Documents on Democracy: Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Issue Date April 2022
Volume 33
Issue 2
Page Numbers 167–64
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Russias Invasion of Ukraine

After months of massing hundreds of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s borders, Russian president Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion on February 24. That day, in a speech laden with conspiracy theories, he denied Ukraine’s existence independent of Russia and asserted without evidence that Russian minorities were being persecuted and that Ukraine’s government was run by Nazis. Novaya Gazeta, one of the few remaining independent newspapers in Moscow, spoke out in a letter by editor-in-chief and 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov. A translated excerpt of the letter, which the editors removed from the newspaper’s site due to Putin’s postinvasion media crackdown, follows. (For an archived version of the site in Russian, see:

We all gathered at the editorial office early today. We are in grief.

Our country, on the orders of President Putin, started a war with Ukraine. And there is no one to stop the war. Therefore, along with grief, we and I feel shame. . . .

But we will publish this issue of Novaya Gazeta in two languages—Ukrainian and Russian. Because we do not recognize Ukraine as an enemy, and the Ukrainian language as the language of the enemy. And we will never do so.

And finally. Only an anti-war movement of Russians can save life on this planet.

The global outcry in response to the invasion prompted the UN General Assembly on February 28 to hold a special session—only the eleventh since 1950. Excerpts follow from the speech of Ukraine’s UN ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya. (For his full remarks, see:

If you wanna just visualize the magnitude of the tragedy, you have to imagine next to you, next to every name plate of every single country in this [Assembly] more than 30 souls of killed Russian soldiers already. Next to every name of every single country in this Assembly 30+ killed Russian soldiers. Hundreds of killed Ukrainians. Dozens of killed children. And it goes on and on, and on . . .

So, just imagine those killed people next to you, when you will listen to my formal statement.

Big militarized power, seeking for geopolitical greatness, has launched a full-fledged military offensive against a smaller neighbor, aimed at invading the country.

Deadly airstrikes dropped on civilians’ heads across the entire country and the Russian troops crossed Ukraine’s borders from the territory of Russia, Belarus, and the occupied parts of Ukraine’s Donbas and Crimea.

Does it remind you of something, doesn’t it? Indeed, very clear parallels could be drawn with the beginning of the Second World War. And the Russia’s course of action is very similar to what their spiritual mentors from the Third [Reich] employed on the Ukrainian land 80 years ago.

Just one, the most recent example. Example of human sufferings. Example of a war crime. As all of us were on our way to the General Assembly today, the Russian Army shelled with Grad multiple rocket launcher systems the residential areas of the city of Kharkiv—the second biggest in Ukraine. Innocent civilians have been killed and wounded; their exact number is still to be assessed. . . .

We have been prompted to call for an [emergency] special session as the level of threat to the global security has been equated to that of the Second World War. Or even higher following Putin’s order to put on alert Russian nuclear forces.

The Security Council addressed the issue of the Russian war against Ukraine and the decision was not adopted due to the obvious reason. The country, attempting to occupy Ukraine since 2014, has occupied the seat of a Council’s permanent member since 1991. Therefore, we do not accept the Russian logic, that the Security Council was unable to act due to one-side and unbalanced approach. In fact, it is Russia’s misuse of its permanent seat. . . .

Russia uses all its military potential to attack Ukraine and has begun redeploying reserve units on the border with Ukraine. It fires cruise and ballistic missiles at cities, attacks with aviation, tanks and artillery, sends subversion and reconnaissance groups, which mark residential buildings in preparation for the air attacks.

Russia’s missiles are now aimed at destroying the infrastructure objects: they targeted the radioactive waste disposal site near Kyiv, the fuel base in the town of Vasylkiv that is effectively a Kyiv suburb. The objects of logistic infrastructure, including bridges, airports, and water reservoirs remain among the targets.

Such towns as Schastya and Stanytsia Luhanska near Luhansk are now nearly destroyed, as well as residential buildings in and around Kyiv and Kharkiv. . . .

Russians keep attacking kindergartens and orphanages, thus committing war crimes and violating the Rome Statute. Hospitals and mobile medical aid brigades are also targeted by the Russian shellfire and the sabotage groups, working in Ukraine’s cities and towns. The Russian military fired on ambulance crews in the areas of Zaporizhzhia and Kyiv. In Okhtyrka district of Sumy region, Russian tanks shot down a bus with civilians. Later, the Russian military does not allow ambulances on the spot.

As of today, 352 people including 16 children were killed and 2,040 people, including 45 children, wounded in Ukraine during five days of the Russian invasion. And this number is growing non-stop, I have already told about morning’s shelling in Kharkiv. . . .

The General Assembly should be vocal in demanding from the Russian Federation to stop its offensive against Ukraine; in recognizing Russian actions as an act of aggression against a sovereign and independent state; in demanding from Russia to immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw its forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders; in demanding from the Russian Federation to reverse the decision related to the status of certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine; in demanding full compliance with the provisions of international humanitarian law. . . .

Now it is time to act. Time to help Ukraine, which is now paying the ultimate price for the freedom and security of itself and of the world.

If Ukraine does not survive, international peace will not survive. If Ukraine does not survive, the United Nations will not survive, have no illusions. If Ukraine does not survive, we cannot be surprised if democracy falls next. Now we can save Ukraine, save the United Nations, save democracy, and defend the values we believe in and that Ukrainians are fighting for and paying for with their lives.

The Western response to Putin’s belligerence was stronger than most—including the Kremlin—had expected. In addition to severe sanctions, asset freezes, and cutting off some Russian banks from the main global-payments system (SWIFT), several European countries and the United States have increased arms sales and aid shipments to Ukraine. NATO has also augmented its eastern front. Yet the transAtlantic alliance has refused to involve itself directly in the conflict, a move that former Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė denounced in a March 2 press release on her website. Excerpts follow. (For the full version of her letter, see:

Sanctions will not stop putin [sic] whatever they may be. They are necessary, but without any exceptions such as those we see in SWIFT cut-offs or the energy sector and the banks that serve it . . .

Only a war that has already been launched can stop another war. There is no need to pretend and try to appease our conscience by supplying Ukraine with nothing but arms, and too late at that. The people of Ukraine are fighting the war for us and the children of Ukraine are shielding us from putin’s madness.

Repeating the mantra that NATO cannot help Ukraine already sounds pathetic and shows the cowardice of the West.

Putin sees it, too. Although it is learning fast, the West still does not understand that there is a European war going on in Ukraine. Either you participate in it and fight the aggressor or become an accomplice to war crimes by just standing and watching it, Ukraine and its people, being destroyed. Yes, an accomplice.

If we do not stop putin in Ukraine, we will still have to fight a war, but in our countries.

Ukraine is asking for real help, while we are watching residential areas blown down on our TV screens and keep saying that we “strongly support Ukraine.”

I am ashamed to hear NATO leaders and officials muttering that they “cannot get involved in a conflict.” But we did it in Syria, Libya, Africa, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan, didn’t we?

Today, Ukraine is fighting for the survival of its nation and for the peace of Europe. Are we going to just continue watching an independent state being destroyed?

Slava Ukraini! Glory be to her heroes, and so far only to her heroes, because there are no others on the horizon.

Prominent Russians, both in Russia and abroad, have publicly come out against the invasion. Among these are movie stars, journalists, authors, more than two-hundred municipal deputies, and the members of the Russian Anti-War Committee, a group that includes former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, politician and historian Vladimir Kara-Murza, and world chess champion Garry Kasparov. Excerpts from the Committee’s March 5 statement follow. (For the full statement, see: 

The world is watching as Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s war of choice on Ukraine becomes a slaughter. Unable to topple the government in Kyiv promptly, Putin’s forces are now bombarding civilian populations day and night. Humanitarian catastrophe is imminent as electricity and water supplies fail in besieged cities. A million refugees have left and many more are trying to escape. Urgent action is required.

Meanwhile, Putin and his propagandists continue to tell lies about “liberating” Ukraine. Russian TV spews hateful lies about Nazis in Kyiv while the regime blocks social media to prevent Russians from seeing the bloody truth. Ukraine did want liberation—liberation from the grasp of Putin’s dictatorship. They paid a price in blood in 2014 to eject his puppet ruler and move toward Europe and real democracy. This was unacceptable to Putin, who swore to either recapture Ukraine or destroy it if he couldn’t. He is now fulfilling this promise on a raft of spurious pretexts that barely show any effort to disguise his imperialist aims. . . .

. . . It is too late for deterrence when bombs are falling. We know from the horrors of Grozny and Aleppo that Putin has no regard for human life. We know from his track record that he will not stop until he is stopped. NATO, the greatest military alliance in human history, sits on the Western border of Ukraine, a front-row seat to a modern genocide.

There is no gray area here, no room for doubt. Hundreds of international reporters all over Ukraine are documenting atrocities by the hour. Putin’s war is a rare moment of moral clarity, a case of good versus evil rarely seen outside of fables and fantasy novels. No competing ideologies or religions, no disputed claims—nothing but war for the sake of war. There is no NATO treaty obligation to defend Ukraine, it is true, but nor is there any prohibition from doing so.

The West already has Ukrainian blood on its collective hands. In 1994, Ukraine signed away its giant nuclear arsenal in exchange for territorial guarantees by the US and UK (and Russia). Putin’s 2014 invasion of Eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea received international condemnation but no action.

Had the international community rushed to Ukraine’s defense then, the nightmare unfolding today could have been avoided. All the sanctions and weapons shipments happening now could have taken place eight long years ago. Instead, we heard it was too risky to confront Putin, that it could lead to war. Now the war has come regardless, as was inevitable. Success emboldens dictators, a lesson from history that has been ignored. . . .

Now more than ever, being pro-Russian and anti-war means being anti-Putin. Putin can only be toppled by Russians, as his mafia cronies, security apparatus, and ordinary citizens are forced to choose between their own lives and his. Russians do not want this war, or any war, but they must see the truth and act. We believe it can and will happen. But it will not be in time to end the slaughter in Ukraine.

Tens of thousands of Russians have demonstrated in the streets of more than a hundred cities since the outbreak of the war. More than 4,600 were arrested on March 6, according to human-rights watchdog OVD-Info. Among them was 26-year-old Aleksandra Kaluzhskikh, who permitted Novaya Gazeta to publish a transcript and audio recording of her police interrogation. Excerpts follow from an English translation entitled “Putin’s On Our Side!” that appears on the website of n+1. (For the full version, see: 

Men’s voices: Come in [inaudible].

Male Officer [henceforth MO]: Last name?

Aleksandra Kaluzhskikh [henceforth AK]: Kaluzhskikh, Aleksandra Alexandrovna.

Female Officer [henceforth FO]: Legal residence?

AK: Uhh, how do I say it, well, see, the 51st [an article of the Russian Constitution protecting against self-incrimination].

FO: [laughter] Fine. Phone number? That’s so we can call you and summon you to your court date. This time let’s not be stupid.

AK: Umm, no, I want my summons to be sent by mail.

FO: Where to?

AK: Umm, where I’m registered.

FO: Okaaay, your place of study?

AK: The 51st.

[Sound of Aleksandra being struck.]

MO: You’ll have a little bruise now. Come on, get up, time to talk, right? Uh-huh. Yeah.

[The sound of another strike.]

AK: [uncensored swearing expressing extreme bewilderment at the sound of the force of the strike] [inaudible], to be honest.

[AK again refuses to tell the officers if she works or studies.]

MO: You know what? What are you after here? Well we’ll get to it . . . We’re already here . . . Sh-t, everyone’s already been here, and laid here. What’s your goal? I’m telling you, I’m just, sh-t, I’m gonna add everything up exponentially. We don’t give a f—k. We’re gonna . . .

AK: Are you threatening me?

MO: Yes! I’m threatening you! I’m threatening you with physical violence!

AK: This is uncomfortable . . .

[AK answers questions about her height and age but does not disclose where she works.]

FO: Where did you find out about the protest?

AK: I don’t know . . .

[MO hits AK twice with a bottle of water.]

MO: Yeah, this dipsh-t. F—g loser. What, you think we’re gonna get in trouble for this? Putin told us to kill all of these dumbf—s. That’s it! Putin’s on our side! You’re the enemies of the Russian people, OK, f—g enemies of the state. I’m gonna f—g kill you, OK, and that’s it. Finished. And then they’ll give us a prize for it, too.

[AK tells the officers her eye color but does not reveal her occupation.]

MO: This isn’t an interrogation. We’re just filling out the forms here.

AK: But I already told you everything.

Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelensky has refused to leave the capital, Kyiv, since the beginning of the invasion. In a speech delivered to the U.K. Parliament via video, he spoke of his country’s resolve in the face of existential danger. Excerpts follow. (For the full version, see:

. . . I want to tell you about our 13 days. 13 days of fierce war, which we did not start and did not want. But we are waging it.

Because we do not want to lose what we have, what is ours—Ukraine. Just as you did not want to lose your island when the Nazis were preparing to start the battle for your great power, the battle for Britain.

13 days of our defense.

On the first day at 4 am, cruise missiles were fired at us. So that everyone woke up—we, the children, all of us, living people, all of Ukraine. And we haven’t slept since. We all took up arms becoming a large army.

The next day we fought off attacks in the air, on land and at sea. . . .

On the third day, Russian troops openly fired at people and apartment buildings without hiding. Used artillery, air bombs. And it finally showed us, showed the world who is who. Who are great people and who are just savages.

On the fourth day, when we have already begun to take dozens of prisoners, we have not lost our dignity. We didn’t abuse them. We treat them like people. Because we remained human on the fourth day of this shameful war.

On the fifth day, the terror against us has already become outright. Against cities, against small towns. Ruined districts. Bombs, bombs, bombs, again bombs on houses, on schools, on hospitals. This is genocide. Which did not break us. It mobilized each and every one of us. And it gave us a sense of great truth.

On the sixth day, Russian missiles hit Babyn Yar. This is the place where the Nazis executed 100,000 people during World War II. 80 years later, Russia killed them for a second time.

On the seventh day, we realized they were destroying even the churches. Using bombs! Rockets again. They do not know the holy and great as we know.

On the eighth day, the world saw Russian tanks firing at a nuclear power plant. The largest in Europe. And the world began to understand that this is terror against all. This is a great terror.

On the ninth day, we listened to a meeting of NATO countries. Without the desired result for us. Without courage. That’s how we felt—I don’t want to offend anyone—we felt that alliances don’t work. They can’t even close the sky. That is why security guarantees in Europe must be built from scratch.

On the tenth day, unarmed Ukrainians protested everywhere in the occupied cities. Stopping armored vehicles with bare hands. We have become unbreakable.

On the eleventh day, when residential areas were already bombed, when everything was destroyed by explosions, when children were evacuated from a damaged children’s oncology hospital . . . We realized: Ukrainians became heroes. Hundreds of thousands of people. Entire cities. Children, adults—all.

On the twelfth day, when the losses of the Russian army have already exceeded 10,000 killed. . . .

On the thirteenth day, a child died in Russian-occupied Mariupol. Died of dehydration. They do not allow food or water to people. They just blocked it—and people are in the basements. I think everyone hears: people don’t have water there!

In 13 days of the Russian invasion, 50 children were killed. 50 great martyrs. This is dreadful! This is emptiness. Instead of 50 universes that could live, they took them away. They just took them away. . . .

Ukraine did not strive for that. It did not seek greatness. But it became great during these days of this war.

Ukraine that saves people despite the terror of the invaders. Defends freedom despite the blows of one of the world’s largest armies. Defends despite the open sky. Still open to Russian missiles, aircraft, helicopters. “To be or not to be?”—You know this Shakespearean question well.

13 days ago, this question could still be raised about Ukraine. But not now. Obviously, to be. Obviously, to be free. And if not here, where should I remind you of the words that Great Britain has already heard. And which are relevant again.

We shall not give up and shall not lose!

We shall go the whole way.

We shall fight in the seas, we shall fight in the air, we shall defend our land, whatever the cost may be.

We shall fight in the woods, in the fields, on the beaches, in the cities and villages, in the streets, we shall fight in the hills . . . And I want to add: We shall fight on the spoil tips, on the banks of the Kalmius and the Dnieper! And we shall not surrender!


Copyright © 2022 National Endowment for Democracy and Johns Hopkins University Press