EU’s Response: 2-Year Retrospective on the Full-Scale Russian War Against Ukraine

By Mariia Orudzhova


3,655 days,

near 500 000 of total war victims (The New York Times, 2023),

more than 6 300 000 Ukrainian refugees recorded globally (UN Refugee Agency, 2024)


Since 2014, Ukrainians have been courageously defending their borders against Russian aggression for a decade. The illegal annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea by Russian troops on March 18th, 2014, marked a turning point, followed by the outbreak of war in the Donbas region of Ukraine in April 2014, leading to devastating consequences for the Ukrainian people.


On September 20th, 2022, seven months after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine commenced, the annexation of additional Ukrainian territories—Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions—occurred through internationally unrecognized referendums orchestrated by Russian occupation authorities. This brazen act of aggression further exacerbated tensions and highlighted the urgent need for international solidarity in support of Ukraine's territorial integrity. 


As Ukraine enters the 3rd  year of full-scale war in 2024, the forms of resistance have changed. But the desire of Ukrainians to live in a free and sovereign country continues to strengthen with each passing day, underscoring their commitment to defending democracy, human dignity, and human rights.


The European Union (EU) has emerged as a key ally in Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression. Recognizing theimportance of the fundamental values as democracy and human rights, the EU has played a pivotal role in supporting Ukraine through a multifaceted approach. The EU acknowledges and respects the unwavering determination of Ukrainians in their struggle for these shared values and the preservation of their territorial independence. This encompasses with financial assistance, targeted sanctions against Russia, provision of humanitarian aid, military support, and expressions of solidarity with the Ukrainian people.


Humanitarian assistance


The war has uprooted an estimated 3.7 million Ukrainians internally, while over 6.3 million have sought refuge in neighboring countries such as Poland, Hungary, Moldova, and beyond. Poland, in particular, has welcomed a significant proportion of Ukrainian refugees, hosting nearly 60 % of refugees. This mass displacement has overwhelmed local resources and infrastructure, posing immense challenges for both the displaced individuals and the host communities. Recognizing the humanitarian crisis, the EU has provided significant humanitarian aid and civil protection support to Ukraine. This assistance includes support for refugees through the EU temporary protection mechanism and aid for civilians affected by the war, demonstrating the EU's commitment to alleviating human suffering amidst crisis.

The humanitarian organizations such as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and UNICEF have mobilized resources to provide essential assistance and protection to affected populations. UNHCR, in collaboration with UNICEF, has established 39 Blue Dots across eight countries, serving as safe spaces equipped to offer vital services, including information, counseling, mental health support, legal aid, and protection services for refugees. UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, has emphasized the critical need for sustained support from governments, businesses, and private individuals to address the humanitarian needs arising from the war in Ukraine. As the crisis persists, sustained funding and international solidarity are imperative to provide lifesaving assistance and support.


The siege of Mariupol, which began on February 24, 2022, and lasted until May 20, was a tragic episode in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The fighting between the Russian Armed Forces and the Ukrainian Armed Forces resulted in the loss of civilian lives and significant damage to infrastructure, including the shelling of the Mariupol Drama Theatre, which was serving as a shelter for civilians, including children. In November 2022, Ukrainian officials estimated that at least 25,000 people were killed in the fighting in Mariupol (Euronews, 2023).


Human Rights Watch documented Russian attacks on other cities like Mykolaiv using cluster munitions, further highlighting the egregious violations of international humanitarian law. The EU has called for Russia to immediately cease its military actions, withdraw its forces from Ukraine, and allow unhindered humanitarian access. As confirmed by the International Court of Justice, Russia bears full responsibility for its acts of military aggression, and those responsible for war crimes and violations of international law will be held accountable. Human Rights Watch reported further atrocities, such as the use of cluster munition rockets on the city of Mykolaiv. These actions constitute clear violations of international humanitarian law and have been strongly condemned by the European Union (EEA Service, March 2022).


The siege of Azovstal, one of the deadliest chapters in Russia's war on Ukraine, resulted in significant casualties and left many soldiers either buried under rubble or imprisoned. On May 17, 2022, the initial group of Ukrainian soldiers from Azovstal were transported to facilities in areas controlled by pro-Russian separatists. Among these facilities was the well-known Olenivka detention center, where 50 prisoners of war were tragically killed in a mysterious explosion. Russia's unjustified war of aggression against Ukraine continues to result in horrific atrocities, with reports emerging today of dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war, including defenders of Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant, being killed in Olenivka, eastern Ukraine. Despite being registered by the International Committee of the Red Cross in May 2022 and under Russia's legal protection according to international humanitarian law, these individuals fell victims by Russian soldiers. The European Union strongly condemns these barbaric acts, which constitute severe breaches of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocol, amounting to war crimes. The EU affirms its commitment to holding the perpetrators of such crimes, along with responsible government officials and military representatives, accountable for their actions. It actively supports efforts to ensure accountability for human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law committed during Russia's aggression in Ukraine. Azovstalbecame a symbol of Ukrainian resistance, demonstrating its refusal to surrender its territories (EEA Service, July 2022).


At a joint conference in Kyiv on November 4, 2023, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy strongly denied claims that there's any pressure on his country to enter peace talks with Russia. He made it clear during a press conference, alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, that neither the United States nor the European Union, nor any other partner, can push for negotiations. Zelenskyy emphasized Ukraine's sovereignty, stating that any decision on talks with Russia would be made independently. The full-scale invasion, which is now almost 2 years old, has left Ukraine facing financial strain due to delays in expected aid from the U.S. and uncertainties about future aid from Europe, highlighting the importance of maintaining Ukraine's sovereignty in diplomatic dealings (Politico, 2023)


As the war persists, humanitarian needs are escalating, affecting an estimated 14.6 million people in Ukraine alone. Vulnerable groups such as older people, persons with disabilities, women, and children are particularly at risk. Women and children constitute approximately 90 percent of those fleeing the crisis and are vulnerable to gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, and abuse.


EU sanctions against Russia over Ukraine


In October 2022, the Council adopted further sanctions targeting Belarus and Russia, including restrictions on financial services and trade. These sanctions, designed to exert economic pressure on Russia in response to its actions, have significantly restricted its ability to engage in international financial activities and transactions. One of the key ways in which economic sanctions have impacted Russia's access to financial markets is through the ban on several Russian banks from using the SWIFT international payment system. SWIFT is a crucial network that facilitates secure and efficient cross-border financial transactions, and being cut off from this system severely hampers Russia's ability to conduct international payments and trade. This restriction limits Russia's ability to engage in normal financial activities and conduct transactions with entities outside its borders. Furthermore, the sanctions have imposed restrictions on Russia's access to the European Union's capital and financial markets. By limiting Russia's ability to raise capital, access financial services, and participate in EU financial markets, these measures hinder Russia's economic growth and development. The restrictions on transactions with the Russian Central Bank further isolate Russia from the global financial system, making it challenging for the country to conduct essential financial operations through its central banking system (European Council, Dec 18, 2023).


The effect of the sanctions highlights the considerable influence that economic measures can wield in shaping the actions of countries and encouraging compliance with international norms of behavior. These sanctions aim to weaken the economic base of the aggressors, limit their ability to engage in further aggression, and demonstrate the EU's unwavering commitment to upholding international law and territorial integrity. On Wednesday 21st of February, the European Union approved its 13th package of sanctions that will formally enter into force in time of the second year of the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine - on 24th of February 2024 (Politico, Feb 21st, 2024).



Ukraine Facility: new support mechanism 2024


The war's relentless missile and rocket attacks have wrought widespread devastation, destroying homes, businesses, and critical energy infrastructure across Ukraine. The resulting energy crisis has severely disrupted public services, including access to water, electricity, heating, healthcare, and education. Many Ukrainians now find themselves living in precarious conditions, with damaged or inadequate shelter exacerbating the threat posed by freezing temperatures.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urgently appealed for increased weapon support to prevent what he termed a "catastrophic" situation in Europe.  Speaking at an international conference in Munich, Germany, in February 2024, Zelensky highlighted the harmful effects of an "artificial deficit of weapons," stating it would only strengthen Russia's position. With Ukrainian troops facing ammunition shortages due to delayed US support in Congress, Zelensky expressed readiness to visit the front lines alongside former President Donald Trump, underscoring the seriousness of the situation. President Joe Biden reassured Zelensky of ongoing US commitment to Ukraine's defence against Russia's aggression. Nevertheless, the delay in approving aid packages in Congress has left Ukraine exposed, leading to tactical withdrawals like the recent evacuation from Avdiivka. Zelensky's call for support resonates globally, with UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron highlighting the importance of assistance from Western allies. This situation emphasizes broader geopolitical implications, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warns of consequences beyond Ukraine, urging support as an investment in global security (BBC News, 2024).


The establishment of the new support mechanism was agreed by Council and Parliament on 6th February of 2024. The provision of €50 billion financial support over the period 2024-2027. This instrument provides loans and grants to aid in Ukraine's reconstruction, modernisation, and reform efforts as part of its EU accession path. Is intended to contribute to the repair, recovery, and reconstruction of Ukraine, vital for rebuilding infrastructure and sustaining economic development (European Council, 2024).


In addition to financial and humanitarian aid, the EU continued to adapt its responses. The EU leaders also discussed military training missions for Ukraine to enhance its defense capabilities. European Peace Facility allocated €1 billion for joint procurement of ammunition and missiles for Ukraine. Furthermore, the EU added the Wagner Group and RIA FAN to its sanctions list for undermining Ukraine's territorial integrity. This assistance aims to bolster Ukraine's defense capabilities and assist in its efforts to defend its territorial integrity against external aggression, underscoring the EU's commitment to collective security and defense cooperation.





The EU has demonstrated solidarity with Ukraine and its people. EU member states have coordinated closely to ensure a united response to the war, standing by Ukraine and its people in defense of their democracy, human rights, and territorial sovereignty. Through financial assistance, sanctions, humanitarian aid, military support, and solidarity measures, the EU reaffirms its commitment to upholding international law, defending democracy, and standing with Ukraine in its struggle for independence. Through financial support mechanisms, sanctions, and diplomatic efforts, the EU has shown a commitment to upholding international law and security.

Moving forward, the establishment of new support mechanisms and continued adaptation of responses by the EU reflect ongoing efforts to address the multifaceted challenges posed by the war and support Ukraine's reconstruction, modernization, and defence capabilities. Sustained international support and solidarity are imperative to mitigate human suffering and ensure Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.



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