Although the winter months have slowed any major advances in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the heavy snow and rain permeating the ground has not put an end to the violence. Fourteen months after the surprise invasion of Ukraine, atrocious acts continue to occur throughout the frontlines, which have remained mostly the same since the campaign season ended and both sides dug in for the notorious Eastern European winter, according to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
The main flashpoint of this brutal war in recent months has occurred in the small town of Bakhmut. Once a thriving city, it is now decimated, with barely a single building standing. With each side only able to take blocks at a time, many sources including the Modern War Institute at West Point have begun referring to Bakhmut as this war’s Stalingrad–the infamous World War II conflict that lasted for five months and saw nearly 1.2 million deaths. During the eight-month Battle of Bakhmut, reports indicate that the paramilitary Wagner Group has perpetrated many violent war crimes against the Ukrainian forces there.
One of the most disturbing war crimes involved the execution of Ukrainian soldier Oleksandr Matsievskyi, according to The Guardian, who was forced to dig his own grave before being shot to death by multiple unknown Russian soldiers. This criminal act committed by the Russian forces is just a small microcosm of the incredibly large amount of war crimes that Ukraine and its allies are urging the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate. NBC News reports that as of May 31 of last year, Ukraine was pushing to prosecute over 14,000 separate war crimes and 600 individuals. That number rose to 65,000 instances in February 2023, according to CNBC News. In March 2023, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, as given by the ICC in a statement.
The war crimes that occurred throughout the first campaign season (usually from spring to fall, when armies can move without fear of winter) may soon increase in intensity again as both countries prepare to embark on new offensives. Ukraine has telegraphed that they are intending to make a full push for retaking the Crimean Peninsula, as CFR reports– a goal of the Ukrainian government ever since the territory was illegally annexed by the Russian Federation almost ten years ago in 2014.
Both nations will need a stunning victory in the coming months for either to change the direction of the war. Ukraine will need to either make a push into the Crimean Peninsula or the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, and push to their internationally recognized borders. For Russia to secure a victory, it must decisively destroy Ukrainian morale and rout any Ukrainian offensives that are mounted so that they can sue for an agreeable peace deal that sees international recognition of their military gains. While many analysts have predicted that an offensive by Ukraine would occur this spring, it seems much more likely now in the last weeks of April that there will instead be massive summer offensive from each country as they continue to consolidate and train new batches of troops to replenish the frontline forces that have been devastated in this war.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been a brutal one, and while many analysts predicted the war would be short, it has lasted through twelve months of largely unbroken fighting and conflict. No war is peaceful, of course, but the level of brutality carried out by the Russian army and Wagner Group within the country has been nothing short of catastrophic for the people of Ukraine. This summer and fall will be a formative campaign season, much as last year’s was, and time will tell how soon this war comes to an end.
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