Ukraine’s humanitarian crisis heightened as war claims more civilian lives

By Cierra Southard
March 14, 2022

What was pitched as a “special military operation” is now the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II, with thousands of lives lost and millions fleeing their homes, news reports show.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been met with protests, criticism and uncertainty around the world. Billions of people around the globe, including in Russia, have hit the streets in protest of this unpopular and controversial war.

Even more people are concerned with the potential that this conflict could expand, dragging the U.S. and its other powerful western allies into direct conflict and starting a potential nuclear war. 

What many predicted to be a quick and successful invasion for Russian President Valdimir Putin, quickly turned into the largest war in Europe since World War II. While they have encountered numerous snags along the way, Russian troops are slowly gaining more traction, capturing cities and launching barrages of missiles and airstrikes on uncaptured cities such as Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Opposing them is a ragtag group of remaining Ukrainian soldiers and volunteer fighters, desperate to protect their cities and homes. 

Map showing the advances (in pink) that Russian soldiers have made as of March 10. The blue lines are the defending Ukrainian forces. Graphic by The New York Times

So how did we get here? 

During the 17th century through the early parts of the 20th century, Ukraine had been controlled by Poland, Austria-Hungary and Russia. From 1917 to 1921, Ukraine had become an independent country. However, in 1922 the Soviet Union took over Ukraine and incorporated it into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR.) In 1991, Ukraine became an independent country once again. 

In December 1994, the Budapest memorandum was signed. The Budapest memorandum is a composition of three identical political agreements signed to provide security assurances by its signers pertaining to the addition of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The memorandum was originally signed by three nuclear powers: the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States. 

The memorandum prohibited the nuclear powers stated above from threatening or using military force or economic coercion against Ukraine, Belarus or Kazakhstan. As a result between 1993 and 1996, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine gave up their nuclear weapons. Before this, Ukraine had the world’s third-largest nuclear weapons stockpile. 

Fast forward to 2014, when mass protests in Ukraine forced their president closely allied with Putin, out of office. Russia opposed the EU membership for Ukraine and annexed the Crimean peninsula, a breach of ​​which placed Russia in violation of the Budapest Memorandum.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO expanded eastward and approached closer to Russia borders near Moscow. In 2008, it stated that it planned to enroll Ukraine someday. 

Putin viewed the advances of NATO and the potential of Ukraine joining the alliance as a threat to Russia. Since his 22 years in office, he has been rebuilding his military forces and reasserting its geopolitical clout. He also has insisted that Ukraine is fundamentally a part of Russia, both culturally and historically. 

“Putin’s end goal is to restore as much of the old Soviet Union’s power and boundaries as he can while keeping NATO and the EU out of the Russian sphere of influence,” Dr. James Hedtke, a political science professor, said. 

Putin presented NATO and the United States in Dec. 2021 with a set of written demands, one of which being a guarantee that Ukraine would never join NATO. With the potential of Ukraine joining NATO, Putin saw his opportunity to strike now before it could happen.

Hedtke went on to say that historians and political scientists focus on only what has occurred, not what might happen.

“What I can tell you is that the Soviet Union or Russia has never invaded a NATO country since its inception in the late 1940s,” he said. 

On the night of Feb. 24, 2022, Russia first struck Ukraine. 

With Putin’s main goal to take control over Ukraine and its democratic elected government, it’s unknown how far he will go. If Putin were to attack a NATO country, Hedtke said that it would trigger the collective security agreements in Article 5 and lead to another World War.

The ripple effect 

This conflict has caused thousands of casualties, including many that were unarmed civilians and has caused a migration of over 2.5 million Ukrainian citizens fleeing their homes.

Even though this war is still only isolated in Ukraine, its ripple effects can be felt around the world. Global gas prices and other goods have skyrocketed since Russian boots have stepped onto Ukrainian soil. 

In retaliation for the invasion that Putin is orchestrating, NATO members and their allies have placed economic sanctions on Russia to attempt to slow down its economy to a crawl. Most western companies, including tech giants in Microsoft, have either withdrawn from or have shut down operations in Russia. Some others include Starbucks, Ikea, McDonald’s, H&M, Nike and Shell amongst many others, hoping to financially cause strain on Putin and stop his invasion. The pullouts can be viewed as a protest against Russian and in support of the Ukrainian people. 

Conversely, many Russian and Russian-owned businesses have been forced to freeze operations internationally. Roman Abramovich, Russian owner of Chelsea Football Club, decided to sell the team after backlash regarding the invasion. The double-whammy of international businesses freezing operations in Russia and Russian corporations being forced to shut down overseas has severely crippled the country’s economy. 

With millions of Ukrainians fleeing their homes, a humanitarian crisis has emerged as many are seeking asylum in European countries such as Germany and Poland. President Biden has advocated for the U.S. to accept refugees. However, it’s unclear just how many Ukrainians will take shelter in the U.S.  

Cierra Southard

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