The first explosions were heard near Kyiv mere minutes after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a “special military operation” in Ukraine exactly one month ago.
The attacks from Russian forces — by air, by sea and on the ground — have barely stopped since Feb. 24, becoming more intense and brutal by the day. Thousands have died, millions have fled, and cities have been turned into ruins. Yet through it all, Ukrainian fighters have held on and pushed back against what experts say is a demoralized Russian military.
“I mean, we wouldn’t be talking about this as an ongoing war at this moment if it hadn’t been for the Ukrainian will to resist, which completely caught the Russians off guard,” said Allen Sens, a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia who studies military operations.
Where Russian forces have pushed in Ukraine
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As the invasion enters its second month, Russian advances toward Kyiv and other cities are stalled by Ukrainian resistance. What was supposed to be a quick toppling of Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government and military has now become a prolonged struggle, with signs of more destruction and death to come.
Here’s how Ukraine and Russia got to this point, how the West has gotten involved, and what could come next.
In his announcement on Feb. 24, Putin vowed to “demilitarize and denazify” Ukraine, while promising Russia was not interested in occupying the country.
Yet Ukrainian officials quickly reported attacks on border checkpoints and military infrastructure in the first hours of the invasion. Large convoys of Russian troops and equipment advanced toward the capital of Kyiv and other major cities in the northeast and south.
As shelling and air strikes hit military airfields, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said civilian areas were already being hit during the first few days, including a residential tower in the middle of Kyiv.
The capital was also placed under a curfew after “saboteur” groups were reported within the city, which were later alleged to be mercenaries there to assassinate Zelenskyy.
The president has remained in Kyiv throughout the war, sometimes hiding in underground bunkers with key advisers and security forces.
Civilians were quickly asked to join the fight, with the military and defense ministry distributing instructions on making Molotov cocktails while distributing weapons to those able to travel to the front lines.
Within days, reports emerged that the Russian convoys outside Kyiv and other cities had been stalled by Ukrainian surprise attacks, poor terrain and bridges destroyed by Ukrainian forces. Russian forces were also facing food and supply shortages as the campaign stalled.
Sens points to the foiled Russian takeover of the Hostomel Airport outside Kyiv within the first 72 hours of the invasion as a key moment that showed Russia would have to change its tactics.
“That was the moment when the Russians had to realize that their attempt to quickly strike the government and overtake it wasn’t going to work,” he said.
“That repeated all over Ukraine in several cities, which forced the Russians back, only for them to return and up their attacks.”
Civilian attacks increase
By the beginning of March, the United Nations estimated that at least 1 million people had fled Ukraine after heading to Lviv, a western city that has so far seen relatively few attacks.
At least 2.5 million more have since escaped for neighboring countries like Poland as Russia increased its bombardment of cities like Kharkiv, signaling a new phase of the war. Sens says the tactic is meant to terrify citizens into surrendering, which has been seen in past Russian sieges, including in Syria.
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The world’s attention soon shifted to the southern port city of Mariupol, which the Russians intend to capture in order to secure a land bridge from Crimea to Ukraine’s east.
On March 10, a Russian airstrike hit a maternity and children’s hospital while pregnant women were still inside. At least three people were killed, including a woman whose baby also died soon after being born.
A week later, a theater that Mariupol officials said was sheltering about 1,300 civilians was bombed. Satellite photos showed the word “CHILDREN” was written in Russian outside the building.
By Tuesday, Zelenskyy and other officials said most of the city has been reduced to “ashes.”
Ukrainian officials are investigating other reported crimes against civilians, including the alleged killing by Russian troops of 10 people waiting in a bread line in Chernihiv, which has also been bombarded.
Some cities have been fully occupied by Russian forces, including Kherson in the south. At least two mayors have reportedly been abducted and replaced by pro-Kremlin officials, in the cities of Melitopol and Dniprorudne.
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In the last days of the invasion’s first month, attacks have increased on Kyiv, destroying grocery stores and high-rise buildings in several neighborhoods. The mayor said Wednesday that hundreds of civilians have been killed.
Overall, the United Nations says 977 civilians have been killed as of Wednesday. Ukraine’s General Prosecutor’s Office says that number includes 121 children. Thousands more civilians have been injured.
Yet the Ukrainian resistance has remained proud. NATO estimated Wednesday that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed since the war began. Zelenskyy said nearly two weeks ago that about 1,300 Ukrainian servicemen had been killed.
How the West has responded
Immediately after Ukraine was invaded, Western nations including Canada, the United States and Europe placed unprecedented sanctions on Russia’s economy and key government and military officials — including Putin himself.
The Russian ruble quickly plummeted to a record-low value, as Russian banks were cut off from the international SWIFT system and key industries were targeted. Western businesses like Apple and McDonalds cut ties and ceased operations.
None of these actions appear to have deterred Putin, however, forcing countries to shift toward helping the situation on the ground while maintaining pressure on Moscow.
West shifting from sanctions to Ukrainian military aid as war intensifies: experts
The West has sent billions of dollars worth of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, including weapons. These included anti-tank and anti-air systems that have proven key to Ukraine’s resistance.
Canada alone has poured over $35 million into weapon and equipment shipments, while the US and Europe have answered the call for Javelins, Stingers and other, more devastating weapons.
NATO allies have so far refused to send even larger equipment like fighter jets to Ukraine, amid fears that such a move would be seen as a direct provocation of Russia by the West.
That fear has also forced Western leaders to deny Zelenskyy’s most urgent request: a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
Where does the war go next?
The Institute for the Study of War and other military experts have said the war is looking increasingly like a stalemate, where the two sides continue to suffer significant losses with no ground gained or lost.
Yet Sens says there remains the possibility for further escalation. He points to Ukraine retaking Makariv, a strategically important suburb outside Kyiv, from Russian forces on Tuesday as a significant moment.
“If that continues, and the Russians fall back and actually lose ground on multiple fronts, that would be transformative,” he said. “But that would also signal to Moscow, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re losing.’ And in that existential moment for Putin, what could come next could be terrifying.”
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The US and NATO have warned Russia is laying the groundwork for deploying a chemical weapon in Ukraine, which would violate international law and potentially lead to more Western involvement.
While Sens says the prospect of weapons of mass destruction being used is remote, “it’s still becoming more possible by the day.”
Peace talks between Ukraine and Russia that began shortly after the invasion began have continued, with Ukrainian officials calling them “contentious” while insisting they are moving forward. But deep divisions remain, as Moscow insists Ukraine demilitarize and commit to neutrality.
Sens says until movement in those talks becomes significant, the likelihood is strongest that Russia shifts into a third campaign that further increases the bombardment of cities, including Kyiv.
“There will be more death, there will be more bloodshed,” he said. “This will continue.”
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