Although the Russian invasion of Ukraine has not dominated the news for several weeks, the war continues as Ukrainian troops stand their ground and foreign financial and military aid increase in size and scale.
Azovstal surrenders after months of siege
One of the most important developments in the war occurred on May 17 when hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers in the Azovstal steel plant surrendered to Russian forces, according to Reuters.
“Five buses took wounded fighters there early on Tuesday, and in the evening a Reuters witness saw seven more, escorted by armored vehicles. They brought other Azovstal fighters to a newly reopened prison in Olenivka near the regional capital Donetsk. The occupants were not visibly wounded,” Reuters said.
The steel plant, located in the southeastern city of Mariupol, saw some of the most intense and brutal fighting of the war since the first day of the invasion, as Ukrainian soldiers and civilians hid within the vast tunnel system underneath the factory while much of the city was destroyed in the fighting, according to Reuters.
Many of the fighters, according to the Guardian, were from the Azov Battalion, a volunteer military group formed after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the main targets of Russian accusations of Nazism within Ukraine.
“‘Our country treats those who surrendered or were captured humanely. But with regards to Nazis, our position should be unchanged: these are war criminals and we must do everything so that they stand trial,’” Russian State Duma Chair Vyacheslav Volodin said, according to the Guardian.
The group originally had ties to far-right political movements but has since been integrated into the Ukrainian military and purged of these elements. Ukrainian and military officials have attempted a prisoner exchange, but no updates have been found since June 1 from the Guardian.
US weapons arrive in Ukraine
Alongside several massive aid packages approved by both Congress and President Biden, American military equipment has begun to arrive en masse in Ukraine, including equipment from other countries.
According to the New York Times, by May 6 over 17,000 pieces of anti-tank equipment had been moved across the western border into Ukraine since May 1.
“Mr. Zelensky welcomed the help so far, but repeated the criticism that he has made in public — that the aid was wildly insufficient to the task ahead. He asked for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, a shutdown of all Russian energy exports and a fresh supply of fighter jets,” the New York Times said.
As of June 22, no new aircraft have been given to the Ukrainians as per a series of talks between members of NATO, but U.S. equipment has arrived in ever-increasing numbers.
On June 1, the Department of Defense approved their eleventh shipment of weapons to Ukraine, including long-range artillery and helicopters, according to Al Jazeera.
“On June 1, the Biden administration said it would provide Ukraine with high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) under the condition that Ukrainian forces not use them to hit targets inside Russian territory,” Al Jazeera said.
An infographic shows that over 108 pieces of M777 howitzers, 100 Humvee armored vehicles and 50 million rounds of ammunition have already been sent as of June 15. Al Jazeera also noted that this does not include the military equipment supplied by other countries to Ukraine, including most member states of NATO.
Footage provided by the Kyiv Post shows Ukrainian crews operating M777s, indicating they have arrived and Ukrainian troops have been trained in their usage.
Sievierodonetsk becomes next battleground
After the Russian decision to focus primarily on invading the eastern regions of Ukraine in May, Ukrainian and Russian forces have been fighting in the city of Sievierodonetsk since May 27.
The city, with a population slightly over 100,000 has been hotly contested between the two armies as a crossing point over the Donets river, which runs through the east of Ukraine.
On June 13, the main three bridges connecting Sievierodonetsk to the rest of Ukraine had been destroyed by Russian shelling, according to the Guardian, though civilian evacuations are continuing.
“As fighting raged on for control of the city, local authorities said they still had ways to evacuate people, though it was not immediately clear what route the Ukrainian military was using,” the Guardian said.
Russian commanders in the area claimed to have allowed for a humanitarian corridor out of the city that was interrupted by Ukrainian artillery, but Ukrainian authorities have disputed that their own offer for a corridor was dismissed as an excuse to evacuate military personnel as well as civilians, according to the Guardian.
On June 15, NBC reported Ukrainian forces in Sievierodonetsk rejected a Russian offer of surrender, with the city’s mayor saying that while a retreat was possible, Ukrainian troops would evacuate as many civilians as they could.
“‘This is an ongoing situation with partial successes and tactical retreats,’” Mayor Oleksander Stryuk said in a television broadcast, according to NBC.
British intelligence reports that the Azot chemical plant in the city, where hundreds of civilians have taken shelter, could turn into a similar situation at Azovstal as Russian forces cut off and besiege the factory, according to Reuters.
Although the conflict in Ukraine is considered to have “slowed down,” a war is still ongoing. Civilians and soldiers alike in Ukraine still face attacks from Russian aircraft, artillery or soldiers entering their towns. Millions have either been displaced from their homes or no longer have a home to return to.