Ukraine Quarterly Digest: April–June 2022
BY ANDRIAN PROKIP
The second quarter continued to be dominated by Russia’s war against Ukraine. Unable to conquer Kyiv, the Russian army withdrew from the northern regions of Ukraine, first massacring civilians in Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel, and focused its efforts on the Donbas region. The world received evidence of Russia's horrific violence against noncombatants and the facts of torture and mass murder. Russian troops continued carrying out acts approaching nuclear terrorism while creating conditions that could easily have led to nuclear disaster for the whole of Europe.
During this period, Kyiv saw a record-high number of foreign leaders visiting Ukraine to express support and discuss options for aiding Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invading forces. On June 23 the EU granted Ukraine EU candidate status, an important step on Ukraine’s long journey to full membership and achieving the dream of joining the West.
1. ROLLOUT OF THE WAR
General War Developments during April–June
After failing to seize control of Kyiv or to achieve any other important goals in any region of Ukraine, in April the Russian forces started withdrawing from the northern regions of the country, from Kyiv, Zhytomyr, Chernihiv, and Sumy oblasts.
The retreating forces mined roads and civil infrastructure. Despite rigorous efforts at mine-clearing, accidental explosions are still occurring, with many victims.
At the same time, Russia shifted its strategy, concentrating its army in Ukraine’s East, especially in the Donbas region, in an attempt to break Ukraine’s defenses there. In late May, hostilities in the Donbas ramped up to their highest level yet, with virtually nonstop firing on the line of contact as Russian forces tried to encircle and cut off Ukrainian forces. The Russian forces notched some achievements in their further encroachment on Ukrainian territory, though at a very slow pace: as of July 1, Russians controlled almost the whole of Luhansk oblast and half of Donetsk oblast. In addition, as of the end of June, Russians controlled almost all of Kherson oblast and a significant part of Zaporizhzhia oblast in the South.
The Ukrainian army saw some successes in the Black Sea, decreasing Russia’s chances of attacking from the sea and being able to land troops in Odesa and other coastal cities. In April Ukrainian forces attacked and sank the Moskva missile cruiser, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. In total, the Ukrainian army sank fifteen Russian ships and gunboats. On June 30 the Ukrainian army forced the Russians out of Snake Island in the Black Sea, a key site for controlling the region from a military perspective. However, Russia has other options, including using its fleet in the Caspian Sea to launch cruise missiles toward Ukraine.
The Ukrainian army also had some success in de-occupying part of Kharkiv oblast during April–June. But in late June, Russians started tightening pressure on the region.
Ukraine still has not started counteroffensive operations to liberate its occupied territories but plans to do so when possible. In part, its military operations must align with receipt of weapons from Ukraine’s Western partners. Right now the Russian army has twenty times more weapons in the Donbas than the Ukrainian army, and artillery plays a key role in battlefield strategy. In late June, the U.S. multiple-launch rocket systems HIMARS, capable of firing at long-range distances, were already in use on battlefields. The systems have been able to penetrate Russian positions with high precision and at less risk to Ukrainian operators.
Even though the army has not officially started counteroffensive operations, partisan activities are taking place in the occupied territories. Partisans are killing the occupiers and collaborators, blowing up military warehouses and headquarters, and conducting sabotage operations and psychological operations.
The Kremlin’s Position Regarding the War
Despite the Kremlin’s failure to achieve quick results in the war against Ukraine and the considerable losses the Russian army has sustained, its public position remains largely unchanged, though it constantly revises military targets and purpose. In late June, during his conversation with journalists, Vladimir Putin said that the key targets of the war have not changed but that the tactics may change.
Earlier, Putin said that the war was being conducted in compliance with international law. This, like many other statements made by Russian officials, provokes only surprise: population massacres, the kidnapping and killing of noncombatants, the destruction of civil infrastructure—none of this is in compliance with international law.
Population Massacres and Violence against Civilians
As Russian forces pulled out of Kyiv oblast in April, evidence of the mass killings of civilians started surfacing—in Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka, Hostomel, and other small cities in Kyiv oblast. According to official data from early July, more than 1,300 civilians were killed during the Russian occupation of Kyiv oblast. The search for those buried in hastily dug graves is ongoing.
Russian officials have sought to deny any responsibility on the part of the Russian army for these civilian deaths, but satellite images have proved the opposite. The EU issued a statement accusing Russian authorities of committing mass crimes against civilians in Ukraine. In mid-April the Verkhovna Rada recognized the actions of the Russian Federation as genocide against Ukrainians. Later, the parliaments of Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Ireland approved similar statements. U.S. president Joe Biden and UK prime minister Boris Johnson issued similar statements.
Similar crimes are taking place in other regions that are under occupation, but it is impossible to know the exact number of murdered civilians. Official representatives of Mariupol city reported that thousands had been killed.
According to official statements, Russia has forcibly moved almost two million Ukrainians, including 300,000 children, from Ukraine to Russia, calling it an evacuation. Ukrainian law enforcement agencies have opened more than twenty criminal proceedings on the forced deportation of Ukrainians to Russia and Belarus.
Attacks on Civilian Infrastructure
From the very beginning of the war, Russian cruise missiles, air bombs, and artillery have been targeting and destroying civilian infrastructure, causing civilian deaths. As of the end of June Russia had fired more than 2,800 missiles at Ukrainian targets. Russian forces have also located artillery in the occupied territories to shell neighboring regions.
During the second quarter of 2022, Russians were targeting schools, hospitals, crowded shopping malls, crowded railway stations and other railway infrastructure, grain depots, residential buildings, police departments, water pump stations, oil refineries and fuel depots, a railway car repairing plant, centralized heating utilities, recreational and relaxation facilities, and more.
Azovstal and the Defense of Mariupol
On May 16 the General Staff commanded defenders of the Azovstal metallurgical plant to save their lives and stop the resistance. The servicemen left Azovstal, and 2,500 were captured by the occupying forces and later kept in the non-controlled part of the Donbas. Prior to that, the Azovstal defenders and Ukrainians in general had appealed to the world multiple times, asking for help in evacuating those who had taken shelter in the plant.
The defense of Azovstal started March 1. It prevented the capture of Mariupol city and the advance of 20,000 Russians to other parts of Ukraine. Azovstal became a symbol of heroism and resistance, as did Mariupol.
Despite public calls by some Russian officials not to proceed with an Azovstal prisoner swap, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs allowed it. In late June, ninety-five of the defenders (out of the 2,500 captured) returned home in a prisoner exchange.
Explosions in Russia along Ukraine's Border
Some Russian cities along the Ukrainian border have experienced unaccounted-for explosions, artillery attacks, and missile firings. Russian authorities usually try to blame Ukraine for these attacks.
Kyiv typically does not officially comment on these cases. In April, Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council stated that Russia inspired terrorist acts, then blamed Ukraine for them. Putin's spokesperson Vladimir Peskov, commenting on these explosions, said that they did not create good preconditions for peace negotiations.
After a couple of rounds of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine in late February and March, peace talks stalled completely by mid-May.
Russian foreign affairs minister Sergey Lavrov accused Ukraine of changing its negotiating position and demands on a regular basis. Lavrov also said there was no plan for a ceasefire during the talks. Russia’s demands of Ukraine, on the other hand, were completely unacceptable by a sovereign state.
Russia’s acts of violence in Bucha and other cities in Kyiv oblast changed Ukrainians’ attitude toward peace negotiations, as confirmed by President Zelensky. Peace talks seemed futile and Russia an untrustworthy counterparty. On the other hand, Kyiv was inspired by Ukraine’s battlefield successes and large deliveries of weapons aid from Ukraine’s Western partners to be tough in its demands at the negotiating table and hold fast to the nonnegotiable return of the occupied territories.
Engagement of Belarus
At the end of June, the Belarusian army was not directly involved in the war against Ukraine. The Kremlin would like Belarus to join the fight, but as of now, official Minsk seems to be trying to avoid unleashing war engagement by itself. Ukrainian intelligence officials reported that Russia planned military provocations in Belarus and terrorist acts to try to drag Belarus into the war. Aleksander Lukashenko charged the West with trying to entice Belarus into the war. In the midst of verbal charges and countercharges, the Belarusian Ministry of Defense on June 7 said it would start transitioning to wartime training.
The Russian army uses Belarusian territory for maneuvers and to launch cross-border missile strikes into Ukraine, both from the ground and from the air. Moreover, Belarus has started supplying ammunition to Russia. While trying not to be drawn into active combat, Belarus appears to be permissively partnering with Russia
In early June, President Zelensky said that Ukrainian intelligence did not have evidence of any risk of the invasion from Belarus. But Ukrainian intelligence did report that Russia had increased its military presence in Belarus. The military activity in Belarus has put pressure on Ukraine psychologically and militarily: Ukraine must station some of its forces along the border in case of attack. The length of the Ukrainian-Belarusian border is 1,084 km (674 miles), less than half the length of the Ukrainian-Russian border but still taking critical personnel from active operations for its defense.
Risk of Transnistrian Escalation
Just as there was some risk of escalation of hostilities from the Belarusian border, there was concern in Kyiv about possible provocations and attacks launched from Transnistria. In late April and early May, explosions were reported in Transnistria. The authorities of this unrecognized statelet on the Moldovan-Ukrainian border blamed Ukraine and Moldova for the explosions. As a result, Kyiv expected some sort of provocation that could be turned into a cause for escalation from the part of Transnistria controlled by Russia, but did not consider it a significant threat.
Russia continued its acts of nuclear terrorism in Ukraine. On April 1 the Russian occupiers left the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) but stole or damaged a massive amount of equipment. Russian forces have remained at the Zaporizhzhia NPP, which has 6 GW of installed capacity, making it the biggest in Europe. The occupiers are holding hostage some Ukrainian plant operators. Some workers were kidnapped, and some were killed. In April, Russian forces tried to seize control of this south Ukrainian facility. Representatives of the Russian Rosatom corporation are also present at the power plant, trying to take full control of it.
In May, Russian deputy prime minister Marat Khusnullin announced a plan to connect the Zaporizhzhia NPP to the Russian grid and use the power plant for Russia’s own needs. The occupiers plan to take control of the plant starting September 1. Disconnecting the plant from the Ukrainian power system and reconnecting it to the Russian system would seem to be extremely complicated, and likely undoable at all in wartime.
Russian cruise missiles have sometimes flown over nuclear power plants at low latitude, which poses a huge risk of damaging the plants and unleashing a nuclear disaster. In June, Russian forces shelled the nuclear research facility in Kharkiv again.
In late June, the occupying forces thought to stop the operation of cooling systems at the Zaporizhzhia NPP on the pretext that the plant’s personnel were storing weapons and ammunition in the cooling water pools. Any suspension of cooling in summer could trigger a nuclear accident at the biggest NPP in Europe.
Top-Level Pillaging by Russia
It was not only Russian soldiers that looted home appliances in Ukraine, sending them back home. Chechen units, Buryats, and war adventurers have also been pilfering. Russian officials cancel any criminal responsibility for such thefts. Besides, Russia seems to embrace a policy of small- and grand-scale looting, organizing the stealth of grain, iron ore, and metal products from Ukraine.
2. INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
International sanctions against Russia should be an important part of efforts to contain Russia and stop its war in Ukraine. Ukrainian officials have devoted significant effort to promoting these sanctions and protecting Ukraine.
In late March an international group co-chaired by Andriy Yermak, head of the Presidential Office, together with international experts established a group tasked with analyzing the impact of sanctions against Russia and investigating the numerous ways Russia tries to evade sanctions. In May an international consulting group, co-chaired by Andriy Yermak and Anders Fog Rasmussen, former NATO secretary-general, was created in Kyiv. It is tasked with developing recommendations for reliable and efficient security guarantees for Ukraine.
In late April, a diplomatic mediation mission by UN secretary-general António Guterres during his visits to Moscow and to Kyiv ended without any positive result. Indeed, Russia conducted missile strikes against Kyiv during Guterres's visit to Ukraine.
Relations with Russia during the War
On April 9, Ukraine imposed a full trade embargo on Russia. In mid-June, Ukraine introduced a visa regime for Russians wanting to visit Ukraine, effective July 1. At the same time, Russia simplified the issuing of Russian passports to Ukrainians living in the occupied territories.
Relations with the EU and with Other European States
Representatives of most of the European states visited Ukraine during the second quarter of 2022. The meetings often included showing the visitors evidence of Russia’s violence in Ukraine, and the visitors bringing a message of support and discussing future aid to Ukraine in its war with Russia.
On April 8, a high-level EU delegation headed by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, EU minister for foreign affairs Josep Borrell, and Slovak prime minister Eduard Heger visited Ukraine. The visit of these top leaders was intended to offer moral support, particularly in the investigation of massacres of civilians by Russian forces, and financial support to, in the words of President Von der Leyen, help Ukraine “emerge from the war as a democratic country.”
Boris Johnson, one of Ukraine’s biggest allies and supporters in the war with Russia, visited Kyiv twice while prime minister of the UK, on April 9 and again on June 17, without announcement. Despite the risks, both leaders walked the central streets of Ukraine’s capital.
In mid-April the presidents of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland visited Ukraine. Later, on May 22, Polish president Andrzej Duda returned to Kyiv and gave a speech to the Ukrainian parliament in which he pledged to open the border between the two countries and establish a new Ukraine-Poland alliance against Russia.
Mid-April saw Kyiv rejecting an intended visit by Germany’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, evidently preferring to host the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz. Kyiv had several reasons for not welcoming the president, including Steinmeier’s close relations with Russian foreign affairs minister Sergey Lavrov, his past advocacy of a policy of rapprochement with Russia, his strong support for Nord Stream 2, and other actions that Kyiv deemed brought him too close to Russian interests.
This led to some diplomatic unpleasantness and subsequent frustration in Berlin. In May, after German conservative opposition leader Friedrich Merz visited Kyiv and Irpin to view the destruction caused by the Russian army but Chancellor Scholz, who had also been invited, refused to go, Zelensky had a phone conversation with Steinmeier, ending the diplomatic tiff.
In mid-June, French president Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor Scholz, and Italian prime minister Mario Draghi traveled to Ukraine, bringing a message of European unity. Together with Romanian president Klaus Iohannis, they met with President Zelensky in Kyiv.
Relations with the United States
The United States remains Ukraine’s key partner in the war against Russia. U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken and U.S. defense secretary Lloyd Austin visited Ukraine on April 24. First lady Jill Biden made an unannounced visit to western Ukraine in May, meeting with first lady Olena Zelenska on Mother’s Day in a classroom not far from the Slovakian border.
The United States is the largest source of military aid to Ukraine. On May 9, President Joe Biden augmented this aid with the signing of the Lend-Lease Act, expediting $40 billion in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
On April 26, the defense ministers of more than forty countries met on the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in Germany to discuss military aid for Ukraine. The meeting was hosted by the United States and attended by country representatives from both inside Europe and outside, including Israel, Australia, Kenya, and Tunisia, with representatives from South Korea and Japan attending virtually. The parties agreed to synchronize efforts to provide military aid to Ukraine and reconstruction aid after the war. In addition, the global Ukraine Defense Consultative Group was established, which will meet for discussion on a monthly basis.
3. INTERNAL AFFAIRS
Because of the war, Ukraine’s GDP will fall this year by at least 35 percent, according to Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. Exports of goods have fallen not only because of limited production but also because of transport difficulties: the Russian fleet has blocked the Black Sea shipping routes, and Ukraine’s rail system cannot handle the volume needed (it is also under frequent attack by Russian saboteurs). Agricultural exports during the war have fallen almost four times compared to prewar indicators.
The drop in domestic production of goods was partially substituted by imports. Increased imports and decreased exports will badly affect the national currency rate, which was fixed at the start of the war. The currency rate has also been affected by the issuing of hryvnia by the National Bank of Ukraine to cover all budget needs, which also will contribute to higher inflation.
As of late June, according to the Kyiv School of Economics, agriculture sector losses caused by the war amounted to $4.3 billion, while as of early June $103.9 billion in infrastructure was destroyed. During the first 100 days of the war, Ukraine lost 23 percent of its railways, 23,573 kilometers of roads, 289 road bridges, and 41 railway bridges.
Life in the Occupied Territories
Residents of the territories controlled by Russia now face the reality of constant fear, violence, and terror.
Many local authorities who refused to collaborate with the occupying forces and Russia-backed insurgents have been kidnapped by Russians. Local residents have organized rallies demanding the kidnapped officials be freed; some of these protestors have been shot. The Russians also kidnap activists and citizens who do not support the occupation powers, imprisoning some. Volunteers who try to supply needed goods and medicine to residents of the occupied territories have been subjected to the same treatment.
The occupying forces kill civilians and forcibly transport others to Russia. They issue Russian passports, sometimes again enforcing their use. They have implemented a system of “filtration” camps, much like the gulag camps in the Soviet Union, and they torture people. To hide the scale of the killing, the occupiers may cremate the bodies in mobile crematoriums. They use children for propaganda purposes and forcibly transport them to Russia.
The Russians have shut down Ukrainian broadcasting, cut off broadband and internet connections to restrict access to information. Electricity, water, and food supplies have been cut off or made unobtainable. The occupying forces in the non-controlled territories push Ukrainians to use the Russian ruble in financial transactions instead of Ukrainian currency.
4. PROGRESS IN REFORMS AND SUCCESS STORIES
On June 23 the EU granted Ukraine and Moldova candidate status. To preserve this status, Ukraine has committed to continuing reform efforts. Key reforms at the top of the list include reform of the Constitutional Court and the judiciary system, enacting and enforcing anti-corruption legislation, enacting and enforcing anti-money laundering measures, conducting further decentralization (such that formerly federal programs and authorities are devolved to the regional and local levels), and the implementation of new policies to protect ethnic minorities.
EU Transport Liberalization
In late June, Ukraine and the EU signed a special agreement on transport liberalization. It removes bureaucratic obstacles to the transportation of goods between Ukraine and the EU.
Integration with the European Electricity Network
In late April, Ukraine obtained official status as an observer member of the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity, or ENTSO-E. This happened after Ukraine (together with Moldova) disconnected its power grid from the Russian and Belarusian system on February 24, and after successful synchronization with the power grid of continental Europe on March 16. In June, ENTSO-E approved commercial exports of electricity from Ukraine to the EU.
Ukraine’s severing its ties with the Russian power system and becoming part of the European electricity market is a historic marker of independence for the country. The groundwork, however, was laid by the difficult electricity market reform of 2019, which showed Europe that Ukraine could synchronize its regulatory environment with the European one.
Approving the Istanbul Convention
In June, the Ukrainian parliament voted to approve the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention. Ukraine signed the convention in 2011, but its ratification was deferred for many years because of the fears of some conservative sectors of society. Ratification was required before Ukraine could gain the status of EU member candidate; as well, it appeared that the fears were likely overblown, and parliament decided to ignore them and move ahead.
The opinions expressed in this article are those solely of the author and do not reflect the views of the Kennan Institute.
About the Author
The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange. Read more