Thousands dead. Millions forced to flee. Cities and towns reduced to ruins. A world on the brink of deeper conflict.
A year after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, the war on Europe’s doorstep is showing little sign of easing. If anything, Putin’s unwillingness to back down and NATO’s continuing support of Ukraine is setting the stage for many more months — even years — of uncertainty.
On the eve of the war’s first anniversary, U.S. President Joe Biden travelled to the capital Kyiv and promised that the West “stands with you” and marvelled at Ukraine’s resilience, which was not guaranteed in the conflict’s earliest days.
“One year later, Kyiv stands,” he said. “And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands.”
And on the day of the anniversary itself, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the past year has proved the world is resolute in standing up to Putin’s “evil.”
Here’s how Ukraine, Russia and the world arrived at this point after a year of death, cruelty, compassion — and ultimately, survival.
Phase 1: The battle for Kyiv
Within minutes of Putin’s declaration of a “special military operation” on Feb. 24, 2022, explosions are heard across Ukraine, including in Kyiv and other major cities.
Russian troops enter Ukraine from the shared eastern border as well as from Belarus in the north and Russian-annexed Crimea in the south. Western intelligence says Russia plans to encircle Kyiv and topple the democratically elected government.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declares martial law and orders a full military mobilization, calling on all citizens who are willing to take up arms. He begins to film and release daily videos of himself and his advisors in the streets of Kyiv, vowing to remain in the country.
Russian efforts to approach Kyiv are blocked by Ukrainian fighters who retake surrounding villages and airports captured by Russian forces. Kyiv’s government declares nightly curfews amid reports of “saboteurs” spotted infiltrating the city.
LISTEN: Artem Soleiko, a member of the Ukrainian Armed Forces who was deployed to Kyiv when the invasion began, describes the frantic first few days of fighting as Russia tried to overtake the city.
Meanwhile, Russian shelling and missile attacks destroy government and civilian infrastructure across the country, including apartment buildings. Residents are forced to take shelter in subway stations and basements as air raid sirens blast multiple times a day.
Meanwhile, western nations led by the United States and Europe impose heavy economic sanctions on Moscow and open themselves up to hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Early attempts to reach a negotiated peace agreement make little progress, as Putin insists Ukraine demilitarize and commit itself to not pursuing NATO membership — a position Zelenskyy’s administration refuses.
In early March, Russia captures and occupies Kherson and the surrounding province in southern Ukraine, its first major win of the war. The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, is also attacked and overtaken, sparking fears of a nuclear disaster.
Yet Russian forces face stiff resistance elsewhere.
A lengthy column of military vehicles that was headed for Kyiv is stalled, leaving it open to Ukrainian attacks. Ukrainian resistance fighters also dig in to slow down advances toward Kharkiv, Mariupol and other major urban centres.
Russia bombards those and other cities, leading to some of the earliest large-scale attacks on civilian targets, which have continued throughout the war.
In Mariupol, a maternity hospital is bombed, followed by a theatre housing hundreds — despite satellite photos showing the word “CHILDREN” was written in Russian outside. Missiles hit Lviv, a western city serving as a safe haven for refugees, for the first time.
At the end of March, having lost control of nearby towns and failing to make inroads elsewhere, Russian forces begin to pull out of Kyiv and the surrounding area.
The Kremlin announces it will refocus its efforts on “liberating” the eastern Donbas region, where Moscow-backed separatists have fought since 2014.
As Russia pulls out of the Kyiv region, the destruction its forces left behind becomes clear to the rest of the world — including more civilian atrocities.
In Bucha, bodies of people in civilian clothes are found in the streets showing signs of being killed at close range. Mass graves are also discovered, sparking worldwide condemnation.
Peace talks appear to reach an impasse as Russia denies evidence of the massacre.
Residents begin to return to cities and towns they fled at the start of the war, finding only devastation where the homes once stood.
LISTEN: Olena Mykulska, a resident of Irpin, describes returning to find the remains of her home along with her family.
Attacks continue in Mariupol — where Moscow is seeking to establish a land bridge to supply its dwindling forces — and across the country, but grow deadlier in the east as Russia shifts its focus.
A bombing at a train station in Kramatorsk, in the disputed Donetsk province, kills 52.
On April 13, Ukrainian missiles hit the Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which sinks a day later in a significant blow to Moscow.
Phase 2: Russia shifts to the east
Russia holds its Victory Day celebrations in Moscow on May 9, where Putin delivers a speech condemning the West while declaring that Ukraine must be rid of “butchers, murderers and Nazis.”
The speech comes a day after Trudeau makes a surprise visit to Kyiv, meets with Zelenskyy and oversees the reopening of the Canadian embassy. His visit follows a slew of high-profile trips by western leaders.
In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters and remaining civilians are forced to take shelter inside the Azovstal steel plant as Russian forces force their way into the city following their months-long siege.
Ukraine announces on May 16 its forces would evacuate the stronghold. Hundreds of fighters surrender to Russia and are taken prisoner.
More advanced western military aid begins to arrive in Ukraine, including U.S.-supplied HIMARS multiple rocket launchers.
Missile attacks on Kyiv and other cities kill dozens of civilians. In the east, Russia takes more cities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, while Ukraine beats back Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
Snake Island, an early Russian capture, is retaken by the Ukrainians.
LISTEN: Victor Tregubov, a Ukrainian Armed Forces captain, describes what fighting against the Russians was like before U.S. military aid began to arrive. He has called the modern equipment “a game-changer” for Ukraine.
Russia claims to have taken control of the entire Luhansk province, forcing Ukraine to focus on defending Donetsk, the other portion of the Donbas sought by the Kremlin.
Russia and Ukraine sign agreements brokered by Turkey and the United Nations allowing for Ukrainian grain shipments to resume, ending a standoff that had threatened global food security. Russian shipments of grains and fertilizer are also unblocked.
Explosions rock a Russian military base in the annexed territory of Crimea, destroying several aircraft and ammunition depots.
Ukraine later claims responsibility after refusing to acknowledge any involvement. Zelenskyy voices support for the peninsula’s liberation, which had not been discussed previously.
Intense fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant renews warnings of an imminent disaster that does not come to pass after international experts are allowed in to repair damage to the plant.
At the end of the month, Ukrainian forces begin mounting a counteroffensive in the southern Kherson region.
Phase 3: Ukraine takes back territory
Ukraine’s counteroffensive begins in earnest.
Russian forces are forced to retreat from positions they held in the northeastern Kharkiv region. Zelenskyy visits the wartorn city of Izium to mark the recent victories.
On Sept. 21, Putin announces a “partial mobilization” of 300,000 reservists for the war in Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of Russian men flee for nearby countries and protests erupt across the country despite strict new laws against them.
Meanwhile, Russian forces stage so-called referendums in four eastern regions — Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — on joining Russia. Reports emerge that residents are forced at gunpoint to side with the Kremlin.
On Sept. 30, Putin and Kremlin-backed leaders of the four provinces sign documents officially annexing the regions from Ukraine. Most of the world refuses to recognize the annexations, declaring them illegal.
One day after Putin’s birthday, on Oct. 8, an explosion cripples the bridge linking Crimea to the Russian mainland.
Russia, blaming Ukraine for the blast, soon begins striking Ukrainian energy infrastructure across the entire country, knocking out power to millions as colder weather begins to take hold.
The strikes will last for months, threatening Ukrainians with a difficult winter.
Ukrainian counteroffensives continue to drive Russian forces from positions in the north, east and south.
Ukraine liberates Kherson, which Russia had held since March, forcing Moscow’s forces to abandon the strategically important southern port city.
Russia later launches renewed missile attacks on the city.
Heavy fighting continues in the east, as Russian forces attempt to encircle the Donetsk city of Bakhmut.
On Nov. 15, NATO is put on high alert after a missile crosses into Poland and hits the village of Przewodow, killing two people. Fears Russia had struck a NATO ally are soon proven false after the source is revealed to be a Ukrainian air defence missile.
Two airbases deep in Russian territory report attacks by Ukraine-launched drones, marking an escalation by Kyiv.
Zelenskyy visits Washington, D.C., in his first overseas trip since the war began. He meets with U.S. President Biden and addresses Congress, underscoring the need for further U.S. aid amid growing resistance from some lawmakers.
A day before the visit, Zelenskyy was on the front lines in Bakhmut to meet with Ukrainian fighters.
Biden vows to supply Ukraine with Patriot air defence systems to defend from ongoing attacks on its infrastructure.
As winter sets in, the front lines in the east are effectively frozen as both Russia and Ukraine regroup.
Just before Christmas, Putin uses the word “war” to describe the conflict for the first time.
He claims Russia wants to end the hostilities and is “ready to negotiate” with Ukraine, which is ruled out by Zelenskyy and the West, who point to ongoing attacks.
Phase 4: Renewed Russian offensive, increased aid
On New Year’s Day, a Ukrainian missile strike kills at least 89 Russian service members in the eastern city of Makiivka. Ukraine claims hundreds were killed.
Russia replaces its commander of the war effort for the second time in three months, with Valery Gerasimov becoming the fourth Russian military head in Ukraine since the invasion began.
Moscow claims it has captured Soledar, a salt-mining town near Bakhmut, where Russian forces are continuing to close in while battering the city.
Reeling from its loss of Kherson, Russia bombards the city with missiles, killing dozens.
Amid continued attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, a Russian missile destroys an apartment complex in the city of Dnipro, killing 45 civilians, including six children.
After weeks of pleading by Zelenskyy and opposition by Germany, western allies agree to supply Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks. The U.S. will send its own Abrams tanks to the front-lines.
Russia’s renewed offensive in the east begins, with an eye on seizing Bakhmut and other targets within the Donbas. Both sides report gains along the eastern front line, with little sign of progress.
As the first anniversary of the invasion nears, western nations pledge to continue supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes.
On Feb. 21, Biden makes his first visit to Kyiv and meets with Zelenskyy. Air raid sirens can be heard as the two appear together.
The next day, Putin announces he is suspending Russia’s participation in the New START Treaty, the last major nuclear arms pact between Moscow and Washington, and threatens the resumption of nuclear weapons tests.
Hours later, Biden delivers his own address in Poland, denying Putin’s claim the West is plotting to invade Russia and calling on the Kremlin to stop its war.