Six months on, there is no end to the Ukraine conflict in sight

Ukrainian Independence Day 2022 this Wednesday will be one of the most important in the country's history

A wedding photo shoot in Ukraine. AFP
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Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Ukrainians have feared that their country’s Independence Day, on August 24, would be marked with the entirety of their territory under Russian occupation.

And yet, it is not. Simultaneously, however resilient Ukraine's forces have proven to be, driving Russian tanks back across the countries’ internationally recognised border remains an immense challenge.

At the moment, the prospects for a ceasefire are bleak. Gennady Gatilov, Russia's envoy to the UN in Geneva, has said his country sees little chance of a negotiated peace with Kyiv.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said he will not engage in negotiations if Ukrainian troops captured by Russia during its campaign on the city of Mariupol are put on trial, something that could well happen.

Ending fighting as quickly as possible must be the priority of both sides and the international community. At the moment, it is killing hundreds of troops and civilians on a daily basis, both on and behind the front lines. A potential disaster at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which is now under Russian control, could threaten even more people, although French President Emmanuel Macron’s office has now said that an independent team of inspectors will be allowed to visit the facility.

As deaths mount, tensions are only rising. Mr Zelenskyy has warned of the possibility of a “particularly nasty and cruel” attack on Independence Day. On the weekend, a car bomb in Moscow killed the daughter of an important ally of President Putin. Ukraine has denied allegations it was behind the attack, while some say it is the work of a Russian dissident group.

It is one of the more dramatic attacks with possible links to the conflict to have taken place in Russian territory, but others have sown uncertainty, too. Russian military facilities near the border with Ukraine have been hit on a number of occasions. Crimea, which Moscow claims is its territory, has been struck, too. Again, it has proven hard to attribute responsibility. At points, Russia has said human error is to blame. Ukrainian officials have given mixed messages, likely in a bid to throw strategic ambiguity into the mix.

These twists and turns are generating a great deal of conversation about tactics, hardware, morale and upcoming battles. In an academic sense, the first interstate conflict to take place in Europe since the Second World War is understandably interesting to many. It feels, however, that discussions about securing peace are getting less attention.

In June, former German chancellor Angela Merkel gave her first interview since the war began. She, along with her predecessors, has received a great deal of criticism for what many in the West view as an approach to Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union that was permissive and naive. She, however, was unapologetic: "It’s a great shame that it didn’t succeed, but I don’t blame myself for having tried ... I don't see that I should now say it was wrong, and I won't apologise."

Many will disagree, but a voice for peace, particularly from such a distinguished politician, must be reflected on tomorrow. Six months from the beginning of the conflict, if the situation is to be any better this time next year, difficult conversations about compromise and co-operation will have to come to the fore.

Published: August 23, 2022, 3:00 AM