War crimes findings; new sanctions
New sanctions, protests mark one year since Russia invaded Ukraine
On a one-year anniversary since Russia invaded Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed to push for victory.
Scott L. Hall and Anastasiia Riddle, USA TODAY
One year ago today, Russian tanks first rolled into Ukraine, leveling buildings and destroying homes within miles of Kyiv and prompting a heroic defense that has transformed the war into to a deadly slog with no end in sight.
A Ukraine offensive took back some occupied territory. Now Russia has cranked up an offensive in its efforts to claim Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. Ukraine is expected to ignite its own offensive once modern tanks promised by the West become available.
Tens of thousands are dead on both sides, although formal totals have never been made public, and millions of Ukrainian refugees have flooded into Europe, which remains resolute in its support for the war-torn country, as has the United States.
“Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia. Never,” President Joe Biden declared from Kyiv on Feb. 21. The president announced a wave of new sanctions against Russia on Friday.
Both sides routinely claim gains but neither side has pushed the front line more than a few miles in any direction in recent months. Still, Dale Buckner sees a light at the end of the tunnel – for Ukraine.
Buckner is a retired Army colonel and CEO of McLean, Virginia-based Global Guardian, a firm that has helped thousands flee Ukraine. He says Ukrainian forces are inflicting crucial losses to Russia, and that the longer the war goes on, the more likely it is that Russia is defeated “with little to nothing to show for it in the end,” he says.
The United Nations estimates nearly 8 million refugees fled Ukraine since the invasion, 90% of them women and children, the U.N. High Commission on Refugees said. Fighting-age men are banned from leaving Ukraine.
“Every key metric of enduring warfare is to the Ukrainian’s advantage as we go into year two of the conflict,” Buckner told USA TODAY. “Morale, will, determination, commitment, combat power and most importantly, logistics.”
What we know after one year of Russia’s war in Ukraine
Here’s what we know about the state of the war in Ukraine one year after Russia’s invasion.
Just the FAQs, USA TODAY
‘WE NEED TO KEEP LIVING’: What life is like for Ukrainians a year into Russia’s invasion
►Neither side has released reliable numbers on their death toll, but estimates put the total at tens of thousands on each side. Last month, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, estimated that “significantly” more than 100,000 have been killed or wounded on each side.
►Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will host an online Group of Seven summit meeting Friday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
►A demonstration Saturday in Berlin will promote a leftist “manifesto for peace” in Ukraine and protest the government’s decision to supply Ukraine with tanks.
‘IT’S HARD BUT THEY’RE HOLDING ON’: On the ground in Ukraine, the war depends on U.S. weapons
The Biden administration announced sweeping new sanctions Friday against Russia on the one-year anniversary of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The administration will impose sanctions on 200 individuals and entities, which include both Russian as well as third-country actors in Europe, Asia and the Middle East that are supporting Russia’s war efforts.
In addition, the Department of Commerce will take several export control actions against nearly 90 Russian and third country companies, including in China, for sanction evasion. Tariffs will also be raised on more than 100 Russian metals, minerals and chemical products.
– Joey Garrison and Rebecca Morin, USA TODAY
In a tense diplomatic face off at the United Nations on Friday, Russia and Ukraine offered dueling moments of silence for war dead.
While Ukraine requested a moment for victims of Russian aggression, Russia’s ambassador requested a moment for all victims in Ukraine since 2014, which is when Russia invaded Crimea, ostensibly to liberate Russian-speaking residents there.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the meeting recalling his plea to the council for peace just before Russian troops and tanks crossed the border a year ago,
The U.N. chief lamented that “peace has had no chance” and “war has ruled the day,” unleashing widespread death, destruction and displacement and leaving 17.6 million Ukrainians, nearly 40% of the population, in need of humanitarian assistance and protection.
Neither Russia nor Ukraine have published formal death tallies from the fighting.
President Joe Biden met with leaders of the Group of Seven nations and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Friday as his administration announced sweeping new sanctions against Russia.
“One year ago, the G7 met following Putin’s assault against Ukraine,” Biden wrote in a tweet. “Now, not only does Ukraine stand, but the global coalition in support of Ukraine is stronger than ever, with the G7 as its anchor.”
In the nearly hour-and-a-half-long meeting, the leaders discussed coordinating assistance efforts for Ukraine.
— Rebecca Morin
DIG DEEPER: Biden announces sweeping new sanctions against Russia one year into Ukraine war
The U.N. High Commission on Refugees said it and its nonprofit partners have conducted more than 650 humanitarian convoys, and it remains worried about the impact of war on Ukrainian children.
In particular, the UNHCR said in a report, it has concerns about the displacement of children who have left Ukraine for safety in other countries but who are now at risk for losing their culture while potentially facing trafficking and abuse. Within the country, the UNHCR said, it has concerns about access to education and socialization for children living in a war zone.
“The situation in Ukraine remains highly volatile with continuous violence and destruction, forcing the population to flee inside the country and abroad on a scale not seen in Europe for decades,” the commission said.
Russia’s invasion has sparked reports of war crimes, including a formal finding by the Biden administration earlier this month.
But Miloš Ivković, an international law advisor and arbitrator who teaches the subject at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, said there has been no real movement toward the criminal prosecution of Russian government actors for the past year. He said the crimes occurring in Ukraine are of such a magnitude that the obligation to act goes far beyond the current sanctions already imposed by many countries.
“International law in these circumstances requires immediate action,” Ivković said. “All those countries who refuse to act, who refuse to commence or support criminal proceedings can be held accountable, and they act effectively…in furtherance of the crime. Hence, are supporting the crimes themselves.”
The Conflict Observatory, a program supported by the U.S. Department of State, found in their independent report that the Russian government has been using 43 facilities to relocate Ukraine’s children, sometimes miles away from their homes — and “re-educate” them to become pro-Russia. Some of these children are also put up for adoption to Russian families, according to the report, which was produced along with the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab.
“Russia’s systematic efforts reflect decisions made and actions taken at all levels of the Russian government,” the State Department said in a statement. “Mounting evidence of Russia’s actions lays bare the Kremlin’s aims to deny and suppress Ukraine’s identity, history, and culture. The devastating impacts of Putin’s war on Ukraine’s children will be felt for generations.”
Yale’s research identified dozens of Russian Federation officials and others who played a role in relocating and deporting Ukrainian children.
The State Department said it “will pursue accountability for Russia’s appalling abuses for as long as it takes.”
—Tami Abdollah, USA TODAY
Jeff Levine, a former U.S. ambassador to anxious Russian neighbor Estonia, says he is confident that as long as Ukraine is willing to keep fighting the U.S., Europe and NATO will remain firmly behind the battered nation. But Levine warns that the near future likely will bring more of of the punishment Ukraine has experienced during the past year.
“Putin has been unable to turn the war into a ‘frozen conflict,’ which means he will continue his efforts to damage and destabilize Ukraine,” Levine said. “Until a combination of battlefield losses, Russian domestic opposition, economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation and international pariah-state status force him to abandon his effort.”
Buckner said Russia still has fire superiority and well-trained and equipped troops in the fight. But thus far there has been no sufficient buildup of Russian forces to execute a largescale offensive.
“At best, it will be a tit-for-tat exchange in the short term with neither side executing a decisive victory,” Buckner said.
Hanging over the Russian invasion is the threat of nuclear weapons. The United States and its allies have been reluctant to provide Ukraine with offensive weapons, like fighter jets and tanks, in large part because they worry an escalation of fighting could prompt Russia to strike back with nukes.
In an Opinion article for USA TODAY, retired U.S. Gen. Wesley Clark argued that Ukraine should aggressively push into Crimea, which Russia forcibly annexed in 2004. Crimea was part of Ukraine until then, and Clark argued a sustained offensive would force Russia to the negotiating table. Clark, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, argued that Ukraine and its allies must develop a concerted strategy and move quickly.
“Delay enables Russia to strengthen its military and its military production and perhaps have greater success in evading Western sanctions. It also increases the risks of Chinese military assistance to Russia or Chinese action against Taiwan,” Clark wrote. “The combination of powerful Ukrainian offensives into Crimea plus the growing mobilization of the West’s military-industrial base will, in a sense, maintain the incremental strategy that has emerged: NATO will not engage in hostilities, the United States will not become a belligerent, there will be not an attack by the West on Russia, and there will be no sudden escalation to trigger Putin’s nuclear forces. It also is the best means to promote meaningful negotiations, and the most expeditious way to end the war successfully, for Ukraine and the West.”
‘WE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME’: Displaced Ukrainian children risk erosion in school, mental health
The Donbas region city of Bakhmut has been the scene of intense fighting for weeks. Drone video footage of Bakhmut shot for The Associated Press shows the longest battle of the war has turned the eastern Ukraine city into a ghost town. The footage, shot Feb. 13, shows no people. But Bakhmut had a prewar population 80,000,and authorities say thousands of residents have refused or been unable to evacuate. Entire rows of apartment buildings have been gutted; outer walls are left standing and the roofs and interior floors gone.
The struggle has become lore for Ukrainians. The track “Bakhmut Fortress” by Ukrainian band Antytila, has racked up more than 3.8 million views.
“Mom, I’m standing,” they sing. “Motherland, I’m fighting.”
Multiple Western nations led by the U.S. have agreed to provide Ukraine with tanks featuring technology superior to tanks produced and used by Russia. Buckner says tanks can be a game-changer, allowing the Ukrainians to go on the offensive again and break the stalemate that has existed since the fall, when Ukraine executed several counter attacks and took back large swaths of terrain.
Buckner says he believes the war will end with a negotiated settlement as the Russian military is drained by unsustainable personnel and equipment losses and Putin loses support at home.
“Western tanks will be a key factor over the long term, enabling the Ukrainians to win,” he said.
Germany is pledging to send another four Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, a decision that it says enables it to put together a full battalion for Kyiv along with Sweden and Portugal.
In addition to tanks, Western countries have provided Ukraine’s fighters with billions of dollars worth of weapons and war material, including kamikaze drones, bullets and pricy GPS-guided artillery shells that allow soldiers to hit targets 26 miles away with 3-meter accuracy.
Those guided shells, known as Excalibur projectiles, can cost about $70,000 each. USA TODAY reported earlier this week that one Ukrainian unit fired 60 artillery rounds in a single morning.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has warned the war is increasingly becoming a “battle of logistics” and has said the military alliance should step up its supply of ammunition to help Ukraine. Stoltenberg’s comments echoed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s now infamous comment, “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”
U.S. officials say international sanctions have deteriorated Russia’s capacity to replace more than 9,000 pieces of military equipment lost in the war, including about half of its tanks, as indicated by its requests for Iran and China to assist.
Across Ukraine, residents remain stalwart, even though they’re constantly worried about their friends, family and the fate of their country, said Fabrice Martin of the international aid group CARE.
“There is this mix of strong determination and a will to resist, but the levels of anxiety are also very high,” said Martin, speaking with USA TODAY from Lviv, near the border with Poland.
Based in Switzerland, CARE works with volunteers, in particular Ukrainian women, to distribute food and other supplies from the front lines to cities far from the fighting. Martin said CARE moved its operations from Kyiv to Lviv, about a 7-10 hour train journey away, to help reduce the amount of time workers spent hiding from missile attacks. Still, he said, it’s clear no matter where you go in Ukraine that the war is never really that far away.
“You find yourself asking, ‘Am I going to have light when I switch on a lamp?’ It reminds you that you are a country at war,” he said. “The grab bag has to be ready. We have to adapt. But there is an acceptance of the risk. Because without that, you can’t work.”
Martin said he’s watched in amazement as many Ukrainians have rebuilt their social lives, despite the fighting, as soldiers are granted leave from the front lines, and cafes and bars have reopened and stabilized. But he said CARE is working carefully to help Ukrainians, especially children, deal with the trauma they are suffering daily. He said in past conflicts, disorders like PTSD have taken years to surface in kids, and CARE hopes to help Ukrainian children now, to help with longterm recovery.
He added that as a society at war, Ukraine is generally not a place where people immediately feel comfortable talking about mental health issues caused by the invasion, including children who are living in bomb shelters with no access to the playground equipment and little chance for consistent education.
“This type of support is exactly what the people need: Hope,” he said.
CARE has assisted about 1 million Ukrainians, and reports that the country has seen nearly 800 healthcare facilities damaged or destroyed, and more than 2,500 schools and other educational sites damaged or destroyed. CARE has used donations to help pregnant people, offered job counseling and language classes for people relocating outside Ukraine, and hired Ukrainian women to teach refugee children studying in Polish schools.
“The resilience of the Ukrainians is extremely high. They have a very high level of imagination and of finding solutions. They have an amazing capacity to adapt and continue running,” he said. “But you also have this social pressure where you can’t express your distress.”
Salam Aldeen, a veteran refugee and rescue worker, said he’s seen a shift over the past year, as some people who initially fled have returned home. Aldeen, the founder of Team Humanity, recently ended his extraction efforts in Ukraine after helping about 14,000 people flee the war, mostly to Germany via Moldova.
He said despite the ongoing fighting, fewer and fewer people want to leave, believing the tide is turning in the war. But he said rampant rumors about military developments, along with frustration about how international aid is being delivered, prompted him to wind down Team Humanity’s effort in Ukraine.
“People are tired of war,” he added.
Russia’s invasion helped strengthen ties between other European countries, particularly tiny Moldova. Formerly part of Romania, Moldova is one of the smallest and poorest European countries, and Russia has long stoked tensions there, much as it did in Crimea and then Ukraine before invading.
Moldova last summer formally requested entry into the European Union, a process that will take years. But the request itself indicated the country’s willingness to further align itself with powerful pro-democracy nations that have opposed Russia, including Germany.
Moldova is in a precarious situation, however: More than 1,000 Russian troops are stationed in a breakaway section of the country known as Transnistria bordering Ukraine, which is also home to an estimated 20,000 tons of Soviet-era weapons, ammunition and explosives left behind from the Cold War.
Most of the soldiers are locals paid by Russia, which also subsidizes the breakaway area’s economy. Moldova can’t join the EU until it resolves its rift with Transnistria, and many experts worry Russia could use Transnistria as a staging area to strike Ukraine or Moldova itself.
In a video statement, Moldovan President Maia Sandu reiterated her country’s full support for Ukraine: “Your enemy is ruthless but Ukraine is strong and you are not alone. The world has your back.”
The Ukrainian can-do spirit is visible everywhere, from the front lines of the battle to the cafes in Kyiv. One high-profile example is Alexander Kamyshin, who runs the national railway system. Kamyshin takes great pride in pointing out that virtually all of the country’s trains run on time despite the war, and playfully teases other railroads when they announce weather-related delays.
Despite the war, Kamyshin recently reconnected Ukraine with neighboring Moldova, and explained how freight exports are helping fund the war effort.
His rail system played a key role in Biden’s recent visit to Kyiv abard a train that Kamyshin dubbed Rail Force One, although he couldn’t help but point out Biden’s presence meant Ukrainian trains “only” arrived on time 90% of the time that day due to security precautions.
The sanctions announced by Biden further tighten the net around Russian oligarchs who have benefitted from Putin’s rule.
On Friday, the Justice Department announced it was seeking to seize six luxury properties in New York and Miami worth $75 million that federal agents say are controlled by oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. His $90 million yacht Tango was among the first seized last year by anti-corruption agents.
Biden’s sanctions against Russians are being led in part by the federal “Task Force KleptoCapture,” which has seized yachts, homes and money it says are owned or controlled by oligarchs through shell companies.
Oligarchs often transfer their money to friends and family in an effort to avoid U.S. money-laundering sanctions, experts told USA TODAY. Because the Russian economy is imperiled, they prefer to park their money in real estate in more stable countries by creating complicated networks of shell companies to hide its origin.
Along with Friday’s sanctions announcement, the Justice Department also announced criminal charges against a Russian fugitive accused of illegally buying and exporting American-made electronic equipment, computer software and gas detectors for use by Russian and North Korean agents.
Contributing: The Associated Press
A deeper dive
• ‘We need to keep living’: What life is like for Ukrainians a year into Russia’s invasion
• ‘It’s hard, but they’re holding on,’: On the ground in Ukraine, the war depends on U.S. weapons
• ‘We will never be the same’: Displaced Ukrainian children risk erosion in school, mental health
• ‘Kyiv stands strong’: Biden declares Putin ‘was wrong,’ marks one year of Russia’s war in Ukraine
• Putin suspends nuclear arms treaty while lashing out at West over Ukraine war
• Joe Biden makes surprise visit to Ukraine ahead of Russian invasion anniversary, walks streets of Kyiv
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