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One Hundred Days of War in Ukraine by Bridget Ryder

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One Hundred Days of War in Ukraine

June 3rd marks one hundred days since the first explosions of bombs signalled the start of the Russian invasion in Ukraine. Now, three months on, it has become clear that what Russia had thought would be a lightning-quick takeover of Ukraine, and what the international community hoped could be resolved by negotiation, has become, more than likely, a long, drawn out war focused in the east of the country. 

“We just have to brace ourselves for a long campaign,” explained Daria Fedotova, a contributor to the European Conservative who lives 20 kilometres north of Kyiv. “It’s unlikely that Ukraine will be conquered anytime soon and it’s unlikely that Ukraine will throw Russia out anytime soon.”

Fedotova and her family have been safe on their ancestral estate that luckily remained out of the direct line of fire during Russia’s attempt to take Kyiv. She watched fighter jets and helicopters fly over, and occasionally saw one get hurled down from the sky by anti-aircraft guns, with the danger that it would land on a nearby home. 

Now things have become quiet. Russia retreated from Kyiv in mid-April after reaching the outskirts of the city. Fedotova believes they are safe for the foreseeable future.

“It is improbable that they will try to attack Kyiv again because it will take too much effort,” she explained.

In its wake, though, Russia left not only damaged infrastructure but the dead bodies of thousands of civilians. Possible war crimes committed by Russian troops in the town of Bucha near Kyiv are currently under investigation by the United Nations. 

Now the fighting has concentrated in the east, principally in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, from where it seems Russia hopes to create a land connection to the Crimean Peninsula which it illegally annexed in 2014. There the fighting is intense and the targeting of civilian infrastructure ruthless.

“Cities in the east have been demolished,” Fedotova said.

The port town and important industrial city of Mariupol became the international poster child for the destruction wrecked by the Russian invasion. The city fell to Russia near the end of May, after Russian airstrikes destroyed not only military targets but practically all of the city’s residential buildings and infrastructure. Images circulated around the world of residents who did not manage to escape, forced to burn fires for heating and cooking in the open air of bombed-out buildings. Evidence of mass graves have also been found, pointing to a level of death that has yet to be fully accounted for. Since Russia took over the city, it has plundered it for what remains, taking out ship loads of metal and wheat.

Now, according to Fedotova, the eastern front seems to be at a stalemate, with gains and losses on both sides. 

Fighting and winning a long campaign will not only require the tenacity and morale that have been Ukraine’s greatest strengths, but also a continued supply of arms from other countries which Ukrainian forces have relied on to defend the country. 

“I think if the West keeps sending arms, we will win,” Fedotova said. “If it doesn’t, we will still win, I think. It will just take longer.”

At the moment, that support continues to come through. On Wednesday, June 1st, the United States announced a new $700 million weapons package for Ukraine, including high mobility artillery rocket systems that can hit targets as far away as 80 km. It’s a compromise, as Ukraine had asked for a more sophisticated system that could hit targets at even further distances. This gift also comes with the stipulation that the weapons not be used on targets inside the Russian border. 

European countries have been divided on sending Ukraine deadly military supplies. 

It also now appears that some European leaders are willing to see Ukraine lose some sovereignty, if it will bring an end to the war. Ukrainians baulk at the suggestion, made by French president Emanuel Macron in May, for example, and reiterated by Henry Kissinger at the Davos Economic Forum, that Ukraine should cede some of the disputed territory in the east to Russia to end the fighting.

“There have been these ridiculous ideas from European leaders that we should cede some of our land but that’s not going to work. It’s never worked,” Fedotova asserts a common Ukrainian sentiment. “They are not going to stop. They are never going to stop. We just don’t see the point really.” 

The devastation of civilian targets, the emerging evidence of massacred civilians, and the targeting of Ukrainian cultural sites show that the Russian invasion is not, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has asserted, a pointed military operation to free Ukraine from a neo-Nazi oppression, but rather a direct attack on Ukrainian national and cultural sovereignty.

While Ukrainians are, on the one hand, ready to sustain a long war, on the other hand, they are naturally weary. 

“As for the Ukrainian morale, people are beginning to get a little bit tired. Not to the point that they don’t believe in victory, but they have to give attention to their lives, at least in peaceful regions like central and western Ukraine,” Fedotova said.

In Kyiv, life has flowed back to a certain normalcy. Many of those who initially fled have returned, and the city has come back to life. Cafes, restaurants, and small businesses have reopened, as has the opera house.

Still, the effects of the war continue to oppress civilians throughout the country in the continuing fuel shortage. This impacts not only the mobility of individuals but also supply chains. Fedotova hasn’t experienced food shortages and thinks it’s unlikely that would happen given the country’s agricultural capacity. Though Russia has targeted both agricultural lands and food supplies for destruction, even if agricultural production were reduced to as little as 30% of usual harvests, the country would still be able to feed itself, she assured.

“We’re not going to starve,” she said. “There’re no food shortages. We are seeing less choice, brands that aren’t available.”

At this point it seems likely that agricultural production will be around 80% of the pre-war capacity. The main problem she worries about is logistics. The fuel shortage and other problems make truck and plane transport difficult, and trains are now dedicated to moving military supplies and arms. 

These logistical problems caused by the war will also have repercussions in those countries that rely on Ukrainian wheat and fertiliser, particularly countries in Africa. The Black Sea is the principal transportation route to get cereals and agricultural inputs out to foreign markets, and it is currently blocked by the Russian navy. Millions of tons of cereals are simply sitting in storage in Ukraine.

The stored grain is perhaps symbolic. While Ukraine fights, much of the rest of the world is operating its own campaign of trying to find alternative sources for everything from wheat to oil in another long, slow movement that will, in one degree or another, change how the current international order works. 

Bridget Ryder is Spain-based writer. She has written on politics, environment, and culture for American and international publications. She holds degrees in Spanish and Catholic Studies.