oDR: Explainer

Eight stories crucial to understanding the war in Ukraine

From life in Russian-controlled regions to the viewpoint in Russia, these pieces from the openDemocracy archive shed light on an eight-year war

Adam Bychawski Anita Mureithi
25 February 2022, 4.11pm
An anti-war protest outside the Russian Embassy in Kyiv on 22 February
Mykhailo Palinchak / Alamy Stock Photo

When Russia launched an all-out attack on Ukraine on Thursday, the conflict was already into its eighth year. Thousands of Ukrainians have been killed since Russian forces seized Crimea in 2014 and backed a separatist movement in the east.

The following stories from the openDemocracy archive offer perspectives on what life has been like during the conflict, particularly in regions under Russian control. They give an insight into how people have organised to survive in dire circumstances and how journalists have worked in the region despite facing great risks.

There are also voices from Russia that paint a picture of how both ordinary citizens and the Kremlin see the invasion, and accounts from Ukrainian activists who have worked tirelessly in an attempt to de-escalate the conflict on the ground.

Writing the truth in the People’s Republic of Donetsk

Journalists in the separatist ‘people’s republic’ of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine have been telling the world what’s been happening there for a long time. In 2014, Aleksey Matsuka described what life was like for reporters bold enough to tell the truth, and the consequences that often followed.

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How ‘eastern Ukraine’ was lost

By 2016, nearly two years after the outbreak of fighting, almost 9,000 people had died in eastern Ukraine. Writing for openDemocracy at the time, Andrii Portnov delved in detail into the background of the war – and why some places tried to break away from Kyiv while others didn’t.

Pro-Ukrainian blogger disappears in separatist-controlled area of eastern Ukraine

On 2 June 2017, Stanyslav Vasin disappeared. The Ukrainian blogger was working inside the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic at the time. In this piece, Tanya Lokshina recounts meeting Vasin, who had fearlessly documented life in the region before he was detained by separatists. In December 2019, it was reported that Vasin had been handed over to the Ukrainian authorities as part of a prison swap.

How prisoners in Ukraine’s occupied territories live, work and survive

May and June 2018 saw the situation around the city of Horlivka, just outside of Donetsk, deteriorate rapidly. There are a number of jails near this area, each of which was holding at least 500 prisoners at the time – most of them sentenced for criminal offences by the Ukrainian authorities. Oksana Trufanova explored what life was like for these people. Her piece looked at how they were fed and protected from bombings, and why they were not returned to serve their time in Ukraine.

As Ukraine’s frontline villages fight for economic survival, some even succeed

Frontline villages in southeastern Ukraine have been put under enormous pressure. In 2020, Dmitry Durnev described how Pavlopil, on the demarcation line in Donbas, has fought for economic survival.

Organising for peace in Ukraine

In 2020, the war in eastern Ukraine entered its sixth year. As it entered its ‘slower’ but no less deadly phase, some found that attention given to the conflict was starting to drop off.


Nina Potarska

Source: Commons

In this interview with Nina Potarska, coordinator of the International Women’s League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) in Ukraine, we learnt how listening to people on both sides of the frontline in eastern Ukraine remained vital.

Putin is about to start the most senseless war in history

“In the near future, a big war will begin – a war that we have not seen in the lifetime of my generation, and perhaps the previous generation too.” Greg Yudin predicted in this piece that sanctions wouldn’t stop Moscow, and that its actions would drive more countries towards NATO. So far, he has been provedn sadly accurate.

‘We got used to the war’

As the Donbas war threatened to escalate, Tetiana Bezruk gave an insight into what life had been like for residents of Avdiivka, a town just a few kilometres from Donetsk. A local described growing accustomed to the daily uncertainty of war on the doorstep, and his determination that life for his family would carry on as normal for as long as it could.

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