500 days of war: How the Russia-Ukraine conflict has unfolded

500 days of war: How the Russia-Ukraine conflict has unfolded

Key moments since a war with significant global consequences erupted in February 2022

By Burc Eruygur

ISTANBUL (AA) – The Russia-Ukraine war is now in its 500th day, with no end currently in sight.

It began in February 2022 and has resulted in the deaths of over 9,000 civilians and injuries to more than 15,700 people, according to the latest UN figures.

Additionally, more than 6.3 million Ukrainians have become refugees, forced to flee their country.

Over the past 16 months, significant events have occurred on both the Russian and Ukrainian sides, leading to major shifts in the conflict and impacts on the global stage.

Here are the key moments of the war over the past 500 days:

- ‘Special military operation’

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the start of a “special military operation” in Ukraine, three days after saying that Moscow would recognize Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions as independent states.

The global response to Putin’s announcement was overwhelmingly negative, with Western countries slapping Moscow with what would be the first of many sanctions.

- Push for Kyiv

In the initial phase, Russian forces made significant advances toward Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.

Fierce clashes occurred in Irpin and Bucha, with the latter gaining global attention as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of committing war crimes there, a claim denied by Moscow.

In late March, Russia announced it would “radically reduce activity” in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions, while Ukraine said on April 2 that it retook control of the entire Kyiv region.

- Control of Zaporizhzhia

On March 4, Russian forces gained control of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant and one of the biggest in the world.

Moscow and Kyiv have since regularly accused each other of shelling the plant and its surroundings, stoking fears of a nuclear catastrophe.

- Moskva sinks

On April 15, Russia said the Moskva, the flagship vessel of its Black Sea fleet, sank while being towed during a storm.

Moscow said the ship was damaged when a fire broke out on board, leading to the explosion of munitions.

Ukraine claimed it struck the strategically valuable vessel in a missile attack.

- Grain deal in Istanbul

Türkiye, the UN, Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement in Istanbul on July 22 to resume grain exports from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports that were suspended due to the war.

Under the deal, a coordination center was established to conduct joint inspections at entrances and exits of harbors and ensure the safety of routes.

The deal, which was initially set for a period of 120 days, has been renewed several times over the course of the past year.

- Partial mobilization in Russia

On Sept. 21, Putin gave his nod for partial mobilization in the country for the first time since World War II, under which 300,000 Russians between ages 18 to 50 would be called up for military service.

- Unilateral annexation of Ukrainian regions

Putin declared the unilateral annexation of four Ukrainian regions – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – on Sept. 30.

The announcement came after pro-Russian authorities conducted referendums in the regions on Sept. 23-27.

The international community, including Türkiye, the US and several European nations, condemned the “sham referendums” and refused to recognize their validity.

In response, Zelenskyy signed a decree declaring Russia’s annexation of the four regions, as well as the 2014 annexation of Crimea, null and void.

- Kerch Bridge blast

On Oct. 8, a massive explosion damaged the Kerch Bridge, a key passage linking Russia and Crimea.

At least three people were killed in the blast, which Putin said was a “terrorist attack” carried out by Ukrainian intelligence, claims that Kyiv neither confirmed nor denied.

- Targeting Ukrainian energy infrastructure

Russia started launching missile strikes on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure on Oct. 10.

Putin said the strikes were in response to the Kerch Bridge explosion and other “terrorist attacks” that he blamed on Ukrainian intelligence agencies.

- Russia’s Kherson withdrawal

On Nov. 9, Russia ordered its troops to withdraw from Kherson, a port city in southern Ukraine, to the left bank of the Dnieper River.

Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said the decision was taken to save the lives of Russian soldiers.

Two days later, the Defense Ministry announced that Russian forces had completed their withdrawal across the river.

- Zelenskyy heads to the US

On Dec. 21, Zelenskyy visited the White House, his first overseas trip since the start of the war, for crucial talks with US President Joe Biden and senior American officials.

During the visit, the Biden administration announced the transfer of the first Patriot defense system to Ukraine as part of a new $1.85 billion military aid package.

- Ukraine corruption scandal and government reshuffle

Zelenskyy announced on Jan. 23 plans to reshuffle officials at different levels in ministries, administrative bodies, and law enforcement agencies.

The move aimed to strengthen the state and address allegations of widespread corruption. In the following days, several Ukrainian officials either resigned or were dismissed from their positions.

- Germany’s Leopard boost

On Jan. 25, Germany yielded to international pressure and gave the green light for its allies to supply Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine.

Both Kyiv and Western nations had been pushing for the move, asserting that the tanks would be crucial to counter an expected Russian spring offensive.

- Drones above the Kremlin

On May 3, Moscow said it had shot down two Ukrainian drones over Putin’s Kremlin residence, calling it a “terrorist” plot to assassinate the Russian president.

Zelenskyy flatly denied any involvement, emphasizing that Ukraine's focus was on reclaiming its own territories rather than attacking foreign nations.

- Battle for Bakhmut

On May 21, Russia declared full control over the city of Bakhmut, an important transport and logistics hub in the Donetsk region, which is situated within the predominantly Russian-speaking industrialized Donbas region.

Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials were quick to deny Russia’s claims of capturing Bakhmut.

- ‘Ukrainian sabotage group’ in Belgorod

The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region claimed on May 22 that a “Ukrainian sabotage group” had entered the area, saying Russian forces and other government services were taking measures to “eliminate” the threat.

Ukraine has since then purportedly launched a series of attacks on Russia’s border regions, notably Bryansk and Belgorod, including drone and artillery strikes and raids by paramilitary groups.

- Russia-Belarus nuclear pact

On May 25, Russia and Belarus signed a deal on the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus.

The agreement specifies the conditions for storing these weapons in a dedicated facility. Moscow said the decision was taken in response to what it described as an “extremely sharp escalation and the activity of NATO's joint nuclear missions.”

- Kakhovka dam explosion

Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for blowing up the Kakhovka dam on June 6, which flooded surrounding areas and forced thousands of people from their homes.

Moscow accused Ukraine of attempting to cut off fresh water to Crimea, while Kyiv claimed that Russia blew up the dam to slow down an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive.

- ‘Counteroffensive and defensive actions’

On June 10, Zelenskyy declared that Ukraine had launched a counteroffensive and was also taking defensive actions.

Ukrainian officials have since then said their forces have regained control of several areas, claims that Russia has denied and cannot be independently verified.

- Wagner rebellion

On June 24, the Wagner paramilitary group accused Russian forces of attacking its fighters, moving them from Ukraine to the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

Russian authorities labeled it “an armed rebellion” and initiated a criminal case, while President Putin denounced it as an act of “treason.”

The very next day, Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin and his fighters were 200 kilometers (125 miles) away from Moscow when they decided to retreat to avoid violence.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko acted as a mediator, saying he engaged with Prigozhin to help the two sides reach a quick solution.​​​​​​​

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