A grim anniversary

When Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago, we were shocked at the senseless destruction.

We applauded the nuggety Ukrainians, who were determined to keep their independence in the face of the onslaught from their mightier neighbour.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hopes the invasion he had euphemistically dubbed a "special military operation" would be over in next to no time were dashed as the war dragged on into months and then years.

But as it continued, perhaps we got so used to those war images the conflict became like background noise. Other major events, here and abroad, captured our attention, our compassion and even our anger.

As the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine reports, in that two-year period more than 10,000 civilians have been verified killed and nearly 20,000 injured. The actual numbers are likely much higher. Millions across Ukraine have lost their homes, been forced to flee, or suffered hardship due to lack of access to basic services.

The cost of rebuilding as a result of the war is estimated at a mind-boggling $US486 billion ($NZ784b) and rising.

As the grim milestone of the two-year anniversary of the invasion passed at the weekend with no end in sight, there has been a renewed focus on the war including from our government.

An anti-war protest outside the Russian embassy in Berlin. PHOTO: REUTERS
An anti-war protest outside the Russian embassy in Berlin. PHOTO: REUTERS
Last week it reiterated what it called its unwavering support for Ukraine with a support package of $25.9 million, bringing the total of assistance pledged in the last two years to more than $100m. The package includes more funding for New Zealand Defence Force personnel to train Ukrainian soldiers and to provide intelligence, liaison and logistics support.

It will also include $6.5m for Ukraine to buy weapons and ammunition through the United Kingdom-administered International Fund. About a third of the money will be spent on humanitarian and recovery assistance.

While such support might be considered a drop in the bucket, Defence Minister Judith Collins said it was critical Ukraine knew the international community stood by it, and that Russia understood that countries such as New Zealand supported Ukraine’s self-defence.

The government is also considering further sanctions against Russia. Economic sanctions against Russia have not been successful because too many countries are not involved, and Russia’s economy has been bolstered by military production.

Last week the United States beefed up its sanctions, marking the second anniversary of the invasion, and as retaliation for the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. At the same time, however, the fate of the United States’ $NZ98.8b aid package is still uncertain at a time when munitions for the Ukrainians are in short supply.

While European countries are stepping up their arms production, the European Union has already said it can only supply about half the million shells it had promised to provide Ukraine by next month. Support cannot come too soon for the Ukrainian armed forces given that Russia controls almost a fifth of Ukrainian territory, including the Crimean Peninsula it took in 2014.

While Mr Navalny’s suspicious death and the war anniversary have turned the world’s attention to the war, that impetus must not be lost in the months ahead.

Mr Putin has repeatedly shown his ruthlessness and lust for power have not abated with age. Any ceding of territory to Russia through some sort of peace plan, should Ukraine ever agree to that, would be unlikely to satisfy him. It would seem more likely to embolden him to go further.

As we have said before, nations everywhere are at risk if the powerful can conquer with impunity. As a fiercely independent country, we should understand that even if we are a long way from Ukraine. But like the rest of the world, we need to keep doing our bit to support Ukraine. We cannot afford to look away.