It has been a year since Russian President Vladimir Putin first ordered what he called a “special military operation” in Ukraine, launching an offensive attack that has killed tens of thousands and caused millions of civilians to flee.
Over the past 12 months, The Globe and Mail’s reporters and photojournalists have filed extensive coverage from cities and towns in Ukraine, Poland and the surrounding areas. They’ve captured key moments of the war, including the early hours of Russia’s invasion, Ukraine’s refugee crisis, the Mariupol siege, the Bucha massacre and more. They’ve spoken to families torn apart by the war, people fleeing their homes and soldiers witnessing the horrors of the battlefield.
For the Feb. 24 anniversary, we take a look back at how the first year of war has unfolded.
On Feb. 24, 2022, Russia began invading Ukraine from three directions – with air strikes targeting cities across the country and troops advancing toward Kyiv – in an attack on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War.
The Globe’s Mark MacKinnon and Nathan VanderKlippe reported from Kyiv and Orlivka, near Odesa, during the assault’s early hours:
As the threat of a battle for the capital grew, tens of thousands of Kyiv residents packed their lives into cars and headed toward the relative safety of Western Ukraine, and the European Union beyond. The exodus created hours-long traffic jams that stretched to the horizon.
Russian troops also pushed into Ukraine from the east – in the direction of Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv – and from the south, pushing toward the city of Kherson from Crimea, which Russia seized and illegally annexed from Ukraine eight years ago.
Read the full story on Russia’s full-scale invasion.
The Globe’s Paul Waldie travelled to the border crossing at Przemysl, Poland, and spoke to Ukrainian refugees who had mere minutes to pack before fleeing from their homes. They shared stories about the items too precious to leave behind:
Martha Bas stuck to the basics as she madly flung things into her bags. “Only medicine, warm clothes for children and documents,” she said, noting that the medicine was just in case one of her two children got a fever on the journey. They left everything else behind, including two pets — a parrot and a hamster. Beyond what little she brought, “we just have God.”
Read the full story on the things they just couldn’t leave without.
Mark MacKinnon wrote about the complex mission to evacuate Ukrainian children with cancer and bring them to Poland:
In one of the most complicated evacuations likely ever managed from a war zone, 73 Ukrainian children suffering from cancer were rescued from besieged cities around the country and driven across the border into Poland on Tuesday. The sick kids – along with their mothers and siblings, 173 people in all – reached the border in a police-escorted convoy of four buses and seven ambulances… “It’s sad that we have to leave Ukraine, but there is no choice because the children must finish their treatment,” said Yana Vorobyova, the mother of two-year-old Nikita, who suffers from acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Read the full story on the dangerous evacuation.
In April, Russian troops began a broad attack on eastern Ukraine and committed likely war crimes in Bucha where hundreds of civilians and prisoners of war were found dead – with their hands tied and gunshots to the backs of their heads. As of April 21, 2022, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had recorded 5,381 civilian casualties in the country.
Mark MacKinnon reported on the scenes from a Ukrainian morgue in the city of Chernihiv, where the refrigerator trucks were overflowing and bodies had to be piled on stretchers:
Yuriy Fenenko was stoically recounting the statistics, flipping through pages of handwritten notes about the hundreds of bodies that have arrived at the Chernihiv regional morgue since Russia’s war on Ukraine began. Then he broke down. When the forensic pathologist’s tears finally came, they came in waves. “Usually it’s okay, we smile, we even laugh and enjoy ourselves. But then we start to remember,” he said. The bodies, like the bad memories, keep coming.
Read the full story on the horrors from within Chernihiv’s main morgue.
Amid the chaos of war, Oleksandr Sydielnikov and Svitlana Maistruk were married in Lviv, making a statement of national solidarity and manifesting their hope for the future.
Nathan VanderKlippe reported from a city that saw couples defiant in the face of separations and literal darkness:
The ceremony took place before flags emblazoned with the golden trident of the country’s armed forces, and Mr. Sydielnikov found his mind drifting far from the centuries-old frescoes of the church ceiling. He thought about his parents, unable to attend because they are living under Russian occupation in the Zaporizhzhia region. He thought about war and its many fears. He fought to keep back tears. “But still I was happy,” he said. “I was thinking we are showing them that we are alive – and you will not defeat us. You will not kill us. It was very emotional for me.”
Read the full story on this beautiful act of protest.
In May, more than 260 defenders of the Azovstal steel mill, one of Europe’s largest, were overrun by enemy troops and were taken to Russian-occupied territory. Nathan VanderKlippe spoke to many of their loved ones, who worried about where they’d been evacuated, and what would happen once they got there.
Nearby, the strategic port city of Mariupol – synonymous with shattered buildings and thousands of deaths – also fell under Russian control. Mark MacKinnon spoke to former residents who reflected on the once-flourishing community, the harrowing tales of escape and everything that was lost:
Before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched this war, the city was emerging from its smoggy industrial past to become one of the cultural capitals of eastern Ukraine. It was a growing high-tech hub, a place of trendy beer bars, feisty independent news media and a proud LGBTQ community. Residents were proud of what they were building…. Today, the Russian flag flies over a destroyed Mariupol. Former residents are left only with memories of the city they knew, and the harrowing tales of how they escaped.
Read the full story on the Mariupol siege.
In June, 168 Ukrainian refugees departed from Poland on a chartered flight to St. John’s.
The federal government introduced a special visa program that allows Ukrainian refugees to stay in Canada for as long as three years – and Newfoundland has been eager to encourage as many as possible to settle in the province, Paul Waldie reported:
The flight to Canada was also something of a dream come true for Serhii Firsikov, 30. “When I was 10 years old, my mom asked me ‘What do you wish?’,” he recalled. “And I said, I want to live in Toronto.” He’s now sold on Newfoundland because of a passion he’s developed for whales and peaceful living. “We realized that we wanted some kind of family city. That’s why we decided to go to Newfoundland. We’re super thankful for this.”
Read the full story on the Newfoundland flight.
The city of Bucha began its rise from the ashes after Russian occupation. Nearly 90 per cent of the city’s residents had left town while the Russians were there. But many started to return in June, Paul Waldie reported:
Ludmila Sikorska, 42, has emotional scars from the occupation. She spent 19 days in the basement of her house in a neighbouring village with her husband and four-year-old son. They fled after their neighbour was beaten to death by Russian soldiers… But now Ludmila is back, determined to prove that Bucha can rebuild and that this city’s legacy won’t be the horror story that the world has come to know. She reopened [her] shop for the first time this week since the war started, and she’s once again welcoming many of her regular customers. “Step by step, we are coming back,” she said as she looked around the tidy shop that has a small Ukrainian flag over the counter.
Read the full story on Bucha’s signs of renewal.
In July, the Ukraine refugee crisis had grown to millions. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said, as of July 4, 2022, that more than 5.2 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded across Europe. By July 25, more than 1.2 million Ukrainian refugees had been recorded in Poland.
Paul Waldie reported on an 83-year-old Pole, with a deep-seated suspicion of Ukrainians that stemmed from the Second World War, who took in a Ukrainian mother and teenage daughter fleeing the fighting.
The unlikely pairing of Andrzej Krolicki and Olha Voronetska should have been doomed from the start. How could their differences and blunt opinions co-exist? Wouldn’t intolerance drive them apart? That hasn’t happened. Somehow this combination of personalities, nationalities and generations has not only survived, it has thrived.
Read the full story on this unlikely refugee pairing.
In July, The Globe’s Janice Dickson also reported that Ukrainian civilians were being taken from their homes and interrogated by Russian soldiers for weeks in Ukraine’s Donetsk region:
Vitalii Donchevskyi and his wife, Valentyna Churikova, were at home sharing a meal when Russian soldiers burst through the front door. They were rounding up men and forcing them to undergo a process known as filtration…. The soldiers wrote down Mr. Donchevskyi and Ms. Churikova’s names. Then they told Mr. Donchevskyi to pack his things. “I didn’t know what would come next,” he said in a recent interview. “I heard people had been taken for a day, or two days, maximum 10 days, but no one knew.”
Read the full story on these detained Ukrainians.
In August, the sixth month of war, the crisis at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant came to a head.
The plant, one of the largest nuclear power stations in the world, became the focus of safety concerns since Russia seized it in March.
Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned about the potential for a nuclear disaster. The plant was shelled several times in August, and a decision to shut down the reactors was made in September.
The city of Zaporizhzhia holds a special significance for Canadian Mennonites. The community thrived there for generations until Soviet persecution forced many to flee to Canada. When Russia invaded Ukraine, many Zaporizhzhia locals turned to Canada’s Mennonite community for help, Paul Waldie reported:
In many respects, the war has revived some of the worst memories of Mennonite history here; the decades of Soviet oppression that eradicated almost all traces of Mennonites in this area. It’s only since Ukraine’s independence in 1991 that there has been some revival of this once-vibrant community. Canadian Mennonites have become intricately involved in bringing the culture back to life and offering support. “That was one of the reasons we went back, to help those who need help,” said Louie Sawtzky, a project director at the Winnipeg-based Mennonite Benevolent Society (MBS), which operates the Mennonite Family Centre in Zaporizhzhia. “It’s a tribute to our ancestors and our forefathers.”
Read the full story on how Ukraine’s Mennonite heartland received help from Canada.
Six months into the Russian invasion, Janice Dickson reported on commercial surrogacy agencies who are doing brisk business by pairing Westerners who can’t conceive on their own with Ukrainians who need money more than ever – but also live with danger by staying in the country:
On a warm day in Lviv this summer, Olena suggested that it’s hard to say whether she would have gone through with the surrogacy had she known war was coming. “I do understand from the moral side, it’s of course hard because of the responsibility,” she said – responsibility not just for her own family but also for the baby. But being a surrogate has saved her and her family from poverty and debt, she added. “I need to raise my children, I need to feed them and the war is taking money not giving.”
Read the full story on Ukraine’s surrogate mothers.
The beginning of September marked a turn in the tide of the war. Ukraine celebrated military gains in the south and east, including the liberation of several towns that had been under Russian occupation. Mark MacKinnon wrote that Russia’s military looked weaker than at any time since the start of the invasion:
For the first half-year of this war, Ukrainians lived in constant fear, wondering where and when the Russian military might strike next. But as the conflict nears the 200-day mark, it’s Russian troops who are suddenly in disarray, caught off guard by a pair of Ukrainian counteroffensives.
Read the full story on how Ukraine managed to turn the tide of the war.
In September, Mr. Putin ordered a partial mobilization of military reservists. Janice Dickson reported that Ukrainian men, aged 18 to 35, in Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk started to fear for the future and flee to avoid conscription:
Sasha Alexander Tarasenko and his mother drove to Ukrainian-held Zaporizhzhia through a series of Russian checkpoints, telling soldiers a made-up story that she needed to travel for surgery. The cover worked. The real reason for their hasty departure was to get out of occupied territory before Moscow’s widely expected annexation of four regions of southern Ukraine following what it called referendums there. His mother was at the dentist when she heard about the referendums. She said her hands shook when she imagined that her son might be taken away as part of Russia’s military mobilization.
Read the full story on the referendums in these Russian-occupied areas.
In October, Mr. Putin celebrated his 70th birthday while power outages and constant air raid sirens became a normal part of life for Ukrainian residents.
During the month, Russia concentrated its attacks on Ukraine’s power, water and heating infrastructure. The country was also rocked by a series of strikes that damaged 18 power stations, including one in Kyiv that supplies electricity to 350,000 apartments.
Mark MacKinnon wrote about Mr. Putin’s setbacks as he turned 70 and why it is difficult to predict what he will do next:
Those who have studied Mr. Putin for years say he has become more unpredictable with age, adding to the danger that he will push the world to the brink of nuclear conflict as he searches for a way to salvage some kind of victory out of the war he launched against Ukraine.
Read the full story on Mr. Putin’s battlefield setbacks.
Paul Waldie reported on Russian soldiers who stripped Ukrainian schools of books and national symbols, and forced teachers to follow a curriculum dictated by Moscow, while occupying the Ukrainian city of Izyum for more than five months:
Tears welled up in Olena Andrushok’s eyes as she stood in the empty hallway of Izyum School No. 11 and surveyed the damage. Nearly all the classroom doors had been pulled off their hinges, and the matting had been ripped off most floors. Light fixtures were missing, radiators had been yanked from the walls, and a Russian missile had turned part of the building into a pile of rubble. The library shelves stood empty – every single book was gone. After 45 years at the school – as a student, teacher and principal – Ms. Andrushok, 51, saw the violations of the building as a personal loss. “For me it’s like my second home,” she said.
Read the full story on Ukraine’s toughest resistance.
In November, the war in Ukraine moved into its ninth full month.
During this time, Ukrainians won admiration around the world for their stoicism and defiance in the face of Russian aggression amid blackouts and missile strikes. But Paul Waldie reported on a sentiment that has emerged as the war drags on – a hardening from young Ukrainians toward those who have left the country and may never return:
Ask almost any Ukrainian and they’ll know someone who has gone abroad since the war began in February. Most sympathize with those who sought safety for their children or had no other choice. But there’s also a sense of resignation, and in some cases anger, that many young people simply won’t return, leaving the country with a massive loss of talent just when it’s needed most.
Read the full story on the national reaction to Ukraine’s exodus.
In December, Mark MacKinnon and photographer Anton Skyba followed the stories of eight Ukrainians who had been living under siege throughout the year – documenting the monumental, intimate and sometimes surprising ways the war is changing their lives:
Dmytro Shatrovsky is amazed he’s alive. Seven months ago, he was lying in a field in southern Ukraine with a piece of shrapnel embedded in his head. Another chunk had struck his spine. The bloody scene was the picture of how Russia’s war against Ukraine was supposed to go: Few Ukrainians would resist the invasion Vladimir Putin had ordered, and those who did would be obliterated by superior Russian firepower. A pro-Moscow government would then be installed in Kyiv. None of that, of course, came to pass. Instead, it’s Russia that is on the retreat as the year draws to a close.
Read the full story on the war journeys of these eight Ukrainians.
In December, The Globe’s Eric Reguly spoke to Iryna Hazhev, a captain in the Ukrainian military, who credits her Canadian training for helping her evade Russian attack:
Already a veteran of war, Ms. Hazhev credits the Canadian military for honing her combat and survival skills. In the spring of 2021, she went through Canada’s Operation Unifier program at the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre in Ukraine – training that would prove invaluable when she found herself in a horrific battle a year later… “The war was going on and I wanted to help my country,” she said. “I wanted to make a small contribution that can lead to victory for all Ukrainians.”
Read the full story on the Ukrainian military captain.
In January, Ukrainians’ Orthodox Christmas celebrations were dimmed as the war with Russia dragged into its 11th full month. A 36-hour Christmas ceasefire announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin was scorned by Ukrainian officials who said that the fighting hadn’t stopped. Meanwhile, Russia captured the town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine on Jan. 11. The victory marked the first significant battlefield gain for the invading forces after months of humiliating defeats.
Mark MacKinnon also reported on the hunt for the Russian bombers who targeted Ukrainian civilians in missile attacks in the cities of Dnipro and Kremenchuk:
As soon as Artem Starosiek heard that a Russian Kh-22 missile had slammed into an apartment block in his hometown of Dnipro, he immediately felt he knew who was behind it: Colonel Oleg Timoshyn and Russia’s 52nd Guards Bomber Aviation Regiment. Mr. Starosiek, the founder and CEO of Molfar, an open-source intelligence firm based in Dnipro, was already zeroing in on Col. Timoshyn and the unit he commands for their alleged role in a June blast that saw two Kh-22 missiles destroy a shopping mall in the city of Kremenchuk, killing 21 people.
Read the full story on the high-tech hunt.
February marks a year since Russian troops poured into the country from the north, east and south. In a single year, the invasion drove eight million people out of Ukraine. Paul Waldie and Anna Liminowicz followed the life-altering journeys of 19 refugees who left in the war’s first weeks:
Millions of families faced an agonizing decision: stay put and hope the bombs wouldn’t kill them or leave and rebuild their lives somewhere else. Many had no choice. Their homes were already destroyed and their livelihoods ruined. Others had to weigh splitting up, after Ukrainian officials barred adult men from going abroad. In the last 11 months, eight million Ukrainians made the decision to leave. The vast majority of them are women and children. Some found the separation from home too difficult and went back. But most have stayed away and tried to start over.
Read the full story on their “life, upended” journeys.
In February, Eric Reguly also reported on how the Ukrainian military is overhauling captured pieces of Russian equipment – mostly tanks and infantry fighting vehicles – so they can be used to fight the country that built them:
The maintenance battalion of the 14th Separate Mechanized Brigade, which is in charge of the covert operation, refers to the captured Russian armour as “trophies” or “lend-lease” vehicles, the latter a playful reference to the Second World War program that saw the U.S. supply Britain and the Soviet Union with convoys of military aid. “I am eager to fix Russian equipment,” said Ruslan Anatoliyovych, a senior soldier in the maintenance battalion. “It boosts our morale to send Russian equipment back to destroy Russians.”
Read the full story on the covert shop.
Since the Russian invasion began a year ago, photographers Anton Skyba and Anna Liminowicz have been in and around the conflict zone, sharing the stories of people fleeing from, fighting in and scarred by the war They share their most memorable images:
In March 2014, I was standing in the central square of my home city of Donetsk, in Eastern Ukraine. As I photographed people gathering under the Ukrainian flag, I couldn’t have imagined where my photojournalism journey would take me. One image I captured that day rapidly became the most memorable picture of that pro-Ukrainian protest. In time, the yellow-and-blue flag became not just a symbol of a nation, but one of freedom as well – a freedom Ukraine is still protecting on frontlines and in trenches nine years later.
Read the full story on the war images that will stay with them forever.