6 months in Ukraine: What is next?

On Feb. 24, 2022, the might of the Russian military began marching into Ukrainian territory. To the Russian high command, the operation was calculated as [short and straightforward.]Within 48 hours, sympathetic Ukrainians stationed in the East would refuse to fight and Russians would stroll into Kyiv without firing a single bullet, shooting one tank shell, or dropping a bomb. Unfortunately for those Russian officials, they miscalculated the fervor and nationalism of the Ukrainian defense and leadership, who were there ready to fight off their invaders. What was supposed to be a few days has, on August 24, turned into a 6 month stay.

While Ukrainians have some time to celebrate their defenses, the war which is ravaging their population seemingly has no end in sight. While many battles and offensives have begun and ended since February, multiple skirmishes are ongoing within the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions of Eastern Ukraine. Foreign aid in support of Ukraine is continuing at massive scales with the United States and United Kingdom giving $3 billion and $2.8 billion, respectively, just in time for the six-month anniversary. Furthermore, the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, continues to appeal to the rest of the world for its support as they predict a long conflict. Most importantly, both the World War II-scale refugee crisis and civilian casualty numbers continue to increase in size.

Possibly the most pressing development as the seasons change is the shift in strategy in the Southeast: a Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson and Kharkiv. Beginning August 29, the Ukrainian army is attempting to take back Russian occupied territory in the South, specifically Kherson. Following a string of defeats for the Ukrainian army in the past few months, a stable front and important breaks in the Russian high command in the South has allowed the Ukrainian army to advance. Within just one week of the Kherson counteroffensive beginning, multiple villages have been taken back by Ukrainian forces, including a ceremonial lift of the Ukrainian flag in the center of Vysokopillya on Sept. 6. A secondary offensive North of Kherson, specifically Kharkiv, has just recently begun alongside the Kherson offensive on the same day Vysokopillya was won back. As of Sept. 7, Balakliya has been confirmed encircled by the Ukrainians, and Western intelligence predicts Verbivka, which is two miles northwest, has been fully retaken. On the Kharkiv counteroffensive, Pentagon official Colin Kahl said, “I certainly think things are going better on the Ukrainian side right now in the south than is true on the Russian side.”

Ukrainian officials, as tradition would tell, are a tad more cautious than Western intelligence. According to Oleksiy Arestovych, an aid to President Zelensky, the counteroffensives will be lengthy operations: “Of course, many would like a large-scale offensive with news about the capture by our military of a settlement in an hour, but we don’t fight like that…funds are limited.” While these initial victories in Kherson and Kharkiv boost morale and take back lost territory, it is only the beginning of a costly operation that could last months.