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Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine on Thursday portends a deep, destructive conflict that could create millions of refugees and cause a spiraling crisis for Eastern Europe. Ukraine, the continent’s second-largest country by area, appears to be under siege from its north, east, and south by Russian troops.
For Ukrainians, this escalation is only the latest dark twist to a decades-long border struggle that turned hot in 2014 after Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea. Intermittent fighting has continued ever since, mostly siloed in eastern parts of Ukraine that are dominated by pro-Russian separatists.
Earlier this week, Putin recognized two of these areas, Donetsk and Luhansk (known collectively as the Donbas region), as independent states, a prelude to Thursday’s invasion. But Putin’s military focus has already spread to the rest of the country. Western intelligence officials predict that the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, may fall within hours.
Even before the invasion, Ukraine was home to one of the more under-covered humanitarian crises in the world. More than 3 million people in the country require humanitarian assistance, according to a United Nations report released last year. Ukrainians, especially in Donbas, face record-high levels of displacement and exposure to landmines.
To better understand the growing crisis and what Americans (and their government) can do to help, I spoke with Jacob Kurtzer, director of the Humanitarian Agenda at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, who also worked for nearly a decade at the International Committee of the Red Cross. We discussed the most pressing concerns for Ukrainians, the possibility of refugees fleeing the country, and the role of Ukraine’s neighbors and allies in resisting Russian aggression.