• One year after the beginning of the war in Ukraine, 20 Minutes is more than ever mobilized to inform you about the conflict. From 22 to 28 February, the editorial team offers reports, analyses, testimonies, videos, podcasts to report on the daily lives of civilians, the military situation on the ground, the diplomatic game.
  • "Kharkiv, Cherniguiv, Mariupol, Kherson, Mykolaiv, Gostomel, Volnovakha, Butcha, Irpin, Okhtyrka. Hero cities. They are the capitals of invincibility," Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday.
  • But a year after the beginning of the war, what happens to these cities that have been the theaters of fierce fighting and that the media have talked about so much? 20 Minutes takes stock.

For exactly one year, the Russians have been trying to take control of Ukraine. In the face of them, the armed forces of Kiev retaliate relentlessly, holding and retaking, meter by meter, kilometer by kilometer, occupied territories. Fighting raged in Mariupol, Kherson and Odessa. So many names that have, in a year of war in Ukraine, marked the news. This Friday, President Volodymyr Zelensky assured that these cities, theaters of atrocities committed by the Russians or symbols of the occupation or the resistance of the Kiev army, were "capitals of invincibility" Ukraine. Where are they today? 20 Minutestakes stock.

Mariupol 90% destroyed

About fifty kilometers from the Russian border, in the Donbass basin, some 400,000 Ukrainians were living in Mariupol when Vladimir Putin launched his "military special operation" in Ukraine on February 24, 2022. From the beginning of the conflict, this port metropolis was a strategic target of the Russian offensive: taking Mariupol was to create a supply strip between Crimea (annexed in 2014) and the pro-Russian Donetsk, then to deprive Ukraine of access to the Sea of Azov.

On March 16, the Russians besieged the city, constantly shelling it. A strike on a theater, where hundreds of people had taken refuge, caused carnage: at least 300 people lost their lives, according to the Mariupol City Hall and no less than 600, according to an investigation by the Associated Press. A maternity hospital was also bombed, killing at least three people, including a young girl.

For three months, the Russians continued to launch bombs and rockets on the city, killing more than 22,000 civilians, according to a Ukrainian government official. According to the United Nations, during the siege, Mariupol was 90 per cent destroyed. And the guerrilla warfare that was waged there remains to this day, in terms of civilian casualties, the bloodiest.

This is without counting the Battle of Azovstal. This gigantic steel site in Mariupol was until its fall in May 2022 the symbol of the fierce resistance of the Ukrainians, despite a deficit of men and weapons. Fighters from the Azov regiment, described as Nazi extremists by Moscow, held the steel plant and its underground maze for weeks, while the rest of Mariupol had fallen into Russian hands, at the cost of immense destruction.

The defenders of Azovstal eventually surrendered, for lack of food and ammunition, but remain considered heroes by the Ukrainians. As for Mariupol, Moscow claimed its capture on April 21. Russia still controls it. And following an annexation not recognized by the international community, Moscow now considers Mariupol its own.

Boutcha in search of justice

At the beginning of the invasion, the Russian attempt to take Kiev was met with a tenacious Ukrainian army, galvanized by a Volodymyr Zelensky transformed into a real warlord. Having failed to conquer Kiev, the Kremlin withdrew its forces from northern Ukraine at the end of March. On April 2, the world discovered images showing the bodies of executed civilians, some with their hands tied behind their backs, littering the streets of Butcha, a town on the edge of the capital that the Russian army had occupied. At least 73 bodies of coldly executed civilians were found in the streets.

The images of these massacres blamed on Russia provoked the indignation of the West and the UN. For the West and Ukraine, war crimes have clearly been committed, as testimonies, videos and forensic examinations will confirm. Moscow brushes aside the accusations, denouncing a staged approach.

Twelve months after the beginning of the conflict, calm has returned to Butcha. Survivors seeking justice are trying to get their lives back, even if the fear of a return of the Russians is on everyone's mind. "It's terrifying," Nadezhda Stenenkova, 75, told AFP in July. In Boutcha, 70% of homes were damaged or destroyed during the fighting and, for those still there, it is time to rebuild.

Kharkiv still bombed

From the beginning of the war, the country's second city, Kharkiv, was targeted by the Russian offensive. 35 kilometers from the Russian border, the "very firm" resistance of Ukrainian soldiers prevented the capture of the metropolis.

Struggling for more than six months, the Ukrainian army managed to push Vladimir Putin's army out of the Kharkiv region in early September, achieving a surprise and lightning breakthrough of the Russian lines in the northeast. Scene of violent fighting, Kharkiv is still very regularly bombed, a whole section of the city being in ruins. And this, while today, the front line is located more than a hundred kilometers from the metropolis.

Kherson in search of pro-Putin supporters

From the beginning of the conflict, on the north bank of the Dnieper, a few dozen kilometers from Crimea, Russian bombs rained down on Kherson. On March 3, a week after the conflict began, Moscow announced the capture of Kherson. For nearly eight months, the Russian flag flew through the streets of the city. Moscow even held a referendum – illegitimate in the eyes of the international community – to attach Kherson Oblast to Russia. But in early September, as part of a broad counteroffensive, the Ukrainian armed forces put the Russians in trouble, who were forced to abandon Kherson on November 9, leaving behind a city in ruins.

On November 11, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced the official recapture of the city, calling the day "historic." To understand how, in part, Ukraine recaptured this precious stronghold and its region, here is a montage made by 20 Minutes before and after a barrage of Ukrainian missiles on a Russian weapons depot.

The police quickly began flushing out pro-Putin "collaborators." On the spot, Ukrainians are trying to resume their lives, even if Russian bombing continues to target civilian infrastructure, such as a strike on December 24 on a market that killed at least ten people and injured 55.

Zaporozhye or the specter of the nuclear accident

Zaporozhye is, still a year after the beginning of the war, one of the flashpoints of the conflict. As recently as February 10, the city and its region were plunged into darkness after a rain of missiles fired at strategic energy sites. One of them is particularly scrutinized by all: the nuclear power plant. With its six units of Soviet design, this plant is the largest in Europe and the permanent attacks leave the constant risk of a Chernobyl bis.

On March 4, when Moscow took over the site, Ukrainians and Europeans had feared the worst. The last strikes targeting these nuclear facilities in a "deliberate and targeted" manner date from 20 November. If the Russians never managed to take the city of Zaporozhye - which did not prevent Vladimir Putin from declaring its annexation illegal - Moscow still retains control of the power plant and the southern part of the oblast.

On January 21, the Russian military said it would continue to carry out offensives in the region, ensuring a "sharp increase in the intensity" of the fighting. And whether or not the Ukrainians regain control of the infrastructure, the international community will continue to keep an eye on the plant.

The Russian military bombed Europe's largest nuclear power plant in Zaporozhye, southern Ukraine, on the night of Thursday to Friday, March 4. The shots caused a fire, but did not cause a radioactive leak pic.twitter.com/XJvugUNYAL

— 20 Minutes (@20Minutes) March 4, 2022

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Odessa between mines and mermaids

From the first hours of the war, as in Mariupol, Kiev or Kharkiv, Russian bombs shook Odessa. The largest Ukrainian city on the shores of the Black Sea since the loss of Crimea in 2014, Odessa represented in the eyes of the Russians "the gateway for the even stronger destabilization of Moldova, Romania and the European territory as a whole," a source at the Quai d'Orsay told AFP in January. Already deprived of access to the Sea of Azov, Kiev would experience as a blow to lose access to the Black Sea.

For twelve months, the Russians have been constantly bombing Odessa, causing anti-aircraft sirens to go off. In this former seaside resort, the power is still very often cut off, due to the damage caused by Iranian-designed suicide drones targeting power plants. In early February, a Russian strike left no less than 500,000 people without electricity.

Although the fighting gradually moved away from the oblast, Ukrainian soldiers still maintain control of the region. All along the coast, mines are buried by Ukrainian forces in anticipation of a potential Russian landing. The fear of all the inhabitants of the port city.


Bakhmut in "fortress" mode

Since last summer, the Russian army, supported by the paramilitaries of the Wagner group, has stumbled on one city in particular: Bakhmut. In this stronghold, Ukrainian soldiers dug trenches, suggesting a war of positions. Described as "hell on earth" by the Ukrainians, the battle of Bakhmut is the deadliest since the beginning of the conflict. There, the invading forces advance meter by meter. "Bakhmout will not be taken tomorrow," Yevgeny Prigozhin, the boss of the Wagner group, said a few weeks ago. According to the Russian General Staff and Wagner's chief, the city could be taken in the spring. Faced with this, the Ukrainians, boosted by Western weaponry, claim to kill up to more than 1,000 Russian soldiers a day.

Bakhmut has become a symbol, even though strategically it does not have great military advantages. This city has become a symbol for the Russians because, chaining defeats for more than six months, the hope of a victory makes the Russian officers dream. It is also a symbol for the Ukrainians, who despite 365 days of conflict, continue to tirelessly defend their positions.

  • War in Ukraine
  • Russia
  • War
  • World
  • Vladimir Poutine
  • Volodymyr Zelensky
  • Mariupol
  • Odessa
  • Kherson