Thursday marks 50 days since Russia began its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
The initial assault started before dawn with a series of missile attacks and the use of long-range artillery, before quickly spreading across central and eastern Ukraine as Russian forces attacked the country from three sides.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin's plan to quickly topple Kyiv failed in the face of strong Ukrainian resistance, a failure to achieve air superiority in Ukraine, command, control and supply problems and through heavy losses of personnel.
As Russian forces withdraw from areas near Kyiv to refocus on the east, the horrors of their occupation have been made clear with reports of widespread civilian casualties and killings, torture, disappearances, and other atrocities. Cities across the country continue to be relentlessly bombarded as Russia deploys a devastating array of aerial assaults, creating a humanitarian catastrophe.
After 50 days, the war is poised to enter a critical new stage:
- War moves to the east: Putin has revised his war strategy to focus on trying to take control of Donbas and other regions in eastern Ukraine with a target date of early May, according to several US officials familiar with the latest US intelligence assessments. Ukraine is bracing for a massive escalation, with one official warning of a battle that “will remind you of the Second World War." Satellite images show increasing numbers of Russian troops and armored vehicles pouring into eastern Ukraine.
- Different terrain: The eastern territory is where Russia holds many more advantages than in its earlier assault on northern Ukraine and the capital, Kyiv. The battle would take place on open terrain rather than the close fighting in urban and wooded areas. The region also borders southwest Russia, allowing Russian forces to avoid the sorts of sustainment, logistics and communication problems that derailed their all-out invasion of the country nearly from the beginning.
- Rush for weapons: The US is ramping up its commitment to Ukraine — sending an additional $800 million worth of weapons and ammunition in a package that includes Mi-17 helicopters, Howitzer cannons, Switchblade drones, counter-artillery radar systems and protective equipment to guard against potential chemical attacks. For weeks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pleaded with world leaders for more arms and equipment.
- Human catastrophe: Since the invasion began, more than 4.6 million people have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries and thousands of civilians have died, including children, according to the UN. The World Health Organization has verified nearly 120 attacks on health care since the invasion began. Trapped residents in cities under bombardment from Russian attacks have reported no food, water or medicine, and aid blocked from entering.
- Accusations of genocide, war crimes: US President Joe Biden described the atrocities in Ukraine as "genocide" for the first time this week. Ukraine's prosecutor general is investigating 5,800 cases of Russian war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the intentional targeting of civilians. Images of at least 20 bodies strewn across the street in Bucha emerged this month, while dozens of evacuating civilians were killed in a Russian missile strike on a train station. It followed bombings of hospitals, schools and a theater where hundreds of people, including children, were sheltering.
- NATO: Putin started the war demanding NATO cease expanding east and admitting new members. While Zelensky has accepted his country will not become a member, the war has united the West against Moscow. Finland and Sweden — nations that are officially non-aligned – are edging ever closer toward joining the US-led military alliance.