The view from a blown up apartment building in Kyiv

Russia and Ukraine conflict explained: what is happening in Ukraine right now, and how you can help

On 24 February, Russia launched an attack on Ukraine which has been condemned by global leaders as “appalling” and “unprovoked”. Here’s the latest news from the conflict.

Updated 16 March: Ukraine and Russia have entered a fourth round of peace negotiation, with President Volodymyr Zelensky saying the talks are beginning to “sound more realistic”.

As the UN says 70,000 children every day have become refugees since the war began on 24 February and the total number of refugees from Ukraine has surpassed three million, Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said there are “fundamental contradictions” but “certainly room for compromise”.

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that the country has suffered more than $500 billion (£383bn) in damages since the invasion began, as a result of heavy shelling, air strikes and on the ground fighting.

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As reported on 28 February: Negotiators from Kyiv and Moscow have arrived at the Ukraine-Belarus border this morning to engage in peace talks on the fifth day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The main issue on the agenda, Ukrainian authorities have said, is a ceasefire and withdrawal of troops from Ukrainian territory.

However, in his address on 27 February, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that he didn’t expect a breakthrough decision to emerge from the talks – but said Ukraine should still use the chance even if it is small, so that no one can blame Ukraine for not trying to stop the war.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy
The Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made numerous addresses since the Russian invasion began.

In a video speech shared on social media, Zelensky asked the European Union to allow Ukraine to gain membership under a special procedure immediately.

“Our goal is to be with all Europeans and, most importantly, to be equal. I’m sure that’s fair. I am sure we deserve it,” he said.

Also speaking on Monday, the UN’s human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said that at least 102 civilians, including seven children, had been killed in Ukraine since the invasion began – but warned that the true numbers could be far higher.

What’s happening in Ukraine right now?

A residential building in Kiev destroyed by Russian missiles
A residential building in Kiev destroyed by Russian missiles

On day 21 of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, residents in the capital Kyiv have been placed under a 35-hour curfew as the city remains a target for heavy shelling, with air strikes killing at least five people yesterday (15 March).

Russian artillery and warplanes are continuing to pound cities and towns across Ukraine including Mariupol, a key port city in the south-east of the country. Russian troops are holding 400 people, including doctors and patients, “like hostages” inside a hospital in Mariupol, the deputy mayor said, with the city council estimating well over 2000 civilians have died.

Russian warships also fired missiles and a “huge amount of ammunition” at the Ukrainian sea coast “from a great distance” to the south of Odesa in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

On 15 March, Russia claimed control of the Kherson region, but didn’t make any advance to the key cities of Zaporizhya or Mykolaiv.

While the crucial cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv remain under Ukrainian control, Russian forces have been said to be just 20 miles from Kyiv, with satellite images previously showing a 3.25-mile-long deployment of Russian forces advancing towards the city.

Images shared on social media appear to depict the aftermath of the fighting, including burnt out armoured vehicles and empty streets.  

What is happening in Russia?

Marina Ovsyannikova, a Russian journalist, has been fined and released after she protested against the war in Ukraine on a live TV news programme and made an anti-war video.

An editor at state-controlled Channel 1, Ovsyannikova was detained after she ran on to the set on Monday holding a sign saying “no war”.

In the video, she called on the Russian people to protest against the war, saying only they have the power to “stop all this madness”. “Don’t be afraid of anything. They can’t imprison us all,” she said. She was later given a 30,000 rouble (£214) fine.

Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova was detained and fined for staging an anti-war protest on live television
Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova was detained and fined for staging an anti-war protest on live television

The financial turmoil in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is accelerating, with the Russian rouble crashing more than 40% after trading began on Monday in the wake of the sanctions being placed on the country.

Russia’s central bank more than doubled its interest rates to 20% and banned foreigners from selling local securities in a bid to protect the currency and economy.

This comes after trading on the Moscow Stock Exchange was suspended on Thursday following a sharp fall in Russian stocks after countries began to impose sanctions.

Police in Russia have also arrested more than 2,000 anti-war protestors across the country since the beginning of the invasion, according to the independent monitoring organisation OVD-Info, as thousands took to the streets in protest against Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch an attack. 

A protestor at an anti-war protest in Russia being arrested
Protestors in Russia have been arrested by police.

How did the war start?

Joe Biden speaking about the Russia attack
Joe Biden and other world leaders have described Russia's invasion as 'unprovoked and unjustified'.

For weeks, upwards of 190,000 troops and military vehicles have been reported along the Russia/Ukraine border before Putin announced a “specialised military operation” in the Donbas region in the south-east of the country on 24 February.

US president Joe Biden, prime minister Boris Johnson and other global powers condemned the ‘unprovoked and unjustified’ attack.

“I strongly condemn the appalling, unprovoked attack President Putin has launched on the people of Ukraine,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tweeted in response to the attack on 24 February.

“We stand with Ukraine and we will work with our international partners to respond to this terrible act of (aggression).”

How are other countries responding?

Boris Johnson
The UK government is sending military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

Following criticism of its previous refugee scheme, the government has announced plans to offer households in the UK  £350 a month for opening up their homes to people fleeing the war in Ukraine, allowing an unlimited number of refugees to enter the country.

More than 100,000 Britons have registered their interest in housing Ukrainian refugees since the scheme was unveiled on Monday. Secretary for Levelling up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove said it will allow Ukrainian refugees to be matched with a UK-based ‘sponsor’, who will be expected to provide rent-free accommodation for a minimum of six months.  

Previously, only people with “immediate family members” settled in the UK will be allowed to enter the country – making it impossible for many refugees to travel here.

As well as imposing strict financial sanctions on Russia, numerous countries are providing humanitarian and military aid to support Ukrainian troops and civilians.

On 25 February, US President Joe Biden instructed the State Department to release up to $350m worth of weapons from US stocks to Ukraine, including anti-armour, small arms, body armour, anti-aircraft systems and various munitions.

The UK has also contributed aid – on 23 February, Downing Street promised military support to Ukraine, including lethal defensive weapons, and later announced it would be sending £40m worth of vital medical supplies and assistance.

France, The Netherlands, Germany, Canada and Sweden are also among the countries sending support to the Ukrainian military. 

Several countries have also been providing support for refugees fleeing the country, with authorities in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova continuing to provide shelter, food and help to the Ukrainian people.

Why is Russia invading Ukraine?

A bombed building in the eastern Ukraine town of Chuguiv
A bombed building in the eastern Ukraine town of Chuguiv

According to Putin’s state television address, the attack is motivated by the “protection of the people who for eight years suffered from abuse and genocide from the Kyiv regime”.

“Moscow has been left with no choice but to defend itself,” he told citizens. “Whoever tries to stand in our way or create threats for our country and people should know Russia’s response will be immediate and lead you to consequences you have never encountered in your history.”

In response to the speech, NATO’s secretary general condemned Russia’s “reckless and unprovoked attack on Ukraine, which puts at risk countless civilian lives.”

General Jens Stoltenberg called the attack “a grave breach of international law, and a serious threat to Euro-Atlantic security,” before calling on Russia to “cease its military action immediately and respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Putin has previously questioned Ukraine’s right to independent statehood and condemned revolutions against him, like the one that took place in Kyiv in 2014.

On 21 February, Russia recognised two breakaway republics as independent ‘rebel’ states, and the military were deployed on a “peacekeeping mission”.

The invasion is being described as the culmination of the ongoing eight-years-long war between Russia and Ukraine, and will jeopardise years of diplomatic negotiations around the conflict and disrupt peace in the region.

In response to the attack, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on Thursday for all citizens who were ready to defend the country from Russian forces to come forward, saying Kyiv would issue weapons to everyone who wants them.

It is estimated that the ongoing conflict could lead to the possibility of up to 50,000 dead and a refugee crisis in the heart of Europe. According to the United Nations, in eastern Ukraine, 1.6 million of the 2.9 million people already in need are women, and women currently make up some 15% of Ukraine’s armed forces.

What could the invasion mean for the UK?

It has been suggested that while the conflict is likely to remain confined to Ukraine and Russia in terms of actual fighting, it may have some knock-on impacts for the UK and surrounding countries.

Many reports point heavily to rising energy prices, as the gas Russia supplies to Europe mostly comes through pipelines via Belarus, Poland and Ukraine.

While the UK isn’t as dependent on Russian oil as other parts of Europe, further tensions could disrupt flows but also wider supplies if Russia decides to cut Europe off in retaliation to sanctions.

According to the RAC’s fuel spokesman, Simon Williams, “Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine is already causing oil prices to rise and will undoubtedly send fuel prices inexorably higher towards the grim milestone of £1.50 a litre.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel also tweeted that the UK will be “especially mindful of the potential for cyber attacks and disinformation emanating from Russia” in the wake of the attacks.

“Be in no doubt there is work ongoing across government 24/7 to maximise our resilience to any such attacks, which would be met with a suitably robust response,” she confirmed.

How can you help Ukraine?

Since the conflict began, a number of donation appeals have been launched by charities via social media to help Ukrainians affected by the war.

According to Save The Children, even before recent developments, 400,000 children in Ukraine already needed support to stay safe, fed, and warm. It has launched an emergency fund to distribute essential humanitarian aid to children and their families.

Citizens wait to evacuate the city of Kiev
Citizens wait to evacuate the city of Kiev

United Help Ukraine, a charity that provides humanitarian aid and medical supplies for the people of Ukraine, is collecting donations towards the purchase of first aid kits and medical rehabilitation for injured soldiers.

Voices of Children is also providing support to children affected by the war in eastern Ukraine to enable them to overcome the consequences of armed conflict.

The British Red Cross has also launched an emergency appeal to help Ukraine.

You can register your interest for the Homes For Ukraine scheme here.

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Images: Getty

Photo of Ukrainian President by Presidency of Ukraine/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images