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When will it be over? And 9 more questions about Russia, Ukraine and a year of war

The Ukrainian flag flutters between buildings destroyed in bombardment in the Ukrainian town of Borodianka. It was one year ago last week that Russia invaded.
Sergei Supinksy
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AFP via Getty Images
The Ukrainian flag flutters between buildings destroyed in bombardment in the Ukrainian town of Borodianka. It was one year ago last week that Russia invaded.

Last week contained a grim milestone: It was one year ago on Friday that Russian forces began marching towards Ukraine's capital city of Kyiv.

A year later, the war shows no concrete signs of ending.

We took some time last week to pause and reflect on all that's transpired in our live blog. As part of that coverage we asked you: After a year of unpredictability, what do you still want to know?

Whether you're looking back, trying to make sense, or looking ahead, searching for hope, our reporters are here to help you sort through it.

Here are answers to 10 of your questions:


When will it be over? What's it going to take to get Russia out of Ukraine? — Sam

Who knows? Most think at least another year. Both armies have suffered staggering losses and neither has anything that looks like a knockout blow in them.

This is a grinding trench and artillery war of attrition. The invasion has been a disaster for President Vladimir Putin and in order to justify it at home he at least has to take control of Ukraine's Donbas region, after which he can falsely claim that the army saved Russian citizens persecuted by Ukraine.

By Frank Langfitt, international correspondent


What are the Ukrainian refugees who fled their country doing now? Are they able to get jobs in their host countries? — Laurel

Children look out from a carriage window as a train prepares to depart from a station in Lviv, Ukraine, on March 3, 2022. The U.N. says more than 8 million Ukrainians fled to Europe since the start of the invasion.
Daniel Leal / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Children look out from a carriage window as a train prepares to depart from a station in Lviv, Ukraine, on March 3, 2022. The U.N. says more than 8 million Ukrainians fled to Europe since the start of the invasion.

The U.N. says more than 8 million Ukrainians have fled to Europe since Russia invaded last year.

The OECD says displaced Ukrainians have generally found work more quickly than other refugees. That's because most displaced Ukrainians have at least finished secondary education, and many have college and graduate degrees.

Those who spoke foreign languages, especially English, have had even more job options. Ukrainians who settled in neighboring Poland have learned Polish, which has some similarities to Ukrainian. Many have continued their careers, working in tech, education or manufacturing here.

I've also met displaced Ukrainians who have re-started their businesses in European countries, mostly Poland.

By Joanna Kakissis, Ukraine correspondent


What do the Ukrainian people want the world to know besides their need for our support and military aid? — Erik

There seems to be some degree of sensitivity in Ukraine to Russia's claims it's waging a proxy war with the West over Ukraine. A lot of the Ukrainians I've talked to, while they appreciate the Western weapons supplies, say this is their war to fight. They say Ukrainians bear the brunt of the war. Apart from a few exceptions, almost all of the tens of thousands of people who have died in this war have been on Ukrainian territory.

It seems like a number of American officials understand that, having summed up their position as "nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine."

Shortly before Russia invaded last February, less than a third of Ukrainians supported foreign boots on the ground in Ukraine. Conversely, that roughly tracks with the results of an Ipsos poll from January, which found about 7 in 10 people in Western countries think they should "avoid getting involved militarily" in Ukraine, while also "supporting sovereign countries when they are attacked by other countries."

According to a poll by the independent Razumkov Centre, a majority of Ukrainians said they believe Ukraine is "heading in the right direction" in light of the war. This includes overwhelming domestic support for joining NATO and the European Union, despite both blocs expressing hesitation to Ukraine's membership for decades preceding the war.

Ukraine expert Terrell Jermaine Starr recently told me, "every step that Ukrainians took towards Europe came as a direct result of Russian aggression."

As such, many Ukrainians are against the war, with "no war" becoming a common slogan. But polls show that does not equal pacifism, with the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians supporting a prolonged defensive war.

"We want peace around the world," 70-year-old Kyiv resident Nina Albul recently told my colleague Hanna Palamarenko, "but we also want the world to know that it's okay for enslaved people to fight back."

By Julian Hayda, Ukraine producer


Is Russia still using the concept of denazification as justification for the war? — Anya

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual state of the nation address in central Moscow on Feb. 21. Putin hasn't pulled back on using "denazification" as his stated goal for the offensive in Ukraine.
Dmitry Astakhov / Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images
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Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual state of the nation address in central Moscow on Feb. 21. Putin hasn't pulled back on using "denazification" as his stated goal for the offensive in Ukraine.

From the very beginning of the war, President Putin has drawn parallels between the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in World War II and the current military campaign against supposed "neo-Nazis" in Ukraine. That hasn't let up, if only because it's a powerful emotional and recruitment tool. Twenty million Soviets — Russians, Ukrainians and others — died fighting Hitler's armies. In other words, the war affected nearly every family here.

But the Russian goal of "denazification" as a stated offensive goal has not faded into the background. Instead, the Kremlin has "flipped the script" from being the aggressor to the victim.

How? Putin illegally annexed four territories from Ukraine in September and now presents Ukraine's efforts — backed by the West — to take back its own territory as a fascist attack on the Russian homeland.

The Russian government largely ignores its own far-right networks — if only because they currently both share the same imperialist designs in Ukraine.

People often accuse Putin of wanting to resurrect the Soviet Union. Yet one could argue that Putin is more interested in gathering the lands of the Russian empire. In fact, in his speeches about Ukraine, he criticizes the Soviet leadership for creating Ukraine, the Soviet republic that later became an independent country, on a whim.

In his mind, the communist leadership tore Ukraine from its true home in the Russian empire.

By Charles Maynes, Moscow correspondent


Where exactly is the U.S. aid money coming from? Is this an open-ended budget line? — Trevor

The U.S. Congress approved four separate spending bills for Ukraine in the past year totaling $112 billion. More than half has been for military help. The rest is funding the Ukrainian government (this helps pay the salaries of Ukrainian government workers) and humanitarian aid to help the millions of Ukrainians who have been driven from their homes.

All these measures were approved when both the House and the Senate were controlled by Democrats. Some Republicans are saying the U.S. should stop funding Ukraine. But at this point, they are a relatively small number. Democrats in Congress overwhelmingly support aid for Ukraine, and most Republicans do as well.

The money Congress has already approved will help cover Ukraine's needs for the next several months. But at some point later this year, President Biden is certain to seek more money for Ukraine, and we'll see how the Republicans in the House respond.

My NPR colleague Franco Ordonez recently published a helpful breakdown on U.S. funding if you're looking for more on this topic.

By Greg Myre, national security correspondent


How does the history of Russia and Ukraine as constituent republics of the USSR play into the discourse in both countries? — Anya

Russian Communist supporters hold flags including one of the Soviet Union, as they take part in a rally next to the Karl Marx monument, marking the "Defender of the Fatherland Day," the former "Day of the Soviet Army", in downtown Moscow on Feb. 23.
Yuri Kadobnov / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Russian Communist supporters hold flags including one of the Soviet Union, as they take part in a rally next to the Karl Marx monument, marking the "Defender of the Fatherland Day," the former "Day of the Soviet Army", in downtown Moscow on Feb. 23.

Legally speaking, Russia and Ukraine have different relationships to their predecessor states.

Even though both Soviet republics ostensibly managed their own foreign policies, Russia was represented at the United Nations as the USSR, and all issues directed at Russia went through the USSR. Conversely, Soviet Ukraine had its own U.N. ambassador while also being represented by — and therefore rubber stamping — decisions made by the Soviet Union's delegation.

When the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991, the new Russian Federation inherited all of the USSR's treaties, diplomatic relationships, even embassies. Meanwhile, Ukraine had to pretty much start from scratch, establishing its own treaties and erecting embassies for the first time without approval from Moscow.

So in Ukraine, people mark the fall of the Soviet Union with "Independence Day," while in Russia, it's understood as a reformation of the same state with its roots in the Russian Empire.

Many Russian nationalists, though, perceive Ukraine as a breakaway region of greater Russia. During President Putin's marathon state address on Feb. 21, he accused Western countries of attempting "to deprive Russia of these historical territories that are now called Ukraine," making war the only way to "protect the people in our historical lands."

So, in recent years, Ukrainians have reached further into their history to argue that Ukrainian independence existed before the fall of the Soviet Union, or even the Russian Empire before it. "Independence Day," marking the dissolution of the Soviet Union, is now referred to as "the restoration of independence." Events relating to Ukraine's brief period of independence after World War I are now national holidays, as are days that celebrate a Ukrainian Cossack state that existed around the 17th century.

And even though the fall of the Soviet Union was notable for its lack of bloodshed, many in Ukraine refer to today's conflict as a true "war of independence."

By Julian Hayda, Ukraine producer


How does the U.S. provide the Ukrainian armed forces with training to effectively operate the weapon systems the U.S. provides? — Omar

Ask any U.S. military member who's worked with the Ukrainians and they'll tell you the Ukrainians are extremely tech-savvy and extremely fast learners.

After Russia first invaded in 2014, the U.S. military stepped up training for the Ukrainian military in western Ukraine. U.S. trainers continued working in Ukraine right up until the full-scale Russian invasion a year ago.

Ukrainian replacement troops go through combat training on Feb. 24 in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
John Moore / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Ukrainian replacement troops go through combat training on Feb. 24 in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

Now the U.S. and European militaries are training Ukrainian forces in Europe. Most U.S. training takes place at U.S. military bases in Germany.

The U.S. is also training about 100 Ukrainians on the Patriot anti-missile system in Oklahoma. This training has been picking up steam. The Western countries have gone from training the Ukrainians on specific systems to training larger units on how to carry out coordinated attacks.

In addition to training from NATO countries, the Ukrainians have figured out their own "war hacks" to make do with whatever they have in hand.

By Greg Myre, national security correspondent


Do you think that we will eventually take action against countries that purchase oil and other products from Russia? — Harris

The global oil economy is really complicated. It's perhaps the only thing more complicated than sanctions enforcement, and this question touches on both.

It is theoretically possible for the U.S. to sanction countries that maintain economic ties with Russia. The best precedent for this is perhaps the Helms–Burton Act, which extended U.S. sanctions on Cuba toward any foreign company doing business with both Cuba and the U.S. at the same time. When President Bill Clinton signed that law in 1996, several countries accused the U.S. of violating their sovereignty, passing their own laws to make the U.S. regulation effectively unenforceable.

That said, there wasn't much of a political will for third countries to sanction Cuba at the time. It's possible today's situation with Russia might make such a policy more politically palatable if the U.S. attempted it again, though I can't find any serious proposal in the government to do just that.

Keep in mind that India and China are among the two biggest importers of Russian oil, and sanctioning over a third of the world's population would be very difficult, if not impossible.

What the U.S. has done, though, is build a coalition to leverage the global oil market against Russia's energy sector. Earlier this month, the G7 imposed a $100 price cap on crude oil, but that's largely symbolic, with the current market hovering around $76. Meanwhile, Russia reportedly spends only $44 per barrel on production, meaning there's still plenty of profit flowing into the country, even with the price cap and market rate where it is now

The G7's price cap could be lower, but that would effectively eliminate profits from Western oil suppliers, where production costs have traditionally been higher than in Russia.

By Julian Hayda, Ukraine producer


Why is the Russian air force not more involved in the war? I rarely see any news regarding Russian strikes from the air. — Matt

This Swedish Air Force handout image from March 2, 2022, shows Russian fighter jets violating Swedish airspace east of the Swedish Baltic Sea island of Gotland. Ukraine's air defenses have been surprisingly effective against Russia's air force.
Swedish Air Force / TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images
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TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images
This Swedish Air Force handout image from March 2, 2022, shows Russian fighter jets violating Swedish airspace east of the Swedish Baltic Sea island of Gotland. Ukraine's air defenses have been surprisingly effective against Russia's air force.

A year ago, most everyone expected Russia to dominate the skies with its much larger and more modern air force.

But Ukraine's air defenses were surprisingly effective, shooting down many Russian fighter jets and helicopters in the first couple months of the war.

As a result, Russia essentially stopped flying fighter jets over Ukraine. Numbers are hard to come by, but Russia had an estimated 1,500 fighter jets before the war began and still has the vast majority of them, probably 1,400 or more.

Russia is keeping those fighter jets grounded for now and is attacking with cruise and ballistic missiles, as well as drones. Ukraine shoots most of these down with its air defense missiles. For Ukraine, the problem is it's running low on these missiles. If it runs out, then Russia could unleash its fighting planes.

I wrote about this recently, noting that we're seeing air battles daily, but pilots are rarely involved. This will increasingly be the future of air warfare.

By Greg Myre, national security correspondent


Could we be headed towards a world war? — Jakob

Unlikely. It is in neither side's interest. NATO does not want a full-scale war in Europe, and Russian President Vladimir Putin knows he would lose a conflict with a 30-member military alliance led by the Americans.

One reason that countries such as Germany have been reluctant to send heavier weapons to the Ukrainians is that Berlin does not want to give Putin any pretext for escalation. That said, war is, by its nature, unpredictable. Just ask Austria's Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose improbable assassination in Sarajevo sparked World War I.

By Frank Langfitt, international correspondent


Readers submitted these questions in our live blog. Some questions were edited lightly for length and clarity.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff