The first 100 hundred days of the war in Ukraine witnessed quite a few battles that delineate the true nature of hostility, resilience and war tactics of the Russian invasion. Here are some of the defining battles that shaped the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.
BATTLE OF SNAKE ISLAND
A piece of 42-acre rock sitting above the Black Sea became the cynosure of the conflict from the very first day. Merely 45 km from the Ukrainian coast, the island was attacked by the Russian Naval forces on February 24 — the first day of the invasion. The assault on the island was particularly highlighted in the mainstream media due to the dramatic radio conversation between a Ukrainian soldier and a Russian warship that asked the Ukrainian guards to surrender. The Ukrainian guard famously responded to the Russian warship with ‘F**k yourself’. The island was soon captured by the overwhelming Russian naval forces.
In the following weeks, what began as a story of sheer defiance started to resemble a classic revenge drama as Ukrainian sources claimed to have seriously damaged Vasily Bykov — the Russian patrol ship that was allegedly used in the takeover of the Snake Island. However, the revenge story turned out to be too good to be true when the Russian patrol ship was seen unharmed at Sevastopol Harbor on March 16. Just when the battle of Snake Island was considered over, the most unthinkable thing happened.
On April 14, in a dramatic turn of events, it was reported that the most powerful warship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet had been sunken in a Ukrainian anti-ship missile attack. ‘Moskva’ was the flagship guided-missile cruiser of the Russian Navy that had a crew of around 500 which played its role in the capture of the island. By the last week of April, Ukrainian counter-attacks on the island started to increase. Ukraine used the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aerial vehicle to carry out aerial attacks on Russian targets on and around the Snake Island.
Commercial satellite imagery collected during the first two weeks over the island established the damages caused by the Ukrainian counterstrike.
Despite heavy damages, Russia continues to control the strategic island with a continuous supply of anti-aircraft missile systems and multiple launch rocket systems. Ukraine has started receiving Harpoon anti-ship missiles from its western allies. “The coastal defence of our country will not only be strengthened by Harpoon missiles they will be used by trained Ukrainian teams,” Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov earlier said. As the war enters its Day 100, the control over the tiny Snake Island remains critical for both the countries considering the economic blockade imposed by Russia and its grip over the Black Sea. Ukraine is a net exporter of food and moved 70 per cent of its exports by sea before the war began.
BATTLE OF ANTONOV AIRPORT
The home of the world’s largest flying aircraft—the Antonov An-225 Mriya—was attacked by Russia’s elite airborne Vozdushno-desantnye voyska Rossii (VDV) on February 24. The company-sized grouping of light infantry soldiers launched the assault using extremely low flying Ka-52 and Mi-8 helicopters.
The Ukrainian guards were surprised by the speed of the Russian air assault that resulted in a quick takeover of the airport by the attacking forces. The seizure of a strategic airport in the early days was an indication of the Russian strategy of ending the war early by securing a functional air bridge near the capital. But, in the days that followed the masterstroke turned out to be an airborne disaster as the VDV could never get the reinforcements and supplies it needed to keep control over the airfield. While the initial counter-attack of Ukraine was foiled by the VDV, the increasing counterattack by the Ukrainian forces and armed civilians eventually forced a Russian retreat from the destroyed airfield. The airport was back under Ukrainian control on April 1. One of the most visible casualties of the battle was the An-225 Mriya that was destroyed in its hanger in what appeared to be a missile attack.
BATTLE FOR KYIV
By early March, Russia launched a major offensive directly on Ukrainian capital Kyiv from at least three axes of advancement. These included groupings of Russia’s Eastern Military District and Airborne Forces, Central Military District and the Western Military District grouping. Satellite images showed a massive 64 km long military convoy marching towards the capital.
3D video of satellite images showing Russian convoy near Kyiv in early March © 2022 Maxar Technologies
At one point the Russian forces stood less than 30 km from the presidential building in Kyiv. But, what many believed to be The Great Seize of Kyiv turned out to be The Great Stall of Kyiv
The strategic use of Air-defence systems including US-supplied Man-portable air-defence systems (MANPADS), and Turkey-supplied TB2 UCAVs mixed with the extreme courage and resilience shown by the armed civilians at the outskirts of Kyiv resulted in the Russian recoil from the Ukrainian capital. Almost five weeks of the stall and eventual retreat meant that the Ukrainian resistance, despite staring at an eventual defeat on the eastern front lived to fight another day. Regaining complete control over the outskirts of the capital was arguably the highest point for the Ukrainian side in the 100 days of the battle.
THE SEIZE OF MARIUPOL
What Russia could not achieve in Kyiv, it did in the port city of Mariupol. The city that was once a booming trade hub has now been almost destroyed with over 20,000 alleged civilian casualties. Expanding mass graves with long trenches like the one seen near Vynohradne, 12 kilometers east of Mariupol lay witness to the human cost of the seize.
Its location was strategically important for Russia because of its key location in the south of the Donbas area and its proximity to the Sea of Azov. Control over the city leads to unrestricted land access between Donbas and Russian controlled Crimea. On 16 March, a drama theatre that was used as an air-raid shelter during the siege of Mariupol was bombed. According to Ukrainian authorities, the building was sheltering about 1,000 civilians including children. Satellite images also showed the word ‘Children’ marked in Russian near the theatre in order to deter the raids on civilians.
Beginning in March, the city was surrounded by the Russian forces with several grouping of Ukrainian armed forces inside the city. As the Russian forces repositioned from Kyiv, the balance of the equation dramatically changed towards the Russian side. By March 12, eastern Mariupol was under Russian control. Supported by the Chechen soldiers, the Russian advance continued to move inside the city. The building of the Security Service of Ukraine was captured by Russia on April 2. A remarkable final pocket of resistance was exhibited at the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol. The plant remained surrounded as it was heavily bombed.
This last frontier of Mariupol was reportedly defended by a mix of several Ukrainian units, including the Azov Regiment, Marines and Foreign Fighters. As the days progressed the Russian and Russian supported Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) forces continued to expand their control over Mariupol, leaving no means to resupply from Kyiv. Eventually, President Zelenskyy had to ask the forces defending the plant to surrender following which more than 250 people were evacuated and taken to Russian controlled areas on May 17.
President Vladimir Putin is now focusing on a significant military victory in the majority of Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier said that Russian forces have seized 20 per cent of Ukraine’s territory. According to the latest assessment by the Institute of the Study of War Studies (IWS), “Russia continued to make incremental, grinding, and costly progress in eastern Ukraine on June 2.” Russian forces have intensified attacks on the city of Severodonetsk—the easternmost city under Ukrainian control. Russian forces are evidently looking to gain full control of Luhansk Oblast.