CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, a tool designed to help decision-makers prevent deadly violence by keeping them up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace.
Heavy fighting persisted in Donetsk as Russian forces captured Soledar, Western allies ramped up military support, and Zelenskyy dismissed senior officials in anti-corruption sweep.
Fighting continued in eastern Donetsk region as Ukraine withdrew from Soledar. Ukrainian artillery 1 Jan attacked Russian military base in occupied Makiyivka city. Russian defence ministry 4 Jan admitted that 89 soldiers had been killed, highest number of deaths it has acknowledged since full-scale invasion; Russian military bloggers criticised Russian planning and logistics. Russian paramilitary Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin 11 Jan claimed his troops had fully captured Soledar town just north of embattled Bakhmut town. Claim appeared premature and fighting continued, but Kyiv 25 Jan admitted its troops had pulled out, marking Russia’s first major battlefield advance since July 2022; loss of Soledar further complicates Ukraine’s defence of Bakhmut. Heavy fighting continued elsewhere in Donetsk, with British intelligence 31 Jan warning of “concerted” Russian assault on Vuhledar coal-mining town. Meanwhile, Russia continued targeting critical infrastructure, notably killing 11 people on 26 Jan.
Ukraine secured major breakthroughs in Western military support. France 4 Jan announced plans to equip Ukraine with armoured AMX-10 RC combat vehicles. Germany next day said it would provide around 40 Marder infantry fighting vehicles while U.S. said it would deliver 50 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. UK became first western nation to pledge supply of main battle tanks, 19 Jan announcing “Tallinn Pledge”, military aid package coordinated with Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Czech Republic. Germany 25 Jan announced it would send Leopard 2 tanks amid mounting international pressure; hours later, U.S. declared it would send 31 M1 Abrams tanks. Russia same day said decision takes conflict “to a new level of confrontation”.
Zelenskyy cracked down on corruption. President Zelenskyy 22 Jan dismissed senior official Vasyl Lozynskiy following his arrest on embezzlement charges. Days later, Zelenskyy 24 Jan dismissed over a dozen senior officials, saying state “will be cleaned up”. Meanwhile, presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych 17 Jan resigned after wrongly claiming Ukrainian air defence had shot down Russian missile that killed 45 civilians in Dnipro city on 14 Jan.
Fighting raged in east as parts of front line descended into trench warfare, Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure continued, and authorities investigated role of Russian-affiliated churches.
Hostilities intensified in east as Bakhmut became war’s new epicentre. Following Ukraine’s liberation of southern Kherson city in Nov, Russian troops redeployed further east where fierce fighting continued throughout month. Notably, clashes around Bakhmut town in Donetsk region descended into trench warfare, with hundreds of dead and injured reported daily. Kremlin-linked private military company Wagner Group assumed high-profile role in attempted conquest of city, which President Zelenskyy 20 Dec visited. Meanwhile, senior officials gave media interviews throughout Dec, warning of new Russian offensive in early 2023 with stepped-up support from Belarus.
Russian attacks on energy infrastructure persisted, Ukraine hit Russian airbases. Russia launched strikes on critical infrastructure throughout month, often using Iranian loitering munition, severely hindering energy supplies throughout Ukraine; power outages can now last over one day, leaving homes cold and water supplies compromised. Russian authorities 5 Dec also accused Ukraine of attacking air bases in Russia’s Saratov and Ryazan regions hundreds of miles from border (see Russia); Kyiv acknowledged attacks but did not publicly claim responsibility. Strikes reveal Ukraine’s long-range capabilities, which Russia’s air defence appeared unprepared for. Media outlet The Times 9 Dec reported that U.S. has tacitly endorsed Ukrainian air strikes not only in occupied Ukrainian territory but inside Russia as well, representing major shift in its risk assessment.
Authorities searched churches affiliated with Moscow Patriarchate. Ukrainian Secret Service (SBU) during month conducted searches at over a dozen churches and monasteries aligned with Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate across country; SBU says measures seek to prevent church from being used to extend Russian influence inside Ukraine. Zelenskyy 2 Dec signed decree giving govt two months to present parliament with draft law restricting activities of religious groups with links to Russia. Meanwhile, parliament 13 Dec approved law granting state authority to shut down media outlets without court hearing; law drew criticism from activists, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and journalists.
Ukrainian forces sustained counteroffensive in east and south, recapturing Kherson city; Russian airstrikes on energy infrastructure left millions without electricity.
Russian forces retreated from Kherson city amid Ukrainian counteroffensive. Ukrainian forces’ counteroffensive advanced further in southern Kherson region as they closed in on Kherson city and surrounding area on right bank of Dnipro River. Russian authorities 9 Nov announced retreat from Kherson city to more defensible positions along river’s left bank; Ukrainian troops 11 Nov took back control, marking strategic and symbolic victory as Kherson constituted only regional capital Russian troops occupied since Feb invasion. In east, Ukraine’s counteroffensive ground on slowly amid reports of heavy losses on both sides; fierce fighting notably reported around Kreminna and Rubizhne cities in Luhansk region, and around Bakhmut city in Donetsk region. President Zelenskyy 20 Nov accused Russian forces of launching “almost 400 artillery strikes in the east” in one day. In Zaporizhzhia region, Moscow and Kyiv 21 Nov traded blame for shelling at nuclear power plant.
Russian strikes on energy infrastructure aggravated humanitarian crisis. Zelenskyy 1 Nov announce that Russian air strikes had damaged around 40% of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, as strikes on energy systems continued unabated throughout month. Notably, Russia 15 Nov fired over 90 missiles and drones into country; during raid, missile struck village in NATO member Poland, killing two and fuelling fears of escalation; however, Polish officials and NATO Sec Gen Jens Stoltenberg next day said Ukrainian missile had likely fallen in Poland accidentally while intercepting Russian missiles. Attacks during month left millions without electricity, water or heating as temperatures fell below zero, bringing country to brink of winter crisis and prompting Kyiv 21 Nov to advise civilians from Kherson and Mykolaiv regions to evacuate.
In other important developments. Following Russia’s withdrawal late Oct from UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Deal, Russia and Ukraine 17 Nov agreed to extend deal for 120 days. UN General Assembly 14 Nov adopted resolution calling for Russian war reparations to Ukraine; 94 countries voted for resolution, 14 voted against and 73 abstained.
Russia stepped up offensive by launching series of strikes on cities, including capital Kyiv, and civilian infrastructure, likely aimed at worsening living conditions as winter approaches.
Wave of Russian strikes targeted cities and civilian infrastructure. Russia throughout Oct launched strikes on Kyiv and other cities, often using Shahed-136 drones supplied by Iran, in move likely aimed at worsening living conditions across country as winter nears. Most notably, Russian forces 10 Oct launched around 80 missiles across country, about half of which were intercepted, killing 23 civilians and targeting power stations, electricity grid and symbolic targets in Kyiv such as pedestrian bridge. Meanwhile, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Mariano Grossi 12 Oct said shelling at Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia power plant in Enerhodar city had caused plant to lose connection to grid several times and called for security protection zone. Both sides have traded blame for shelling.
Ukrainian counteroffensives in north east and south continued. In north east, Ukraine’s forces 1 Oct entered strategically important Lyman city in Donetsk region day after Moscow proclaimed annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. In south, as Ukrainian forces advanced along Dnipro river toward Kherson city in bid to close in on occupied city, Russian-installed head of Kherson region 19 Oct said Russian military would evacuate up to 60,000 civilians; forcibly deporting civilians from occupied territories into occupiers’ territory can constitute war crime under Geneva Convention. Meanwhile, Russia reportedly began sending reinforcements to defend Kherson city, 24 Oct accused Ukraine of plans to use “dirty bomb”. In Russian-annexed Crimea, explosion 8 Oct at symbolical Kerch Bridge connecting Russia to Crimea destroyed parts of road and railway tracks; Russia 8 Oct blamed Kyiv who neither confirmed nor denied involvement. Russia 29 Oct accused Ukraine of “massive” drone attack on port city of Sevastopol, same day announced exit from UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Deal.
In other important developments. At UN General Assembly, 143 countries 12 Oct voted to condemn Russia’s proclaimed annexation of four Ukrainian regions, five members voted against and 35 abstained. FM Dmytro Kuleba 3 Oct embarked on tour of Africa to advocate for Ukrainian perspective in conflict but returned to Ukraine after missile strikes 10 Oct.
Russian President Putin pledged to annex four partly occupied territories and ordered partial military mobilisation after successful Ukrainian counteroffensive; fighting likely to intensify in coming weeks.Ukrainian forces made significant battlefield gains in south and north east. Ukrainian forces conducted two parallel counteroffensives against Russian forces. First counteroffensive, announced late Aug, moved slowly through Kherson region (south); second counteroffensive, aided by increased intelligence-sharing with U.S., began 6 Sept and moved quickly through Kharkiv region (north east), taking Russian forces by surprise. Kherson offensive reportedly aimed to divert Russian forces south, weakening defensive lines in north east and enabling Ukrainian army to strike forcefully. Ukrainian forces 6-14 Sept regained 8,500 sq km of Kharkiv, including strategically important Kupiansk and Izium cities. Elsewhere in east, Russian-backed authorities 30 Sept said Ukrainian forces had “partially surrounded” Russian troops in Lyman city, Donetsk region. Kherson offensive in south stalled, although Ukrainian forces 16 Sept partly destroyed administrative building in Kherson city with western-delivered HIMARS rocket.Moscow launched retaliatory strikes, announced partial mobilisation and proclaimed annexation of new territory. Responding to Ukraine’s counteroffensive, Russian missiles 11 Sept struck Kharkiv city, interrupting electricity and water supply; 14 Sept struck hydroelectric dam in Dnipropetrovsk region’s Kriviy Rih city; 30 Sept struck humanitarian convoy in Zaporizhzhia city (south east), killing at least 30. In further escalation, Putin 21 Sept announced partial military mobilisation and brandished nuclear threats (see Russia), while de facto proxy officials in four partly occupied territories – Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – 20 Sept announced referenda to join Russia would be held 23-27 Sept; authorities 27 Sept declared victories in polls. In ceremony held at Kremlin, Putin 30 Sept proclaimed annexation of all four territories, biggest annexation in Europe since World War II, saying “we will defend our land with all our strength and all our means”. President Zelenskyy same day said Ukraine had formally requested “accelerated accession” to join NATO.In other important developments. Following discovery of mass grave near recently liberated Izium, authorities 23 Sept said that of 436 bodies discovered, 30 bore traces of torture. U.S. 8, 15 Sept announced military aid packages worth $675mn and $600mn respectively.
Russian campaign in Donbas remained largely static, Ukrainian army announced counteroffensive in south as it stepped up attacks in Russian-occupied areas, and fears mounted over shelling at Zaporizhzhia power plant. Russian forces made few advances in Donbas region during month. In Dnipropetrovsk region (east), Russian forces 24 Aug struck train station in Chaplyne town, killing 25; in Kharkiv city (east), Russian shelling 17, 18 Aug left 17 dead. Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces 29 Aug announced offensive around southern city of Kherson. In weeks prior, strikes in Russian-occupied areas increased as Ukrainian forces attempted to weaken Russian rear. In Russian-annexed Crimea, explosions 9 Aug rocked Saki airbase near Novofedorivka village over 200km from nearest Ukrainian positions. U.S. media outlet The New York Times 11 Aug quoted senior Ukrainian official hinting attack had been executed with help of partisans. Second explosions 16 Aug occurred, notably at railway hub in Dzhankoi town and Hvardeiskoe airbase near regional capital Simferopol. In Kherson region, several assassinations of Russian-appointed officials occurred during month; unidentified assailants 6 Aug shot dead deputy head of administration in Nova Kakhovka city; 28 Aug killed deputy head of regional administration. Ukrainian forces repeatedly struck remaining bridges across Dnipro river near Kherson city and Nova Kakhovka city. In south-eastern Zaporizhzhia region, repeated shelling occurred throughout month at Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Enerhodar city following reports that Russian troops were using plant as military base; Ukraine and Russia blamed each other for attacks. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 6, 19 Aug expressed concern for safety of workers and facility, requested inspection on which IAEA team embarked 29 Aug. President Zelenskyy 26 Aug said Russian shelling day before temporarily cut power plant’s electricity supply, raising fears of nuclear disaster; Russian official 26 Aug blamed Ukrainian forces. In Luhansk region, Ukrainian forces 14 Aug reportedly destroyed headquarters of Kremlin-linked private military company Wagner Group in Popasna city. In Donetsk city, Russian-backed authorities 23 Aug said shelling struck apartment building, killing three. UN Humanitarian Agency 8 Aug said at least 17.7mn people in need of assistance since February. 27 ships carrying 670,000 tonnes of agricultural products left ports 1-20 Aug.
Russia continued operations to fully occupy Donbas, Ukrainian forces announced counter-offensive to liberate southern coast, and Russia, Ukraine, Türkiye and UN struck grain deal. Ukrainian forces 2 July retreated from Lysychansk, Severodonetsk’s twin city in east. Russian army 3 July declared it had taken full control of Luhansk region and throughout month continued operations to bring remainder of Donetsk region under its control. Notably, Russian forces 5 July struck market in Sloviansk, killing at least two; missile 9 July hit apartment building in Chasiv Yar city, killing over 40. Missile 29 July struck prison in separatist-held Olenivka town, killing around 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war; Moscow and Kyiv traded blame for attack. In south, attack 2 July on building near Black Sea port of Odesa killed at least 21. Month saw some attacks in centre and west; missile 14 July struck Vinnytsia city centre, killing 23; Russian forces 28 July struck Kyiv, Chernihiv regions for first time in weeks. Ukrainian forces used their new Western-manufactured artillery with longer range to destroy dozens of Russian ammunition depots. Notably, 3 July they targeted military base outside occupied Melitopol city, which mayor claimed killed 200 Russian troops; 11 July struck warehouse in Nova Kakhovka city. Ukraine’s defence minister 11 July announced counter-offensive to liberate southern coast; Ukrainian forces 19, 20, 27 July shelled Antonivskyi bridge across Dnipro river in bid to blockade Russian-occupied Kherson city. Meanwhile, govt continued lobbying for long-range ammunition to target Russian-occupied Crimea; U.S. under-secretary of defense cautioned of their escalatory potential; Russian official 17 July said attack on Crimea would trigger “judgment day scenario”. Drone 31 July exploded in Crimea's Sevastopol city, which Russian officials said they would investigate as terrorist attack. Elsewhere in occupied territories, low-intensity insurgency continued. On humanitarian front, UN 19 July estimated 5.9mn refugees and around 6.3mn displaced by war. On international front, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe mission to Ukraine 1 July ceased activities after Russia vetoed its renewal. Russia, Ukraine, Türkiye and UN 22 July signed deal in Istanbul opening Black Sea ports to grain exports; Russia next day struck Odesa port, sparking outcry from Ukraine’s allies.
Russian forces captured eastern Severodonetsk city, Ukrainian partisans stepped-up insurgency in Russian-controlled areas, and European leaders granted Ukraine EU candidate status. After weeks of bombardments and street fighting, President Zelenskky 25 June confirmed that Russian forces had fully occupied Severodonetsk city, giving Russia control of almost all of Luhansk region in east. Severodonetsk’s twin city Lysychansk suffered heavy shelling as Russian forces attempted to encircle it, but city remained in Ukrainian control by late June. Elsewhere in east, Russian forces stepped up attacks on Kharkiv city; shelling began 21 June, killing at least 15. Ukrainian strikes in Russian-controlled Donbas cities increased. Notably, Russian-backed separatists 13 June claimed Ukrainian shelling killed at least five in Donetsk city. Ukrainian partisans in Russian-controlled areas accelerated insurgency. Notably, explosion 12 June occurred in Melitopol city in south-eastern Zaporizhzhia region and 18 June in southern port city of Kherson; car bomb 24 June killed Ukrainian official who joined Russian occupation administration in Kherson. In south, Ukrainian forces crossed Ingulets river as part of counteroffensive to retake Kherson and forced Russian troops to withdraw 8-10km by 8 June. In important victory, Russian forces 30 June withdrew from Snake Island in Black Sea following days of Ukrainian strikes. In north, Russian forces 5, 26 June fired missiles in Kyiv, first strikes on capital in over one month. In centre, missile strike 27 June on shopping centre in Kremenchuk city killed at least 20. International Organization for Migration 16 June reported over 5.1mn refugees and 7.1mn internally displaced. Russia and Türkiye 8 June concluded talks on grain exports from Ukrainian ports without Kyiv’s participation; Russian-appointed official 30 June said ship carrying grain left Russian-occupied port of Berdyansk in Zaporizhzhia region, first such shipment since Feb invasion. Leaders from Germany, France, Italy and Romania 16 June visited Kyiv; European Commission next day backed Ukraine for EU candidate status, which European leaders 23 June approved. U.S., UK and others 15, 17, 23 June announced further military assistance. Amid concerns of widespread sexual violence in conflict with Russia, parliament 20 June ratified Istanbul Convention on violence against women. Ukraine and Russia 29 June separately announced biggest prisoner swap since Feb invasion.
Russian forces made gains in east and captured last pocket of resistance in Mariupol in south, as Ukrainian forces advanced in north; hostilities could intensify, escalate or spread in coming weeks. Russian forces 23 May began advancing on Severodonetsk and Lysychansk cities from three directions to encircle Ukrainian troops and seize last territories in Luhansk region under Ukrainian control; 31 May took control of large proportion of Severodonetsk city, although Ukrainian forces still retained some areas. Elsewhere in east, Russian forces 7 May bombed school in front line village of Bilohorivka, killing around 60. Governor of Luhansk 8 May said Ukrainian troops had withdrawn from Popasna city, marking biggest Russian breakout across old contact line that had divided warring parties since 2014 conflict; Severskiy Donets River, which Russian forces 11 May failed to cross, formed much of northern front line. In south, Russian forces 3 May began attacking Azovstal steel plant in Donbas port city of Mariupol; by 19 May, nearly 1,730 Ukrainian troops had surrendered before being sent to camps in Russian-held territories where de facto authorities announced they would face “international tribunal.” Defeat gives Russia control of land corridor between Mariupol and major port city of Kherson; reports indicated deadly insurgent attacks however continued in Melitopol city, midway between Mariupol and Kherson. In north, Ukrainian forces launched successful counter-offensives. Notably, forces 2 May took control of Stariy Saltiv town; 15 May reached Russian border north of Kharkiv, winning city temporary reprieve from Russian artillery that continued sporadically. On humanitarian front, UN 10 May said there were credible reports that Ukrainian forces mistreated, tortured or abducted Russian soldiers; 20 May estimated total 6.7mn refugees and over 8mn internally displaced from war; U.S. senate 19 May passed $40 billion aid package. Ukrainian court 23 May handed life sentence to Russian soldier for killing civilian in first war crimes trial; sentenced two others 31 May. On diplomatic front, Russia and Ukraine 17 May signalled that peace talks reached standstill. EU leaders 30 May agreed to block over two-thirds of Russian oil imports.
Month saw relative calm in Kyiv region as Russian forces withdrew to launch new offensive in east, where fighting could worsen as it edges closer to urban areas. Russian troops by 2 April had vacated stretch of land between Kyiv’s north-western suburbs and Belarusian border, as well as Chernihiv and Sumy regions, north east of Kyiv. Following Russian troops’ departure, authorities said they had recovered over 1,000 bodies of murdered civilians, most notably in Bucha, and alleged war crimes. Russian forces continued attacks in east. Notably, Russia 1 April captured Izium city south east of Kharkiv city; Russian missile 8 April struck train station in Donetsk city of Kramatorsk, killing at least 50. Marking new phase of war, Kremlin 10 April appointed General Alexander Dvornikov to oversee invasion. Russia late-April launched new offensive in Donbas. Notably, Russia 20 April seized eastern town of Kreminna in Luhansk. Ukrainian forces 29 April claimed they regained Ruska Lozova north of Kharkiv; fighting could worsen in east, as it comes closer to urban areas in Severodonetsk and Sloviansk/Kramatorsk area. In south, besieged Donbas port city of Mariupol remained worst affected hotspot with 100,000 people encircled. President Putin 21 April claimed Russian forces took city, although Ukrainian forces remained holed up in Azovstal steel plant; after talks between UN Sec Gen Antonio Guterres and Putin in Moscow on 26 April, UN 30 April reportedly began limited evacuations of civilians from steel plant. Governor of Odessa 13 April announced Ukrainian forces attacked flagship Russian missile cruiser Moskva, which caught fire and sank; large number of 500-member crew remained unaccounted for. On humanitarian front, UN 17 April estimated 7.7mn people internally displaced, 5.3 mn refugees, although exodus reportedly slower than March due to greater security in Kyiv region. On diplomatic front, UN Human Rights Council 7 April suspended Russia. Zelenskyy hosted EU, UK, U.S. officials in capital Kyiv, who promised more sanctions and weapons. Talks between Kyiv and Moscow were limited to humanitarian corridors and exchanges of prisoners, as sides focus on battlefield outcomes in Donbas. Guterres 28 April visited Kyiv and sites of suspected war crimes; Russian airstrikes hit city during visit.
In Europe’s biggest conflict in decades, Russian forces faced stiff resistance despite destructive tactics; risk of further escalation loomed. Russian forces 2 March claimed control of Kherson, major port city on Dnipro estuary, but suffered Ukrainian counter-attacks on city’s airport since 15 March. After Russian forces 28 Feb encircled Donbas port city of Mariupol, it became focal point of fighting, sparking devastating destruction and major humanitarian crisis; some 170,000 people remained besieged in city as of late March. Russia’s southern advance started to stall from late Feb north of Dnipro River around Mykolaiv city, gateway to Odessa, Ukraine’s largest coastal city; fall of Odessa would cut off Ukraine from Black Sea. In north, Russian army during month maintained control of thinly populated stretch of land between capital Kyiv’s north-western suburbs and Belarusian border. Russian attempts to enter Sumy, Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Kyiv cities met forceful resistance; Russia resorted to heavy artillery in densely populated areas, causing hundreds of casualties. Danger of encirclement of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Sumy as well as Mykolaiv and Odessa in south remains; encirclement could cut off millions from basic needs. UN estimated fighting had left over 1,104 killed or injured, with over 10mn displaced by late March, including 6.4mn internally; as displaced reached country’s west, strains on infrastructure and tension with local population rose as newcomers compete for work and housing. President Zelenskyy during month addressed legislative branches of several Western states, including UK, Germany and France, with calls for more military aid and no-fly zone; U.S. 15 March ruled out latter, citing risk of direct engagement between Russia and NATO. In move underscoring such risk, Moscow 12 March declared shipments of western military aid to Ukraine as legitimate military targets. Meanwhile, Moscow and Kyiv engaged in talks. Notably, sides 29 March met in Turkish city Istanbul where Kyiv re-emphasised neutrality requires security guarantees from UN Security Council member states and offered to delay decision about Crimea’s status by 15 years following complete ceasefire; Moscow after talks announced reduced operations around Kyiv and Chernihiv in north, which Kyiv called either act of deception or sign of Russia’s inability to maintain operations.
Moscow launched multi-pronged invasion, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee as hostilities with Ukrainian forces killed hundreds of civilians and possibly thousands of military personnel; with no end in sight, conflict escalation looms. Russia 24 Feb launched full-scale military assault, involving significant portion of some 200,000 military personnel amassed in recent months on Ukraine’s borders and deploying wide range of land, sea and air military assets; offensive began with Russian missile strikes across country before Russian troops invaded from annexed Crimea region, Belarus and Russian territory, as well as Donbas. Russian forces approached and besieged number of key regional centres such as Kherson, Sumy, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and capital Kyiv; numerous reports indicated fierce military and local resistance as well as logistical and other challenges that have hampered Russian progress. Notably, Russian troops attempted to encircle and seize Kyiv, leading to fierce battle for Hostomel airfield north east of city 24-27 Feb; govt claimed it repelled attack and inflicted heavy Russian causalities. Russian forces 28 Feb began indiscriminately bombarding Karkhiv city in east and continued to advance. As of 28 Feb, hostilities killed 352 civilians, including 14 children, and injured 1,684, according to interior ministry. Kyiv claimed Russian forces suffered 5,710 casualties, and that it held 200 Russian soldiers prisoner; Ukrainian forces reported 137 service personnel killed with over 300 injured as of first day of invasion. Over 660,000 people sought refuge in EU countries and Moldova, according to UN refugee agency. On diplomatic front, Russia 26 Feb blocked UN Security Council resolution demanding end to attack; UN General Assembly 28 Feb began Emergency Special Session on war. Ukrainian leadership 28 Feb signed request to join EU under simplified procedure; European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen previous day expressed support for accession. EU and member states, UK and U.S. imposed crippling economic sanctions, while also blocking Russian planes from accessing European airspace; U.S., Canada and numerous European countries, notably UK, France, Germany and Sweden, continued to provide arms and military equipment to Ukraine. Russian and Ukrainian delegations 28 Feb held negotiations in Homel city, Belarus; while talks did not stop hostilities, sides agreed to continue dialogue.
U.S. rejected Russian demands for legal guarantees prohibiting NATO expansion, while tensions over Russian military build-up continued ahead of planned military exercises in Feb. After Moscow 15 Dec proposed to U.S. draft agreement on security guarantees that included provision not to expand NATO eastward, U.S. 26 Jan provided written response rejecting demand after coordinating with Ukraine and European allies; U.S. urged Russia to dismantle its military build-up near Ukraine and continue diplomatic path; rejection followed 21 Jan meeting between U.S. Sec State Blinken and Russian FM Sergey Lavrov that ended without breakthrough (see Russia-U.S.). Meanwhile, Russia continued military build-up. Significant number of Russian personnel and equipment, including Iskander short-range ballistic missiles, during month arrived in Belarus ahead of “Allied Resolve” joint military exercises that will last until 20 Feb; Blinken 19 Jan said Russia may attack Ukraine at “very short notice”, while President Zelenskyy same day said risks of invasion have not increased. Zelenskyy 20 Jan suggested, however, Russia may attempt to occupy Kharkiv city under pretext of protection of Russian-speaking population. Amid tensions, Ukraine has been receiving significant military assistance from U.S., UK and other European countries. Situation in Donbas conflict zone remained relatively calm as shelling decreased compared to Dec; no civilian casualties from live-fire reported while govt sources reported one serviceman killed by live fire, two killed by explosive device detonations, seven injured in Jan; two Russian-backed armed group members were killed during month, one from live fire, and one fighter was injured. Despite tensions, Kyiv continued seeking new Normandy summit with leaders of four countries (Germany, France, Russia, Ukraine). Political advisers of leaders 26 Jan met in French capital Paris; Dmitry Kozak, deputy chief of staff of the Presidential Executive Office, said sides agreed that July 2020 ceasefire agreement in Donbas should be adhered to unconditionally; advisers agreed to meet in German capital Berlin in two weeks to discuss discrepancies over political part of the Minsk agreements. Govt 25 Jan decided to withdraw from parliament its transition policy law that defined Russia as aggressor state and described Kyiv’s vision of how to reintegrate territories seized by Russia’s proxies.
Amid growing concerns over potential Russian offensive, hostilities continued in Donbas conflict zone despite restoration of July 2020 ceasefire. Fighting and shelling continued along Donbas contact line. Ukrainian military said three of its servicemen were killed in combat during month, while Russian-backed forces reported four fighters killed. Explosion in govt-controlled Krasnohorivka town located at contact line in Donetsk region 1 Dec injured civilian. Civilian 23 Dec sustained shrapnel injuries in non-govt-controlled Oleksandrivka locality near Donetsk. Ukraine and Russia 22 Dec negotiated restoration of July 2020 ceasefire agreement; fighting subsequently persisted, while sides did not agree on opening of civilian crossings. Head of Office of Ukraine’s President Andriy Yermak 21 Dec said Kyiv had shared ten-step plan with Normandy Four countries and U.S. to unblock peace process; Russian media outlet Kommersant 24 Dec published plan, which provided for ceasefire, opening of checkpoints, prisoners’ swap, negotiation of draft laws on special status, amnesty, decentralisation and setting special economic zone. According to 17 Dec U.S. media reports citing U.S. intelligence officials, Russia continued to amass troops near Ukraine. Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov 22 Dec said over 120,000 Russian troops are within 200km of Ukrainian border. Russian foreign ministry 17 Dec published proposals to legally guarantee against NATO’s eastward expansion, including ruling out Ukraine’s membership; proposals suggest banning any NATO military deployments on territory of states that were not NATO members in May 1997. Russian President Putin 21 Dec said Russia’s proposals are no ultimatum, but stressed that Russia has nowhere to retreat over Ukraine; while talking about possible invasion, Putin said Moscow’s actions will depend “on unconditional guarantees for Russia’s security”. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov 31 Dec warned West over “aggressive line” in Ukraine crisis, said Moscow may be forced to “eliminate unacceptable threats to our security” (see Russia -U.S.). Russia 25 Dec announced more than 10,000 troops finished month-long drills near Ukraine. President Zelensky 21 Dec said govt seeks clear timeline in 2022 for eventual NATO membership, describing years of waiting as “unacceptable”. State Investigation Bureau 20 Dec charged former President Petro Poroshenko with state treason and financing of terrorism.
Tensions ran high as Russian military build-up along Ukrainian border sparked concerns of potential invasion and renewed armed conflict in east. Media 12 Nov reported that U.S. had warned EU countries that Moscow was preparing for possible invasion of Ukraine; head of Ukraine’s defence intelligence agency Kyrylo Budanov 21 Nov warned that Moscow was preparing attack “by the end of January or beginning of February”, while Ukrainian Ambassador in Germany Andriy Melnyk 17 Nov said Russia had amassed 146,000 troops near border, in Crimea and in Donbas. Russia’s deputy UN Ambassador Dmitriy Polianskyi 11 Nov said Moscow never planned invasion and will not unless provoked by Ukraine. Meanwhile President Zelenskyy 26 Nov claimed intelligence showed group of Russians and Ukrainians planning coup in Ukraine on 1-2 Dec. Meanwhile in Donbas conflict zone, ceasefire violations reached 4,403 explosions between 1-26 Nov 2021 compared with 3,750 in July 2020 according to data from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Ukrainian army reported six servicemen killed and 13 injured during month; Russia-backed armed groups reported six fighters killed and seven injured; shelling injured civilian in Luhansk region. On diplomatic front, Russia 11 Nov refused to hold ministerial meeting of Normandy Four (Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany) after France and Germany rejected Moscow’s text of joint conclusions it sent on 29 Oct; Russia called armed conflict “internal issue” of Ukraine, urging Kyiv to negotiate “with Donetsk and Luhansk”, halt the language and indigenous people laws, and withdraw draft law outlining the return and reintegration of non-govt controlled territories in Donbas. Paris and Berlin 4 Nov objected to Russian interpretation, citing omission of unfettered access of OSCE in Donbas, and urged Moscow to discuss stopping violence in Donbas and implementation of Paris Summit Conclusions. Turkish President Erdoğan 29 Nov expressed readiness to mediate tensions between Kyiv and Moscow, stressing his country maintains good relations with both sides. Govt and U.S. 10 Nov signed new Charter on Strategic Partnership that expands defence and security cooperation, supports Ukraine’s right to decide its own future “including with respect to Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO”.
Hostilities continued in Donbas conflict zone, while momentum gathered for possible Normandy Four meeting. Russian-backed armed groups suffered 12 combat fatalities during month according to Ukrainian researchers. Ukrainian govt forces recorded two combat deaths 26, 27 Oct. In notable development, Kyiv 26 Oct used for first time Turkish Bayraktar drone, which reportedly destroyed howitzer. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitors corroborated two civilian casualties following heavy weapons use 21 Oct, and one from small arms use 9 Oct, all near separatist-held Donetsk. De facto authorities of so-called Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) 13 Oct announced that Stanytsya Luhanska, sole checkpoint through which civilian residents can enter govt-held territory, would be closed 15 Oct-1 Nov to control COVID-19 spread. Ukrainian authorities same day detained LPR member allegedly conducting reconnaissance, prompting Moscow to call for consular access given detainee’s Russian citizenship; incident led separatist armed group 17 Oct to temporarily block OSCE Special Monitoring Mission from accessing patrol base, demanding arrestee’s release. Following online meeting between German Chancellor Merkel, French President Macron and President Zelenskyy 11 Oct, Paris next day announced that FMs of Normandy Four (Ukraine, France, Germany, Russia) would meet in coming weeks; Moscow 13 Oct confirmed that plans were under way, although Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 14 Oct reiterated meetings not desirable until sides had fulfilled Dec 2019 pledges. EU and U.S. 9 Oct jointly criticised “unexplained and unjustifiable delays” in selecting head of Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office after selection committee failed to achieve quorum at planned proceedings. Annual Ukraine-EU summit on 12 Oct yielded declaration of willingness to “explore possibilities” to further support country including through military education. U.S. military aid package worth $250 mn arrived in three instalments, on 10, 18 and 23 Oct; U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin 19 Oct visited capital Kyiv, discussed implementation of U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Defence Framework. Investigative project “Pandora papers” published 3 Oct revealed Zelenskyy and partners had set up network of offshore companies in 2012. Authorities 8 Oct announced new possible treason charges against opposition deputy Viktor Medvedchuk.
Low-level violence continued in Donbas conflict zone, while parliament passed controversial “anti-oligarch” legislation. In Donbas conflict zone, combat killed five Ukrainian govt troops, per military figures, while Ukrainian researchers reported at least five combat deaths among Russian-backed forces during month; Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe corroborated four civilian injuries, all from shelling and all in separatist-held areas; town head in govt-controlled Shchastya reportedly injured in aftermath of 16 Sept mortar attack. Meanwhile, unknown assailant 22 Sept attacked car carrying Serhiy Shefir, aide and long-time business associate of President Zelenskyy, in capital Kyiv, leaving driver injured; Zelenskyy blamed attack on administration’s efforts to reduce public influence of oligarchs. Parliament next day passed Zelenskyy’s law aimed at preventing designated oligarchs from sponsoring political parties or buying privatised assets; some opposition members claimed move aimed at hobbling political rivals such as ex-President Poroshenko. Approximately 150,000 Russian passport holders 17-19 Sept voted in Russian parliamentary elections held in Donbas for first time; Ukraine’s Security and Defenсe Council 17 Sep vowed sanctions against “all involved”. EU 10 Sept prolonged for six months sanctions against 177 individuals and 48 entities “responsible for undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Ukraine”. Ambassadors to Ukraine from G7 states 23 Sept issued joint statement noting “concern” and “disappointment” at delays in judicial reform and inadequate efforts to ensure transparent selection of new Constitutional Court judges. At address to UN General Assembly, Zelenskyy 23 Sept criticised UN for failure to appear at Aug 2021 Crimea Platform meeting and urged UN revival through stronger action against countries violating international law.
Low-level clashes continued in Donbas conflict zone and President Zelenskyy hosted international conference to draw attention to Russian-annexed Crimea. Deadly violence in Donbas conflict zone continued, leaving nine govt soldiers killed during month, including from anti-tank rocket attacks on 7, 10 Aug and sniper fire on 16, 19 Aug, according to Ukrainian military press corps. Ukrainian researchers reported combat 1 Aug killed at least one Russian-backed fighter, and Russian-backed armed groups claimed over ten fighters killed throughout month. Unknown assailants 11 Aug killed one civilian by live fire, and 5, 9 Aug injured at least two others, according to Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. On diplomatic front, German Chancellor Merkel 22 Aug visited President Zelenskyy in capital Kyiv, pledging support should Russia abuse its growing energy dominance or further undercut Ukraine’s sovereignty, but gave no public indication of what actions Germany might take. Kyiv 23 Aug launched Crimea Platform conference, aimed at drawing international attention to Russian annexation, with presence of 42 foreign envoys; Russian FM Sergey Lavrov 25 Aug called initiative “a futile, Russophobic display”. Trilateral Contact Group on Donbas peace process 26 Aug met following hiatus of nearly one month. Security and Defense Council 20 Aug voted to impose sanctions against judges, civil servants and security personnel in Russian-occupied Crimea, as well as persons associated with media outlets deemed harmful to country’s national security, resulting in blocking of anti-govt news site Strana.ua. U.S. State Dept 20 Aug announced new sanctions connected to Nord Stream II pipeline against one Russian vessel and its Russian insurers; move does not affect Washington’s May 2021 decision to waive sanctions on company leading pipeline’s construction and its head.
Deadly fighting intensified in Donbas conflict zone, while Kyiv expressed frustration over U.S. and German handling of Nord Stream II gas pipeline. In Donbas conflict zone, fighting escalated. Notably, Ukrainian side reported shelling of its command posts in Donetsk and Luhansk regions with heavy weapons, killing three and injuring 11 servicemen on 13 and 26 July; armed groups reported seven fighters killed by Ukrainian army shelling on 28 and 30 July. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe special representative 22 July noted sustained increase in use of heavy weapons. Death toll and number of casualties also rose compared to previous months: Ukrainian govt forces suffered eight combat deaths and 32 injuries throughout July, per official sources; Russian-backed forces lost ten fighters and 14 suffered injuries, per reports from de facto officials; two civilians received shrapnel injuries per de facto and Ukrainian reports. Meanwhile, U.S.-German talks on Nord Stream II pipeline provoked controversy among Ukrainian officials as U.S. officials formally ended opposition to new pipeline, which is nearly completed, and is due to bypass existing Ukrainian pipeline and reduce associated Ukrainian revenues from transit of Russian gas. U.S. and Germany 20 July issued joint statement in which Berlin committed “to utilize all available leverage to facilitate an extension of up to ten years to Ukraine’s gas transit agreement with Russia, including appointing a special envoy to support these negotiations”; Berlin also pledged “to establish and administer” over $1bn Green Fund for Ukraine to support Kyiv’s transition away from fossil fuels. In response, FM Dmytro Kuleba next day released joint statement with Polish counterpart calling unnamed “proposals” to tackle potential security fallout from pipeline insufficient; in open letter, Parliament Speaker Dmitry Razumkov 22 July urged U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to maintain all pertinent sanctions as well as possibly levying new ones to prevent “completion and commissioning” of pipeline. Washington 21 July announced that first meeting between Presidents Biden and Zelenskyy would take place 30 August, when Zelenskyy is expected to press for larger U.S. role in Donbas peace process. Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s longest-ever serving interior minister, 14 July resigned following years of corruption allegations. President Zelenskyy 27 July dismissed Commander of Ukrainian Armed Forces Ruslan Khomchak.
Deadly combat continued in Donbas as President Zelenskyy reinvigorated bid for NATO membership and U.S. reaffirmed support for Minsk diplomatic process. In Donbas conflict zone, live fire 19 and 27 June injured civilian while killing two Ukrainian servicemen and injuring six during month, according to official and media reports. At least one Russia-backed fighter was killed by live fire, while sides traded accusations over deaths of additional nine fighters, as well as over the cause of five injuries. In joint communiqué following 14 June NATO summit, member states reiterated their 2008 pledge to issue Georgia and Ukraine Membership Action Plans, but provided no timeline; President Zelenskyy 18 June told Western news outlets that he wanted “yes or no” on NATO membership, and “clear dates”. Following 16 June Geneva summit with Russia’s President Putin, U.S. President Joe Biden said he and his counterpart “agreed to pursue diplomacy related to the Minsk agreement”; Putin separately stated that Biden had apparently deemed agreements “the basis for conflict regulation”, noting that this contradicted Kyiv’s recent statements about need for alternate approach. U.S. Deputy Sec State Victoria Nuland reiterated U.S. support for Minsk agreements in 17 June interview, saying U.S. would examine possibilities for greater involvement in peace process following consultations with Kyiv. Ukraine’s Security and Defence Council 18 June announced that govt was imposing sanctions on businessman Dmytro Firtash in connection with his titanium business, which officials say supplies raw materials used by Russian military. Russia’s defence ministry 23 June announced that maritime patrol had fired warning shots at British military vessel 19km from Crimean Peninsula in Black Sea, which UK denied; Ukrainian FM Dmytro Kuleba called incident “clear proof” that Russia’s “occupation and militarization of Crimea pose a lasting threat to Ukraine and allies”. U.S. and Ukraine-led Sea Breeze naval exercise 28 June began in Black Sea.
Donbas ceasefire continued to falter and peace process remained stalled, while fears of large-scale Russian invasion subsided. Fighting continued throughout month in Donbas conflict zone: shelling killed one civilian, live fire left one injured and mines injured three more. Ukrainian and Russian-backed forces suffered four and 12 fatalities, respectively. Ukraine’s foreign ministry 13 May said “the threat of military provocations remains unchanged”. After sides failed to agree on recommitment to terms of July 2020 ceasefire in late April when Russian envoys to Minsk Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) demanded that Kremlin proxies in so-called People’s Republics be included in agreement, sides revisited prospect of recommitting to ceasefire at 19-22 May TCG meeting but made no progress. At same meeting, sides struck preliminary agreement to greenlight opening of new civilian front-line checkpoints in Luhansk oblast through providing security guarantees for staff and civilians; it however remains unclear whether so-called republics will assent to checkpoints’ opening absent direct negotiations with Kyiv. Meanwhile, military tensions with Russia continued to slowly decline following Moscow’s late April announcement that it would withdraw some of its troops stationed near Ukraine’s borders. In his second annual presidential press conference, President Zelenskyy 20 May expressed hopes for “direct talks with the President of the Russian Federation” as well as “the inclusion of the US in this discussion”; while he did not specify format for these talks, he rebuffed idea that peace would be impossible until current Russian regime collapses. Zelenskyy 20 May called U.S. decision previous day to waive some sanctions related to Nordstream 2 pipeline “a serious political victory” for Moscow; Ukraine’s parliament 21 May voted in landslide for resolution calling on U.S. congress to override decision and use all legal means to “completely and irreversibly stop” pipeline’s construction. Kremlin 20 May confirmed that discussions on Zelenskyy-Putin meeting were in motion. Following Belarusian authorities’ forceful diversion of passenger flight on 23 May, Kyiv 26 May announced cessation of air travel with its neighbour (see Belarus).
Fighting continued in east while largest Russian military build-up at border since Moscow’s 2014 invasion brought renewed international attention. In Donbas conflict zone, fighting killed 15 Ukrainian govt troops and five Russian-backed fighters throughout month, per official and de facto reports. Moreover, explosion 2 April killed five-year-old child 14km from contact line, while three other civilians were killed and six injured during month. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe indicated shelling frequency doubled in April compared to previous month while Ukraine’s military casualties increased fivefold compared to April 2020. Following late March announcement by Ukrainian military commander Ruslan Khomchak that Russia was building up forces on borders, U.S. President Biden 2 April called President Zelenskyy and pledged support for country’s territorial integrity. Zelenskyy 6 April spoke to NATO Sec Gen Jens Stoltenberg, requesting Membership Action Plan and asserting “NATO is the only way to end the war in Donbas”. French President Macron, German Chancellor Merkel and Zelenskyy 16 April discussed de-escalation measures. Advisers to Normandy Four (Russia, Ukraine, Germany, France) heads of state 19 April pledged efforts to rescue July 2020 ceasefire through strengthening bilateral coordination and verification measures; Moscow same day rejected joint statement proposed by France and Germany as “unspecific and declarative”; Kyiv proposed stricter liability for sniper fire on grounds that Russian shooters had driven rise in military casualties. Zelenskyy 20 April suggested meeting in Donbas; Putin counter-offered meeting in Moscow, provided Kyiv negotiated directly with Moscow-backed forces in Donbas first. Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu 22 April said troops were returning to permanent bases. Moscow mid-month announced closure of sections of Black Sea to foreign naval ships and state vessels until 31 Oct. Trilateral Contact Group for Donbas peace process met 28 April, voiced readiness to renew ceasefire but failed to agree on joint plan.
Conflict escalated further in east as Donbas ceasefire showed cracks, with over 20 killed amid deadlocked peace talks. In Donbas conflict zone, fighting during month killed up to 11 Russia-backed fighters and one civilian, according to data from de facto heads and social media, and at least nine Ukrainian govt servicemen, per official reports; latter included four killed by sniper fire 26 March, prompting Ukraine’s parliament 30 March to adopt resolution calling for increased Western pressure on Russia. During videoconference same day with French and German heads of state, Russian President Putin expressed “concern at the military escalation provoked by Ukraine”. Earlier in month, press service of so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) 3 March granted troops permission to launch “preventative fire”, undermining July 2020 ceasefire provisions; Head of Ukrainian Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) delegation Leonid Kravchuk same day said that Russian-backed forces were escalating violence in response to Kyiv’s sanctions in Feb on Ukrainian pro-Russian opposition politicians and U.S. and EU “increased pressure” on Moscow. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief 30 March accused Russia of building up military forces near Ukraine’s borders. President Zelenskyy’s Chief of Staff Andryi Yermak 9 March announced that French and German officials had helped produce new roadmap for peaceful reintegration of breakaway parts of Donbas; Dmitry Kozak, Russian President Putin’s deputy chief of staff, 16 March called new peace plan “a myth”, reflecting Feb recommendations made by Germany and France which Russia had largely rejected. Ukraine’s Security and Defence Council 11 March approved draft strategy “for the deoccupation and reintegration” of Crimean Peninsula; Russian MFA 15 March said “all of Kyiv’s efforts to return Crimea are illegitimate” and constitute “direct encroachment on [Russia’s] territorial integrity”. Gathering in support of imprisoned activist Serhiy Sternenko 30 March ended in damage to façade of Presidential Administration; interior minister attributed damage to possible plot by ex-President Poroshenko while supporters of Sternenko and Poroshenko blamed interior ministry.
Casualties in Donbas conflict zone surged while govt sanctioned several Kremlin-friendly public figures. July ceasefire in Donbas – longest-lasting ceasefire in east to date – faced growing strains amid significant uptick in casualties: Ukrainian army during Feb suffered up to a dozen combat-related deaths while Russian-backed forces lost at least eight fighters, per social media reports. Landmines 14 Feb killed three Ukrainian servicemen. In first civilian casualties from live fire since July, shelling 23 Feb killed one civilian and 3, 22 Feb injured two, according to Ukrainian and separatist media reports. Ukrainian commander 20 Feb reported extensive use of heavy weapons in Donbas by so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) forces; DPR-friendly sources, however, suggested Ukrainian forces fired artillery first. Other incidents contributed to deteriorating security in Donbas: Ukrainian security personnel 9 Feb fatally shot man attempting to cross front-line checkpoint after he ignored orders to stop car; car bombing 15 Feb injured DPR battalion commander and his daughter, for which de facto authorities blamed Ukrainian security services. Ukraine’s chief envoy to Minsk Trilateral Contact Group Leonid Kravchuk 8 Feb said armed groups’ aggression warranted return fire. President Zelenskyy 11 Feb brought G7 ambassadors to visit military positions at frontline and spoke of July ceasefire’s success. In capital Kyiv, hundreds 23 Feb protested Odesa сourt’s decision to sentence activist Serhiy Sternenko to seven years in prison for alleged kidnapping, leaving 27 law enforcement officers injured and 24 people arrested. Meanwhile, National Security and Defense Council 19 Feb announced sanctions on Kremlin-friendly politician Viktor Medvedchuk and his wife; Kremlin press secretary 20 Feb responded that such action fuels concern that Kyiv “will consider it possible to solve the situation in [Donbas] by military means”. Kyiv 2 Feb sanctioned Medvedchuk associate Taras Kozak, accusing him of involvement in Russia-linked coal smuggling scheme and stripping licenses from three television channels he owns. U.S. Sec of State Antony Blinken and Ukrainian FM Dmytro Kuleba 2 Feb held first call during which Blinken pledged “robust U.S. economic and military assistance”; Ukrainian MFA same day said Blinken promised lethal weaponry.
Ceasefire in Donbas area held tenuously, while diplomatic engagement to address conflict situation in east continued. In Donbas conflict zone, combat deaths rose compared to previous month: casualties and shelling were concentrated east of Mariupol (southern Donetsk oblast), north west of Donetsk city and near Popasna-Zolote (Luhansk oblast). Sniper fire 11 Jan andshelling 21 Jan killed two Ukrainian soldiers; four were injured in combat on 14, 15, 25, 26 Jan. Russia-backed separatists reported four combat-related deaths on 2, 14, 21 and 23 Jan. One civilian 3 Jan sustained shrapnel injury while trying to dismantle explosive in Blahodatne in govt-controlled Donetsk region. On diplomatic front, advisers of Normandy Four (France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia) 12 Jan attended Berlin meeting, which Kyiv described as “complicated but constructive”, and sides agreed to work “on new approaches to conflict road map” in Trilateral Conflict Group (TCG). “Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics” 19 Jan invited their own “civil representatives” to join TCG political subgroup meeting, mirroring Kyiv’s move in June 2020 and prompting Kyiv’s subsequent complaints. At Berlin meeting, sides failed to agree on mechanisms to safeguard fragile ceasefire; sides agreed to restore gas supplies to govt-controlled front-line town of Maryinka for first time since July 2014 but separatists subsequently withdrew safety guarantees, accusing Kyiv of shelling them and saying front-line infrastructure repairs would depend on Kyiv’s willingness to negotiate with them directly. Meanwhile, two out of seven civilian cross-line checkpoints were operational during month: one in Donetsk and one in Luhansk. De facto republics kept their corresponding sides of two new checkpoints near Luhansk region’s towns of Zolote and Shchasti closed; sides still discussing future openings. Russia Today chief editor Margarita Simonyan 28 Jan gave speech in Donetsk calling for “Mother Russia to take Donbas home” and make it part of Russian federation.
July ceasefire wore thin following escalation of fighting along line of contact in Donbas conflict zone. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) recorded over 200 ceasefire violations in Donetsk oblast on three separate days – 11, 19 and 29 Dec – following months in which recorded daily ceasefire violations had ranged from single digits to just below 100. Areas around Donetsk Filtration Station in Avdiivka, Zolote and Popasna suffered shelling throughout month. Sniper fire and shelling injured seven Ukrainian soldiers; Ukrainian forces sustained one non-live-fire injury. Armed groups 17 Dec captured Ukrainian reconnaissance commander in Luhansk region; body of another Ukrainian soldier was passed to armed forces 17 Dec. Russian-backed forces said shelling killed four of its fighters 18 Dec and one 22 Dec. One civilian was injured 20 Dec after anti-tank missile hit his vehicle; govt forces said missile was launched from area of enemy control. Prisoner swap negotiations remained stalled. Chief OSCE representative to Minsk Trilateral Contact Group, Ambassador Heidi Grau, 16 Dec urged sides to finalise identification of new demining areas. Kyiv 16 Dec opened its second administrative centre for civilians at crossing in Novotroitske, south of Donetsk city, and reopened all entry-exit checkpoints; however, corresponding checkpoints in de facto republics remained closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Representatives of so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics 2 Dec participated in informal UN Security Council meeting, proposing referendum on status of territories under their de facto control. President Zelenskyy 16 Dec stated that U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s understanding of Russia-Ukraine dynamics would “add to resolving Donbas war”. President Putin 17 Dec blamed Kyiv for deepening stalemate in Donbas, warning Ukrainian govt against attempts to unilaterally revise Minsk agreements and promising greater infrastructure and economic support for so-called republics. International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda 11 Dec announced that following preliminary examination of “a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity […] statutory criteria for opening investigations into the situation in Ukraine has been met.”
Kyiv proposed new peace plan to Trilateral Contact Group (TCG), while July ceasefire largely held in Donbas conflict zone. Ukrainian TCG representatives 5 Nov proposed new “Joint Steps plan” to demilitarise conflict zone in early 2021, allow Kyiv to regain control of eastern border and subsequently hold local elections on 31 March; newly-integrated areas would be offered special economic zone status for 30 years. Russian TCG representative Gryzlov 11 Nov called plan “another attempt to deceive people”, while Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (D/LPR) de facto authorities 20 Nov rebuffed it as “awkward attempt to rewrite Minsk agreements”, given that Minsk agreement states elections must precede Kyiv regaining control. Separately, TCG representatives 4 Nov agreed on four new disengagement areas in Donbas conflict zone: near Hryhorivka in Donetsk region, as well as Slovyanoserbsk, Petrivka and Nyzhnoteple villages in Luhansk region. In Donbas conflict zone, July ceasefire largely held except for small flare-ups with military casualties on both sides; sniper fire 24 Nov killed one govt soldier in Donetsk region according to Ukrainian officials, while DPR armed groups lost at least two fighters on 6 Nov. Both sides sustained non-live-fire casualties throughout month, including five Ukrainian soldiers and five Russian-backed fighters; remnant explosives injured four civilians 10, 12 Nov. Govt 10 Nov reopened all Donbas checkpoints and introduced two new crossings for civilians across front line in Luhansk region; however, many corresponding crossings remained closed, preventing civilians from using them. Political crisis continued over Constitutional Court’s Oct decision to overturn key provisions in anti-corruption legislation; President Zelenskyy 1 Nov said forces behind decision were “a coalition of Russian proxies and some prominent Ukrainian oligarchs”; parliament 18 Nov established working group aimed at resolving crisis by 1 Dec. Authorities 25 Nov reported record daily number of 15,331 new COVID-19 cases after govt 13 Nov introduced weekend quarantine. De-facto republics reported modest rise in cases; mortality rate higher in LPR (about 8%) and DPR (about 10%) compared to govt controlled areas (1.7%).
Local elections took place across country, excluding some communities and separatist-held areas in east, while July ceasefire in Donbas largely held. First round of local elections 25 Oct organised nationwide; in setback for President Zelenskyy, incumbent mayors in major cities held off challenges from his Sluha Narodu party. Separatist-held areas in east excluded from vote as per parliament’s July decree, many residents near front line also excluded for security reasons. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) observers praised vote as well organised but raised concerns many residents near front line in East could note vote despite absence of direct hostilities in years. In conflict zone, July ceasefire largely held although two govt servicemen were killed and two injured, according to Ukrainian officials; both sides sustained non-live-fire casualties, including at least one Ukrainian soldier injured, according to military authorities, and 11 Russian-backed fighters killed, according to social media reports. Landmines injured one man 4 Oct, two boys 6 Oct, and three male civilians 9 Oct. OSCE Special Monitoring Mission Chief Monitor Yaşar Halit Çevik 8 Oct noted that de facto authorities continued to hamper movements of ceasefire monitors in non-govt-controlled areas. In Luhansk region, govt 12 Oct announced closure of civilian crossing Stanytsia Luhanska until 30 Oct due to quarantine; hundreds of civilians trapped at closed checkpoints; armed forces 28 Oct extended closure to 15 Nov. Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (D/LPR) de facto authorities reported significant rise in COVID-19 cases, while de facto DPR Health Minister Aleksandr Opryshenko 15 Oct admitted true rate of infection higher than official one and testing capacity lacking; de facto DPR head Denis Pushilin 16 Oct cancelled public sporting events. In blow to ongoing anti-corruption reforms, Constitutional Court 27 Oct abolished criminal liability for inaccurate asset declaration by govt officials, prompting thousands 30 Oct to rally in capital Kyiv, and Zelenskyy to call for Constitutional Court’s judges to be fired. EU-Ukraine Summit memorandum 5 Oct noted “Ukraine’s constructive approach in the Normandy Format and the Trilateral Contact Group”, calling on Russia to ensure OSCE ceasefire monitors can access parts of non govt-controlled areas near Russian border.
Discord among Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) parties resurfaced over local election in Donbas, while July ceasefire held in Donbas conflict zone. Ahead of nationwide elections scheduled for 25 Oct, disagreement persisted between Ukraine, Russia and Russian-backed proxies in Donbas over Ukrainian parliament’s July decree that conditioned local elections in Donbas on region’s “deoccupation, demilitarisation and reintegration”; disagreement blocked discussions at 16 Sept TCG meeting on prisoner swap and disengagement along contact line; Russian TCG representative Boris Gryzlov 16 Sept said decree contradicts Minsk agreements, while Donbas proxies urged Kyiv to amend the decree. Reintegration minister 18 Sept called for parliament to amend decree, citing its impact on Minsk negotiations. President Zelenskyy 30 Sept dismissed first deputy head of Ukrainian delegation to TCG and former PM Vitold Fokin after Fokin 29 Sept stated that he “can see no evidence of war between Ukraine and Russia in Donbas”. In Donbas, 27 July ceasefire held but fighting 6 Sept killed one govt serviceman at checkpoint in Luhansk region, and both sides continued to sustain non-combat casualties mainly from explosives, including three Ukrainian soldiers and two Russian-backed fighters killed 1-23 Sept, according to pro-Ukrainian non-govt source. Advisers of Normandy Four (France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia) leaders 11 Sept met in Berlin, reached agreement to allow Red Cross to visit prisoners in custody of Russian proxies. NATO and govt 20 Sept began four-day joint command and staff military exercises, coinciding with Russian “Caucasus 2020” military drills. Ukraine 30 Sept reported record daily number of 4,027 new COVID-19 cases, prompting Kyiv to restrict entry to all foreigners until 28 Sept; de facto republics reported modest rise in cases. G7 member states 16 Sept urged Ukrainian authorities to support anti-corruption agencies, including National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, after Constitutional Court 16 Sept ruled that bureau was unlawfully established by presidential decree; vice chair of delegation to EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee 17 Sept stated govt “is jeopardizing visa-free with EU and further tranche of €1.5bn assistance”.
Following late July ceasefire deal between Minsk accord parties, casualties decreased in Donbas conflict zone; Donetsk de facto leadership threatened new escalation. July ceasefire in Donbas conflict zone largely held throughout month: Ukrainian military confirmed no casualties or injuries in combat. Both sides continued to sustain non-combat casualties, however, particularly from landmines, including one Ukrainian serviceman killed 13 Aug, one Russian-backed fighter killed 15 Aug and two Russian-backed fighters killed 28 Aug. Sides accused each other of violating ceasefire rules with small arms, drones and fortification of positions. In move that could escalate conflict, Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) head Denis Pushilin 28 Aug threatened to order “destruction of trenches and shelters of the Ukrainian Armed Forces fortified or created after 22 July” if these were not removed by 3 Sept. Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) members held heated discussions throughout month on meaning of “special status” for territories currently under control of separatists; Ukrainian delegation head Leonid Kravchuk 4 Aug suggested replacing “special status” with “special system of administration”; in response, DPR de facto FM Natalia Nikonorova warned of Ukrainian attempts to “nullify the [Minsk] agreements”. Deputy head of presidential administration Andryi Yermak 7 Aug announced imminent exchange of 200 prisoners. Luhansk People’s Republic TCG representative Olga Kobtseva 20 Aug said, however, no progress made on swap due to Kyiv govt legislation passed in July stating that no elections would be held in Donetsk and Luhansk until govt takes control of state border, which Kobtseva said would negate “the whole point of the Minsk agreements”. Ukrainian govt said sides 20 Aug agreed to 20 new demining zones and four disengagement zones. Following Ukraine’s extradition request of Wagner military battalion members arrested in Minsk in July, Belarus authorities 14 Aug announced fighters had been handed over to Russia. As of 1 Sept, DPR de facto authorities reported steady rise of total COVID-19 cases to 2,560 while Luhansk People’s Republic registered total 692 cases.
Amid ongoing deadly clashes at frontline in East, parties to Minsk accords late July agreed to re-commit to ceasefire. Parties 23 July reached ceasefire agreement on situation in Eastern Ukraine, which President Zelenskyy described as “breakthrough”; agreement establishes mechanism to address reported violations, bans heavy weaponry in civilian areas, and contains unusually explicit prohibitions on offensive and reconnaissance activity; sides pledged also to open civilian crossings at Zolote and Shchastya by 1 Nov. Amid Zelenskyy’s support for agreement, pro-military activists called provisions unconstitutional; Russian envoy to Minsk negotiations Boris Gryzlov voiced “satisfaction” that Kyiv had agreed to measures “after nearly five months of resistance”. Accord follows 3 July meeting between political advisors to Normandy Four leaders in Berlin, and comment by deputy head of Russian presidential administration Dmitriy Kozak 4 July who said sides were close to adopting new ceasefire measures. Zelenskyy 30 July appointed Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine’s first president, chief envoy to Minsk negotiations, replacing second president Leonid Kuchma; Kravchuk called for “compromise” on implementing accord’s political provisions and suggested сreating special economic zone in Donbas. Meanwhile, fighting at contact line continued throughout month, killing at least seven govt servicemen; Russia-backed forces also lost 10-14 personnel, according to Ukrainian casualty tracker; one civilian was killed in government-controlled section of Zaitseve, two injured on both sides of the contact line. Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission Chief Monitor Yaşar Halit Çevik 11 July said that mission observed five-fold increase of military hardware near contact line between 4 April and 20 June. Over 3,000 people 6 July had water cut off after shelling destroyed pipelines on outskirts of Horlivka city in Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). DPR de facto authorities reported total of 1,751 COVID-19 cases as of 31 July, and Luhansk People’s Republic registered 612 cases same day. DPR 6 July announced re-opening of quasi-border crossing at Olenivka. Kyiv 30 July asked Belarusian govt to extradite members of private Wagner military battalion arrested 29 July in Minsk, citing group’s suspected involvement in war crimes in Donbas.
Amid ongoing violence in east, high-level debates continued on how to implement the Minsk agreements’ political provisions. Violence along Donbas front lines remained concentrated around Svitlodarsk, Avdiivka-Yasynuvata, Donetsk city, and Shyrokyne on Azov Sea, according to Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Fighting in June killed four govt servicemen, according to military press service, and 21 Russian-backed fighters, according to pro-Ukrainian non-government source; one civilian injured in Avdiivka, east of Donetsk city in same period, according to OSCE. Russian-backed forces continued to limit access for OSCE ceasefire compliance monitors. Head of presidential office Andriy Yermak 17 June said that govt prepared new bill incorporating Steinmeier Formula which states that “special status” for de facto regions as provided for in 2015 Minsk agreements should be recognised simultaneously with Kyiv holding elections in these areas; govt discussed draft with Minsk political sub-group comprising civil society representatives from Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Following series of Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) virtual meetings 9, 11, 15 and 25 June attended by newly appointed representatives of Ukraine govt , OSCE’s top TCG envoy 25 June noted that sides were unable to agree on security modalities for opening of new civilian crossing points in Luhansk region; welcomed partial reopening of existing crossings. Govt 10 June partially reopened two civilian checkpoints at contact line; de facto authorities 18 June began allowing entry in Luhansk region; entry into Donestsk People’s Republic remains restricted. Sides 22 June opened Novotroitske/Olenivka checkpoint in Donetsk region for entry into govt-controlled areas; confusion over crossing procedures left dozens stranded at checkpoints. NATO 12 June granted Ukraine “enhanced opportunities partner” status, enabling “access to interoperability programs and exercises”. U.S. 17 June delivered $60mn in military equipment to govt. Govt 17 June extended COVID-19 quarantine measures until 31 July due to spike in infections.
Deadly fighting continued in Donbas as sides conducted online negotiations and Ukrainian and Russian-backed separatist leadership moved to lift COVID-19 quarantine restrictions. Violence along Donbas front lines remained concentrated near Donetsk, Horlivka, Zolote disengagement area, and east of Mariupol, according to Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE); govt forces lost at least five servicemen, and Russian-backed forces lost up to 22 people according to pro-Ukrainian non-government source, while one civilian killed and at least twelve injured, according to OSCE and UN reports. First week of May saw more civilian casualties than any single week over past two years, according to 8 May UN appeal calling for all sides to respect humanitarian law; appeal was “addressed to a greater extent […] to the command of the Joint Forces Operation of the Armed Forces of Ukraine”, as all casualties had been reported in separatist-held areas. Dmitry Kozak, Russia’s chief negotiator for Donbas conflict, 13 May visited Berlin to meet with German counterpart; said meeting had produced “agreements on mutual next steps” for conflict resolution. Kyiv 14 May brought newly beefed-up delegation to online Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) negotiations, during which its representatives reiterated their refusal to amend constitution to guarantee self-governing status for areas currently held by separatists within Ukraine, and to hold elections in these areas while Russia and proxy forces controlled country’s eastern border. Following 28 May TCG meeting, Zelenskyy said Russian delegation did “not object” to full Ukrainian control in present-day separatist-held areas before elections.
Despite hopes of ceasefire amid COVID-19 outbreak, deadly fighting in Donbas continued, while sides made limited progress toward political resolution to conflict. In conflict zone, fighting near standard hotspots along central part of contact line – near Donetsk, Debaltseve, Horlivka, and Mariupol cities – killed five govt soldiers and eleven Russian-backed fighters throughout month according to official and unofficial data; Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reported four civilians injured and one killed. OSCE monitors reported consistent denials of access by authorities to so-called People’s Republics. Kyiv and de facto authorities 16 April swapped prisoners in “Easter exchange”; Kyiv received twenty prisoners for releasing fourteen separatist fighters. At 22 April meeting of Trilateral Contact Group (TCG), sides reportedly agreed to establish new working group – with representatives of border guard and customs services of Russia and Ukraine and OSCE mediators – to discuss compromise formulas for resumption of govt control of eastern border with Russia. Govt 6 April tightened COVID-19 restrictions, prohibiting outside meetings of more than two people and introducing large fines and prison terms for offenders; opposition members and human rights activists criticised measures. President Zelenskyy 13 April signed law allowing govt agencies to acce