The death toll has reached 6,116 since April 2014 in eastern Ukraine, as the country tries to combat Russian forces. Recently the fighting has escalated, especially in the Debaltseve area and near the Donetsk airport. Ukraine’s civilians have been horribly impacted, with those near the fighting being forced into living in their basements in an attempt to avoid the warfare. 300 U.S. troops have arrived in the war-torn country for training exercises with Ukrainian national guard units.
Ukraine has struggled with a deep political split ever since the country regained its independence from Russia. Since the breakdown of the Soviet Union, western Ukraine has been growing closer with countries in the EU – especially Poland – who support Ukrainian independence, while eastern Ukraine has been under the heavy influence of Russia. When Putin became president in 2000 he took a strong interest in this political split and actively interfered with elections and candidates, leading to the famous poisoning of Yushchenko in the 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections.
Through extensive media aid, corruption and vote-buying, Russia made sure that Yanukovych – a pro-Russian candidate – was elected president in the next presidential election. Yanukovych scuttled an association agreement Ukraine had been negotiating for years with the EU, and instead sought closer relations with Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States – otherwise known as CIS. His actions sparked the Maidan protests that led to his impeachment and flight from the country.
“Then Russia went after Crimea and started fomenting unrest in Ukraine’s Eastern areas of Luhansk and Donetsk,” Professor of Political Science Barbara Hicks said. “This strategy of Russia’s to utilize ethnic enclaves to foment unrest in post-Soviet neighbors, by the way, is a long tried and true tactic, seen especially in Moldova and Georgia.”
Now a year after the conflict began, U.S. involvement will finally begin.
“The training exercise was long-planned, but continuing with it is a deliberate move by the US and the West to show resolve in defending NATO allies,” said Hicks. “Especially Poland and the Baltic States, and Western support for Ukraine.”
“Cancelling it, though, would have been seen as acquiescing to Russian threats and Russia’s intent to control Ukraine’s foreign relations,” continued Hicks. “The troops are in the very Western section of Ukraine, near the Polish border, despite Russia’s provocative claims to the contrary.”
While the Ukrainian forces were making progress against the rebels, their progress was reversed when Russia began to send in covert troops and advanced arms. To help combat the enlivened rebels, the newly arrived U.S. paratroopers will spend several months training the Ukrainian national guard – many of whom are inexperienced volunteers who want to support the independence of their country. While Ukraine’s forces might not get the backing that the rebels have with Russia, sufficient training for the largely inexperienced Ukrainian forces might provide the boost they desperately need in their fight to maintain their country’s independence.
While the fighting has largely died down since a cease-fire deal was signed in Minsk, Belarus, this past February, both sides refuse to come to a full standstill.
“While the conflict seemed to be settling down after the renewed ceasefire agreement brokered by the Europeans in Minsk, the last week has seen some escalation,” Hicks said. “Particularly concerning are credible reports of Russian troops and arms headed toward Mariupol.”
“This city is a key point on an eventual land bridge to Crimea,” said Hicks. “Which Russia occupied and annexed against all international law and a specific post-Soviet treaty with Ukraine that guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity in return for Ukraine turning over nuclear missiles stationed there during the Cold War.”
While Russia has been assisting the rebels for months with their own troops and armaments, the U.S. has now begun their own involvement. The conflict does not seem to have an end in the near future, and Ukrainian civilians are the ones suffering because of it. While their military is fighting to maintain their country’s independence from Putin’s Russia, their civilians are left with nothing to do but find shelter and try to survive.
Information taken from cnn.com and usnews.com