russia invaded Ukraine on three fronts, shelling Ukrainian cities while advancing on Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv. Nine days into the war, thousands of troops on both sides of the conflict have died, hundreds of Ukrainian civilians have perished, and one million Ukrainian refugees have fled to neighboring countries. Condemnation of the invasion by world leaders was swift, and many countries around the world pledged support for Ukraine the form of arms, humanitarian aid, and economic sanctions on Russia. 

Where is Ukraine?

Ukraine, with a population of 44 million, is located in Eastern Europe, bordering Russia, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary.

Why did Russia invade Ukraine?

According to Elizabeth Ureño, World history teacher, Russia invaded Ukraine because, “Ukraine has lands that Russia feels are theirs.” Ukraine became a sovereign country in 1991 after the Soviet Union dissolved. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal is to rebuild Soviet Russia by again absorbing the countries — like Ukraine, Belarus, and Armenia —  that were once part of the Soviet Union.

Ureño explained that Russia doesn’t “agree with the government that Ukraine has.” Ukraine’s government is a republic (a government-run by the people and their elected representatives), which is opposite to the Russian “republic” where all the government power is in Putin’s hands. Because Putin believes that Ukraine belongs to Russia, he is unhappy that their government is being run democratically

“Russia wants to have more control; they want [other countries] to have fuel dependency. There are a lot of resources there that would benefit Russia if [Putin] is able to take over Ukraine,” Brian Schlueter, AP U.S. History teacher, said. 

Who is Vladimir Putin?

Vladimir Putin is the current president of Russia. He served as president from 2000 to 2008, and again from 2012 to the present. He was formerly a member of the secretive KGB (the main security agency for the Soviet Union), and served as prime minister from 2008 to 2012.

What is the relationship between Ukraine and Russia?

Gil Rotblum, AP European History teacher, said that the relationship between Russia and Ukraine is a “long and complicated one.” 

After the fall of the Soviet Union and the independence of Ukraine in 1991, Ukraine has had issues with Russia like in the Crimea (a part of southern Ukraine where the majority are ethnic Russians) invasion in 2014. Since then, separatist and Russian fighters have overtaken Crimea so that they might destabilize the government in Kyiv. 

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia have been high for years causing Ukraine to shift into a western country. Ureño explained that, “Ukraine is trying to do things in a more western way which means how western Europe does their politics and international affairs.” Ureño believes that “having a country on its border that is trying to be more Westernized” poses a threat to Russia.

Ukrainian citizens also have had growing support to join NATO since 2014’s invasion of Crimea, which is strongly opposed by Putin. Rotblum described that a “Ukrainian pro-NATO… represents[s] a threat to Russian sovereignty.”

On March 1, Ukraine made a formal request to join the European Union. 

What is NATO? 

NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was founded after World War II and is composed of 30 countries including the U.S., France, and the United Kingdom. Based in Belgium, NATO is committed to solving world conflicts, either peacefully or by military force. 

Ukraine is not a part of NATO because it doesn’t fully meet the requirements to join. Therefore it cannot receive any military help from the organization. Russia is also opposed to Ukraine joining NATO because Ukraine is one of their bordering countries. 

How has the world reacted to Russia’s invasion?

Both NATO countries, like the U.K., and non-NATO countries, like Japan, have put sanctions on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. The U.K. has restricted travel with Russian airlines while bordering countries like Poland and Slovakia are welcoming refugees from Ukraine who are fleeing the Russian invasion. 

President Joe Biden said, “Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering.” 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also condemned Russia when announcing, “Putin has chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction by launching this unprovoked attack on Ukraine. This is a catastrophe for our continent.”

Switzerland has also broken its policy of neutrality for the first time in over 200 years by imposing sanctions on Russia to help aid Ukraine, claiming, “The attack of Russia against an independent European country — Ukraine — is an attack on sovereignty, freedom, democracy, the civil population and the institutions of a free country.”

What is a sanction? 

A sanction can range from travel bans to export restrictions on a country and is meant to penalize countries for acting aggressively or breaking international law. Current sanctions on Russia include freezing Russian banks, stopping trade, stopping exports on high-tech items, halting Russian flights, and even seizing Russian billionaire’s yachts.

How do BOHS history teachers feel about the invasion?

Ureño: “As a history teacher I was not surprised because things like this happen all throughout time. I am surprised this is happening in the 21st century because the way that Russia is going about this is kind of how countries were doing this in WWI and WWII… and Russia is still trying to do the same types of actions, but what else are we doing that we did 80 years ago?” 

Rotblum: “I was not surprised. Putin has made it clear since Ukraine overthrew its pro-Russian leader in 2014 that he wanted Ukraine to be aligned with Russia and not the U.S. and its western allies.”

Brian Schlueter: “I think this is terrible, they’re a free country, they are working hard… I’m not terribly surprised… people tend to lose sight of the bigger civilization picture of world history.” 

When asked about the way Russia is invading Ukraine, Schlueter said, “It’s incredibly old fashion. I mean, it’s right in your face. I’m surprised [Putin] is being so brazen about it. It seems to be a power grab…he’s not afraid of retaliation by the Ukraine, NATO, [the] UN, the United States, or the free peoples of the world.”