Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to escalating humanitarian crises in cities like Kharkiv, Mariupol, and Kyiv. Russian forces have laid siege to cities throughout the Eastern European country, cutting off water and power and blocking access to food supplies. On Monday, Ukrainian forces tried to evacuate some cities for a third time amid Russian promises of a ceasefire to open humanitarian corridors.
Ukraine’s military claims that Russia has violated two prior ceasefire agreements, firing artillery after promising to allow civilians to evacuate. The Russian government allegedly wants Ukrainian refugees to travel to Belarus, and, in some cases, to Russia. Ukraine’s government finds these terms “unacceptable,” as it wants refugees to head West to the European Union.
Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, February 24. The invasion seems to have been calculated to put pressure on the EU as well as Ukraine. Russia is a major exporter of crude oil, and gas prices have soared as international investors price in the possibility of sanctions closing Russian energy trade to other countries. Since Russia launched the attack in winter, this has sent energy prices sky-high in Europe and beyond.
Putin claims the invasion is a “special military operation” aimed at demilitarizing Ukraine. The Russian President has criticized NATO over its recent attempts in Ukraine. Russia’s western neighbor serves as a buffer between NATO signatories and Putin, and Russia reportedly wants to keep that distance. As such, Putin insists, this invasion isn’t a land grab–he reportedly just wants to strip Ukraine of its military capabilities.
Europeans concerned about the prospect of nuclear fallout have rushed to local pharmacies to secure iodine pills. Putin has his nuclear arsenal in a high state of readiness, spooking some European citizens. Foreign policy experts believe the threat of nuclear war is low, but many Europeans consider Putin dangerous enough to consider dropping bombs in populated areas. Some have pointed out that the Russian military doesn’t need to drop bombs for nuclear fallout to be a concern. If soldiers attack nuclear power plants in Ukraine, their actions could result in a meltdown and pollute the groundwater in Eastern Europe.
Iodine tablets can help people near a nuclear blast zone avoid developing thyroid cancer. However, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission insists that evacuation is the safest measure to avoid nuclear fallout.
“Evacuation is the most effective protective measure in the event of a radiological emergency,” the Commission writes. “Because it protects the whole body (including the thyroid gland and other organs) from all radionuclides and all exposure pathways”.