Russia invaded Ukraine with the intention of toppling the government; seizing Kyiv, the capital; and bringing the nation firmly into the Kremlin’s sphere of influence.
While Moscow failed in those sweeping objectives, Russian forces have seized a wide swath of southern Ukraine and redeployed soldiers, vehicles and heavy weapons with the aim of pushing deeper into eastern Ukraine, expanding the territory it has controlled through proxy forces since 2014.
The Ukrainian and Russian armies are now in a grueling war of attrition, often fighting fiercely over small areas. But if Russia can hold the territory it occupies on land and maintain its dominion at sea, that could give it the capacity to strangle the Ukrainian economy and provide either leverage in any negotiated settlement or a staging ground for broader assaults across the country.
Russia made its swiftest and largest gains in the first weeks of the war in the south, sweeping north out of Crimea — which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014 — and taking over the city of Kherson and much of the surrounding region. Spread out over some 11,000 square miles, the region is a little smaller than Maryland and Delaware combined.
The Kherson region had a prewar population of more than 1 million people, although Ukrainian officials say more than half of them have fled. Located on the west bank of the Dnieper river, it is home to a major port connected to the Black Sea. Moscow has steadily taken steps to tear away at its Ukrainian identity by introducing Russian currency and by appointing and tightly controlling proxy leaders.
But Russian control of the territory is not complete. The Ukrainians have been staging sporadic counterattacks, trying to claw back towns and villages.
After taking Kherson, Russian forces moved to seize territory to the east in the southeastern province of Zaporizka, home to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. The Russians are now estimated to control about 70% of the province.
While the Ukrainian government remains in control of the city of Zaporizhzhia, Russian forces control Berdiansk, a critical port along the Sea of Azov; Melitopol, the region’s second-largest city; and Enerhodar and its nuclear plant.
The province had 1.6 million people before the war; it is hard to estimate how many have stayed behind. The mayor of Melitopol said Monday that about 60% of the city’s residents had fled.
On the edge of the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk, this once-thriving port city is now destroyed. Ukrainian officials estimate that 20,000 civilians have been killed in the monthslong Russian siege, and three-fourths of the population fled. The United Nations said that thousands of civilians have been killed there. What is left of the city is largely under Russian control. The last Ukrainian soldiers are trapped in a sprawling steel mill near the port.
Claiming the city has allowed Russia to complete a coveted link by land from Crimea to the eastern region of Donetsk, which is controlled by their proxy forces, and to Russia itself.
The Black Sea
While Russia failed in its advance on the Black Sea port city of Odesa, the Russian navy controls the Black Sea itself and has effectively blockaded Ukraine, which the United Nations and other international observers have said is fueling a global food crisis.
The Ukrainians and Russians have been engaged in a fierce battle over a spit of land in the Black Sea called Snake Island, about 80 miles off the coast from Odesa. Before the war, Ukrainian control of the island was a key to extending Ukraine’s claims on the sea.
While Russia has never been able to establish control in the skies over Ukraine, it has nearly total superiority at sea.
The Kremlin has said it wants to “liberate” the whole Donbas region, which combines two big eastern enclaves: Luhansk and Donetsk. The two provinces border Russia and run from outside Mariupol in the south to the northern border near Kharkiv.
Russian forces had a head start in the east, since Russian proxy forces seized more than one-third of the area in 2014. They have since expanded their control to cover an estimated 80% to 90%. On Tuesday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces had reached the border between the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk.
Much of this territory has been bombarded into ruins. Only 50,000 civilians are estimated to still be living in the Ukrainian-controlled part of Luhansk. Still, the Ukrainians have concentrated a large but unspecified amount of their own forces in the region to stop the Russian advance.
In the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance, poor planning, bad logistics and rigid tactics, Russia failed to seize major population centers in the northeast. It was driven out of Chernihiv and Sumy and never managed to control Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.
But Russia still holds territory near the border that it did not control before the war, around the region of Kharkiv. It also claims control over Izium, although sustained fighting continues around the city.
This part of the country is being fiercely contested, with the Ukrainians launching a major offensive around Kharkiv, which is only about 20 miles from the Russian border. The Ukrainians have since pushed Russian forces back toward the northeast border and away from the city.