24 February 2022: Russia invades Ukraine
Today, the Culture Re-View is looking back to this day just one year ago, when war returned to Europe.
The motivation behind Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has been debated since before the war even began. Some point to European promises to the Russian state over the establishment of NATO, others question Putin’s own sentimentality for the old borders of the USSR.
When Putin invaded Crimea and Russian-backed paramilitaries seized the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Russia in 2014, it placed many Ukrainians in constant fear of the day Russia would expand its sights for the rest of the country.
Those fears grew in 2021 when Putin ordered military forces to start amassing at the Ukrainian border. In early 2022, foreign diplomats were pulled out of the country and Russia declared Donetsk and Luhansk as Russian republics.
On this day in 2022, the Russian army advanced.
At first, the situation for Ukraine looked dire. Despite Putin’s refusal to call his invasion an act of war, opting instead for the term “special military operation”, the Russian forces were brutal in the Ukrainian onslaught. Missile strikes pelted the country as forces honed in on the capital, Kyiv.
There was a moment where it looked like Kyiv would fall in a matter of days. The tragedy of Ukraine falling into Russian hands can’t be overstated. Since its separation from the USSR, Ukraine’s trajectory has set its sights on becoming a country economically and socially aligned with Western Europe more than its neighbour. It was well on the way to achieving that.
But Kyiv didn’t fall. Of the many lies that Putin has espoused around the war, perhaps it was his manufactured narrative of Ukraine as a country without an identity that would embrace Russian forces that has proved most dramatically untrue. Ukraine’s response to the war has been one of unity in the identity of the Ukrainian people. At the centre of that identity is the remarkable figure of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who’s galvanization of his people through its darkest hour has turned him into an international star.
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The power of that sense of Ukrainian identity has also propelled its army to resist the Russian invasion. Putin’s forces have been pushed back, with the tide turning on the war significantly in September when Ukrainian forces started backing the Russians into a corner.
Despite that, Ukraine has suffered astonishing losses in the past year. Cities like Mariupol and Kharkiv have been devastated beyond recognition. Estimates of casualties range but it’s believed that around 40,000 Ukrainian civilians and 100,000 Ukrainian forces personnel have been killed in the past year.
The impact of the Russo-Ukrainian War is widespread. From the Western sanctions on Russia to the worldwide effort to provide Ukraine with arms to resist attack. But for the rest of the article, it’s worth focusing on the impact the war has had on Ukrainian culture.
War and Culture
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of the ways Euronews Culture has covered the impact of the war on a country that is brimming with its own unique identity and art scene.
There’s Sasha Anisimova, an artist who uses images of wartorn Kharkiv to create alternate realities visions of a life without war.
With an incredible song and the continent’s backing, the Kalush Orchestra led Ukraine to victory at last year’s Eurovision Song Contest. The tradition of the winning country hosting the next year’s competition unfortunately can’t be followed and Ukraine’s winning year will be celebrated from Liverpool in the UK later this year.
Unsurprisingly, Volodymyr Zelenskyy was named TIME’s Person of the Year.
Banksy’s artwork in Ukraine has grown in popularity, to the extent that a recent charity sale of his prints was attacked by Russian IP addresses.
As the war rages, UNESCO has raised concerns about the long-lasting damage to some of Ukraine’s great heritage sites.
We took a look into the ways Ukrainian literature has changed since the initial Russian invasion in 2014.
People from outside the country have all flocked to learn the Ukrainian language on the Duolingo app.
Ukrainian short films have been celebrated at a London film festival, while Vienna and Berlin recognise the country through street art.
And finally, the show must go on. Theatre has continued in Ukraine, with a major Kyiv theatre reopening to sold out performances, opera returning as strong as ever, another theatre running shows in an underground cellar, and theatres in the UK bringing Ukrainian stories to light.