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How did Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine begin: Donbas

Since the illegal crossing of the border by the Russian military in Crimea, Russia has begun to destabilize the situation in Donbas. The Russians held pro-Russian rallies calling for the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, joining Russia, and creating a “separate state of Novorossia” in some places with weapons and force.

On April 12, 2014, Russian troops under the control of Russian special services officers captured the Ukrainian cities of Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, and Druzhkivka in the Donetsk region. Russia also made an unsuccessful attempt to destabilize Kharkiv and Odesa, provoking the mass clashes that resulted in a fire in the trade union building and dozens of casualties.

On May 11, 2014, Russian proxies held illegal referendums on “separation from Ukraine” and establishing the so-called “DPR” and “LPR” in the occupied part of Donbas. This fictitious vote took place under the control of armed groups and without any independent observation missions.

Since the invasion of Russian troops into the Donbas, Russia has developed a narrative of “civil war in Ukraine.” For eight years, Russia has denied its aggression in the Donbas, saying that only Russian volunteers could have taken part in the capture of Ukrainian cities.

However, Western and Ukrainian investigative communities have identified about 3,000 Russian military personnel (including advisors and instructors) stationed in Donbas on rotation basis, 50 types of Russian military weapons, artillery shelling from Russian territory, and medals for combat operations on Ukrainian territory.

Russia’s armed aggression in eastern Ukraine and the temporary occupation of certain regions of Donbass lasted eight years and turned into a full-scale invasion in 2022.

The estimated number of Russia’s armed aggression victims in the Donbas is 42,000-44,000 people. Of these, more than 7,500 were civilian and Ukrainian service members. Almost 1.5 million residents of eastern Ukraine have been forced to flee their homes. Russians destroyed the infrastructure of the occupied regions. 27% of the industrial potential of Donbas was illegally transferred to Russia. *

* from April 14, 2014 to January 31, 2021

What Russia says

  • Civil war in Donbas
  • Internal conflict in Ukraine 
  • Ukrainian crisis

In fact

  • Armed aggression by the Russian Federation in Donbas
  • Russia’s war against Ukraine
  • Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict
  • Military invasion/ intervention of the Russian Federation

What Russia says

  • Rebels
  • Militias
  • Self-defense forces of Donbas
  • Separatists

In fact

  • Russian occupation forces
  • Russian occupation administration in Donbas
  • Russia-backed illegal armed formations
  • Russian proxies
  • Russian regular armed forces and units

What Russia says

  • Both parties to the conflict – Kyiv and Donetsk/Luhansk
  • Kyiv authorities

In fact

  • Russia invaded Donbas, Ukraine has been defending its territorial integrity.
  • Government of Ukraine, official representatives of Ukraine