Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, One Year Later
This photograph, taken on Feb. 20, 2023, shows a makeshift memorial near a destroyed residential building in Izium, Ukraine, amid the Russian invasion. (Photo by Sergey Bobok/AFP via Getty Images)
One year ago today, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
It was a dramatic and consequential escalation of Putin’s years-long quest to rebuild the Russian empire — and it was met with fierce Ukrainian resistance and international backlash.
Over the last year, Russia’s assault has turned more than 8 million Ukrainians into refugees, prompted the U.S. to accuse Russia of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and revived fears of nuclear conflict.
At FRONTLINE, we have dedicated considerable journalistic resources these past 12 months to chronicling this evolving fight. In documentaries, interactives, written stories and collections of in-depth interviews, we have probed Putin’s grievances with the West and what led up to his invasion of Ukraine, examined the war’s global ramifications and investigated the brutal toll it has taken on Ukrainian civilians.
With our reporting partner The Associated Press, we documented more than 650 incidents involving potential war crimes in Ukraine in the year since Russia’s invasion began — including more than 220 direct attacks on civilians, more than 60 attacks involving medical facilities and nearly 40 attacks where children were killed.
On the first anniversary of the invasion, the war continues — as does our work to document its impact.
20 Days in Mariupol, told from the perspective of Ukrainian-born director and AP video journalist Mstyslav Chernov, follows him and his colleagues in the early days of Russia’s siege of Mariupol as they captured what would go on to become some of the defining images of the war.
“We went to Mariupol not with the intention of making a documentary, but to contemporaneously report on what was happening,” Chernov said. “We later realized that, together, these video dispatches could tell a fuller story of what happened to the city’s people — a story that I hope will help audiences understand the scale of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the horrors that unfolded in Mariupol.”
The documentary, which was produced and edited by Michelle Mizner and will air on PBS this fall, made its world premiere at Sundance last month and will screen at CPH:DOX, the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival, in March. And just last week, we released an updated version of Ukraine: Life Under Russia’s Attack, our documentary following first responders and displaced families who were trying to survive as Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, came under Russian assault.
You can watch the documentary now to learn how a year of war has transformed their lives — and you can listen to a just-released conversation with the filmmakers in a new episode of our FRONTLINE Dispatch podcast.
“The consequences of all those attacks has been obviously enormous,” Mani Benchelah, who with fellow filmmaker Patrick Tombola recently returned to Kharkiv on a reporting trip, told me in the episode.
“The new Ukraine is one where everyone is extremely conscious of how close they had come to death,” Tombola said.
To mark the one-year anniversary of the war, we’ve curated a collection of our related reporting that you can explore now, below. We hope you’ll find it to be a powerful record of how Russia, Ukraine and the world reached this point.
War Crimes Watch Ukraine (March 2022-present)
Shortly after Russia’s invasion began, FRONTLINE and The Associated Press launched this yearlong reporting effort to gather, verify and comprehensively catalog evidence of potential war crimes committed during one of the largest conflicts in Europe since the end of World War II. We’ve documented more than 650 incidents involving potential war crimes in our interactive tracker, and we’ve co-published stories documenting reports of Russian torture, targeting of Ukrainian schools, attacks on hospitals, Russian-run grain smuggling operations and a pattern of “strategic and organized brutality” in areas under the command of one of Putin’s top generals.
Ukraine: Life Under Russia’s Attack (updated February 2023)
In this documentary, which first aired in August 2022, FRONTLINE chronicled the lives of civilians and first responders in Kharkiv in the initial months of Russia’s assault. This month’s updated version of the documentary revisits many of the people profiled in the original film, sharing how nearly a year of war has reshaped their lives, their city and their country. The documentary was filmed, produced, and directed in Ukraine by Mani Benchelah and Patrick Tombola with producer Volodymyr Pavlov, with additional direction by Teresa Smith and executive production by Oscar-nominated filmmakers Ben de Pear and Edward Watts (For Sama) and Oscar winner Cate Blanchett. Listen to a just-released conversation with Benchelah and Tombola on The FRONTLINE Dispatch podcast.
Putin and the Presidents (January 2023)
This documentary investigated Putin’s clashes with multiple American presidents, from Bill Clinton to Joe Biden, as he’s tried to expand Russia’s influence and territory. Drawing on in-depth conversations with insiders from five U.S. presidential administrations, former U.S. intelligence leaders, diplomats, and Russian and American journalists, the film showed how, prior to launching the war on Ukraine, Putin tested the waters by provoking and defying American presidents for 20 years — including by invading Georgia, seizing Crimea, and interfering in a U.S. presidential election. Filmmaker Michael Kirk and his team, including producers Mike Wiser and Vanessa Fica, traced a string of missteps and miscalculations by U.S. presidents, culminating in Putin’s February 2022 attack on Ukraine.
Plus: Watch and read extended interviews from the making of Putin and the Presidents with Sec. of State Antony Blinken, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, journalist Julia Ioffe and more, published as part of the FRONTLINE Transparency Project.
Crime Scene: Bucha (December 2022)
FRONTLINE, The Associated Press and SITU Research teamed up on a visual investigation of the atrocities committed in the Ukrainian town of Bucha during Russia’s monthlong occupation in 2022. Drawing on hundreds of hours of CCTV footage, intercepted phone calls and a digital 3D model of Bucha, Crime Scene: Bucha mapped the scope of the carnage in the town — more than 450 deaths in all — and charted in forensic detail how Russian soldiers ran “cleansing” operations. The short documentary — which featured a visualization made using a high-resolution 3D dataset of Bucha that was assembled with drone footage captured by the Ukrainian citizen research group Jus Talionis — was produced and edited by Jon Nealon, produced and directed in Ukraine by Tom Jennings and Annie Wong, and produced and reported by AP’s Erika Kinetz.
Putin’s War at Home (November 2022)
FRONTLINE told the stories of defiant Russians risking arrest and imprisonment to report on or protest Russia’s war in Ukraine. The documentary chronicled the lives of people speaking out against the Kremlin’s war effort despite laws that have effectively made it a crime to oppose the war — from an artist facing up to 10 years imprisonment after posting anti-war stickers in a grocery store, to a university professor whose parents live in Ukraine, to a young woman whose TikToks have gone viral internationally. The documentary also showed how independent journalists in Russia continued to seek the truth about the war — including the death toll among the country’s soldiers, information that Russia has deemed a state secret. For more on Putin’s crackdown on dissent inside Russia — and people who are refusing to stay silent — listen to a conversation with director and producer Gesbeen Mohammad on The FRONTLINE Dispatch podcast, and read a Q&A with her and producer Vasiliy Kolotilov.
Putin’s Attack on Ukraine: Documenting War Crimes (October 2022)
Part of FRONTLINE and the Associated Press’s broader collaboration investigating the war, this 90-minute special investigation traced a pattern of atrocities on the ground in Ukraine and the challenges of trying to hold Russia to account. From directors and producers Tom Jennings and Annie Wong, AP global investigative reporter Erika Kinetz and her AP colleagues, the documentary drew on original footage; interviews with Ukrainian citizens and prosecutors, top government officials and international war crimes experts; and a vast amount of previously unpublished evidence — including hundreds of hours of surveillance camera videos and thousands of audio recordings of intercepted phone calls made by Russian soldiers around Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv. Listen to a conversation with Kinetz on The FRONTLINE Dispatch podcast about how she and the film team uncovered a pattern of “strategic violence.”
Putin’s Road to War (March 2022)
Conducting new interviews in the days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, filmmaker Michael Kirk and his team examined the events that shaped the Russian leader, the grievances that drive him and how a growing conflict with the West exploded into war in Europe. The reporting behind the documentary also drew on dozens of interviews FRONTLINE conducted over the prior five years about Putin’s rise to power. You can explore the interview collection as part of the FRONTLINE Transparency Project.