Back in 2003 when the U.S. invaded Iraq[a], my father told me about him watching the start of the Gulf War[a] live on television. Apparently my parents were watching the news and later on they started showing what I believe was the CNN live feed from Baghdad. This wouldn’t surprise anyone today, but in 1991 for a guy in a rural part of Portugal, it was something very different. In the area where they lived, most only had two TV channels available, a colour TV if they were lucky (many were still black and white), and after a day of work many would watch the Telejornal[a] at 20:00 and maybe one of the (bland) programs before going to bed. Watching war live wasn’t something that people were used to, so like many they stayed up until late.

I don’t remember much of the 2003 Iraq war even though it was broadcasted live too (12 year old me didn’t pay attention to wars or followed the news). The only memories I have from what I think was the start of the war was an American tank shooting by mistake at the hotel where some journalists were staying, a statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled, and weirdly some technology that RTP[a] was using to do live broadcasts from there… I think it involved sending the video (low quality) via satellite and the audio via a normal phone call or something like that? I was into mobile phones back then, 2.5G/3G services were being introduced, we could make (expensive) video calls, etc… maybe that’s why I still remember this.

In February 2022 I had a similar experience to that of my father back in 1991. Russia invaded Ukraine[a] and I was about to follow the start of this new stage of the war in a very different way.

This won’t be an interesting post for most, but it has been a year since the start of the invasion and I’m starting to forget some of the details, so this is me writing it down in case I want to refer to it later on. Some of the content and descriptions might be too much for some, so here’s your warning to stop reading. The dates should be more or less correct, but keep in mind that it has been a year since it happened. My time zone is UTC. Some of the links also have an archived version “[a]” saved when I was writing this in case the original source changes or disappears.

Ukraine War


I’ll start by saying that I’m not very familiar with what happened in eastern Europe since the fall of the Soviet Union. I was born in 1991 and later on wasn’t too interested to learn. The most I knew about Ukraine was some football players and the names of some areas from watching content about World War 2. That was it.

I think what caught my attention a few years ago was the 2014 protests[a] and the subsequent Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea[a]. I didn’t care much about the protests and politics to be honest as I had no idea what was happening, but unmarked soldiers[a] speaking Russian had invaded another country and Russia was denying that it was them? Something didn’t fit. I was aware that later on there was fighting going on in the east but didn’t pay much attention until Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down[a] (I like aviation and this was the same Malaysia Airlines of Flight 370[a] fame). Then I heard about some agreements[a], but didn’t know any of the details.

Fast forward to February 2022 and I – like many in the “west” – were paying way more attention to Ukraine. Even though I had reduced my news consumption, I was aware that U.S. president was warning about a possible invasion of Ukraine by Russia and that Russia denied it. Then there was the Russia-Belarus military exercises and some negotiations. NATO started reinforcing its eastern borders.

The days before the invasion

On Monday 21st of February, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin made a long speech about Ukraine. I don’t speak Russian nor wanted to watch the whole thing, but I watched a shorter translated version. Seeing him essentially denying Ukraine’s existence as a country and talking of old borders from the Russian Empire or Soviet times made some alarm bells go off in my head.

Was this him preparing the Russian public for his future plans? Was this his justification for war? And about the old borders, was he planing to invade other countries too? If that was the case, it would mean invading independent countries that are part of NATO and, consequently, a wider war.

As an European that knows a bit about old conflicts in this continent, this worried me.

Putin Speech 21 Feb 2022

The day before there was some news about a possible meeting[a] between the US and Russia. On the same day as the speech, the spokesperson for the UK prime minster (where I live) said something[a] about intelligence reports suggesting that the plan for the invasion had already begun. Hmm…

On a side note, while comment sections of news sites are usually of low quality, it’s still funny to see what people where saying back then. Some of the comments in the news articles didn’t age very well. “The ‘invasion’ never happened, and wont“:

«Well, the 'invasion' never happened, and wont. And Macron is sensibly organizing a public rapprochement. Germany was never keen. So BoJo is just declaring that it has happened anyway, and the Ukraine are calling for sanctions of Russia for... I amn't quite sure: maybe for treacherously NOT invading?»

But I digress…

Tuesday and Wednesday are a bit of a blur. On the 21st I had no idea if the invasion was going to happen, but then different things started to happen that convinced me (22nd) that it was going to happen and then (23rd) that it was going to happen very soon. I think it was a mix of the information coming out from the U.S and other western countries and increased military air traffic (surveillance planes and drones) in or near Ukraine’s borders (the information was public and available on sites like FlightRadar24, so they wanted to be seen).

Flight Radar 24

On the 23rd, someone I know told me about a chat they had that day with an old acquaintance. The woman, in her mid 50’s, was Ukrainian and their conversation eventually touched on the possible war. Her view was along the lines of “There’s no way Putin is going to invade Ukraine. The US is just trying to start something”. I made some remark about her lack of imagination.

On that day, Russia started evacuating their embassy in Kyiv, which is never a good sign. Then the Ukrainian parliament approved a state of emergency starting the next day and the “DPR” and “LNR” requested Russian help. [ As I was writing this and trying to check the dates of events, I learned that the documents (DPR, LNR) were actually dated to the day before (22), but only announced on the 23rd… ] After preparing the public with the long speech, was this the excuse needed for the invasion to begin?

I was convinced that the warnings were real and that the invasion was happening soon.

I had an arrangement/partnership with this guy from Kharkiv where there was a revenue share from a website I own. In the evening, I sent a payment in advance “in case there are any disruptions to international payments”. With the reports of a large Russian superiority, I assumed that at the very least border regions would be occupied and international sanctions would be in effect. He thanked me and we didn’t speak for a few days.

The invasion begins

I work from home and don’t have a strict set of hours to work. I like to work late into the night – it’s not unusual for me to go to bed at 4 or 5 in the morning – so I was trying to get some work done without distractions.

On the 24th of February, probably around 1 or 2 in the morning, I checked my inbox and noticed I had an email from a delivery company. The new Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 tablet that I had pre-ordered was going to arrive sooner than expected: on that day, at 11am, signature required… I still had a few things to do and wasn’t sleepy, so I decided to stay up until it arrived.

It wasn’t until around 3 that I realised that something was happening. Russia had closed the air space above the border areas and – I believe – Ukraine did the same, but for the whole country. By then there wasn’t anything in the air (at least not civilian). The surveillance drones, always visible in previous days, had “left” the country.

I couldn’t find much information on news websites, so I went to social media. Eventually I watched some video of Putin talking, but since I don’t speak Russian and the setting and his clothes looked the same as the video from a few days ago (screenshot above), I ignored it. Then found some reports of explosions. A few minutes later, with a cup of coffee on my hand, I finally understood that the video of Putin was in fact a new one where he was announcing the start of the invasion (Wikipedia[a]).

I don’t remember at what point I learnt this, but part of the invasion force from the north went through Chernobyl[a]. Not the best place to wage war, I thought.

One useful source of “curated” information was the live thread over at Reddit’s /r/WorldNews subreddit [some of the content that day: link, link, link]. While the discussion area is a cesspit in most cases, they had a live thread where only moderators could post content. Essentially they provided a feed with content from different sources – from official ones to random content posted on Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, etc [examples: link, link, link, link].

While I’m not a big fan of social networks, it was a good source of information in the first hours and days of the invasion if you knew where to look. While most international news organisations were in places like Kiev or Kharkiv, people were posting pictures and videos from other areas on Telegram and Twitter. A lot of Telegram content from local groups were being reposted on Twitter, which was useful for me. Plus, nerds gonna nerd… for example, someone using Google Maps traffic data to see where there might be some abnormal traffic jams:

Google Maps Traffic Data

[ This feature was later disabled in Ukraine to hide the movement of Ukrainian troops. ]

I could also see some of the places being targeted before it was live on the news channels I had access to.

Tweet Sumi

Kharkiv Smoke

Some of the equipment crossing the border:

Ukraine Belarus Border Tweet

Or people getting into the train/underground stations. For example, Kharkiv:

The content that could be found online was very diverse. There was a lot of garbage – as expected – but also stuff that wasn’t being shared by news organisations (at least not right away). Some people recorded cruise missiles flying above their heads:

Some of the content was geolocated quickly. For example, for the video above:


There was reports and videos from Russian forces advancing in places like Sumi in the north and Kherson in the south. For example, two videos from the dam in Nova Kakhovka[a]:

I had no idea at the time what was happening, but videos of lots of helicopters flying towards the area north of Kyiv were recorded by many. This was part of the different attempts from Russian forces to take control over the Antonov airport in Hostomel, so that their cargo planes could bring more troops and heavy equipment to bypass any Ukrainian defence to the north and push quickly towards the capital (I’m unsure about the order/correct date/hour of these videos):

Another interesting view:

And here’s one with a helicopter being shot down (the person in the video claims 2):

Apparently a CNN reporter travelled north from Kyiv and ended up finding the Russians already in the area:

CNN Hostomel

Russian tanks in the area of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant:

On social media I could also find discussions and information about other things. For example, the different markings (“V”, “Z”, “O”, etc) on equipment used by Russia. One could then use this to know where some of the content was coming from (south, north, east, etc):

Tweet Military Symbols

Or the reports of people leaving cities like Kyiv:

Another source of information was the live streams on YouTube. While news channels would be live from time to time, these “webcams” maintained by individuals and companies would stream live what was happening in the area.

I had 3 or 4 streams open on my secondary display on the first day. I was tired, waiting for that delivery, and wasn’t doing anything useful… so I kept an eye on that. On some streams I could see that everything was calm, while on others there was sounds of explosions, air raid sirens, plumes of smoke far away, etc.

These live streams also showed some of the movement of Russian equipment and troops. While some cameras displayed the view of a city from a tall building, others were just pointed at roads or junctions. Those who were watching these live streams probably remember the black smoke from some vehicles and even some specific tanks. For example, this one:

Russian Tank Soviet Flag

Then someone on Twitter located the place on the map. And apparently this was the same T-72 tank already in a different location:

I remember one stream where we could see their tanks advancing, but turning around some time later, stopping, and continuing in a different direction.

Eventually many of these more “informative” streams stopped working. Sometimes they would go offline or you’d see the soldiers shooting the camera or climbing the pole to point the camera at something else.

It was also interesting to see the different tankers circling above Poland and Romania near the border with Ukraine. They were there for hours, before departing to the UK or Germany just as a replacement arrived. We could see them because they had their transponders ON, but not the planes being refuelled. I wonder how much equipment was up during the first few days.

I don’t think it was right away, but people eventually realised that some of the Russian soldiers were using unencrypted radios to communicate. You could even listen to them on WebSDR sites, as pointed out on reddit[a]:

Reddit Comment

And a video:

[ For what happened next, this wikipedia page[a] contains a timeline of the first ~2 months. ]

War, unfiltered

On the first day I watched two videos (content warning, link and link). Someone (the claim was that it was a kid and that this was from the city of Uman, central Ukraine) was on their bike when something exploded near them. In the next frames, we could see the person slowly moving, looking at their legs, and then collapsing. That was a civilian dying. A few hours later, another video recorded by someone on their phone, showed the victim half covered with their feet pointing in the wrong direction. Horrible.

War Bike 1

War Bike 2

This wasn’t the pretty and well polished content for public consumption. This was the war. Raw, without filters, and almost in real time.

Another video (content warning, link) circulating on that day showed what seemed to be a dead Russian soldier and some armoured vehicles on fire. In one of the GCam groups where I am, someone recognised the area:

War East


A few days later, this same person had to spend a week without electricity. A few months later, the residential building where some of their family lived was hit and everyone who could leave Ukraine fled west. He had to stay as adult men couldn’t leave the country.

Someone else from Kyiv shared the last voice note from a friend of a friend. I don’t know the details, but he was killed while fighting north of the city during the first hours of the invasion.

This was actually “light” content, by the way. Much worse would come later from both sides. One in particular – shared a few days or weeks later, I’m not sure – showed what seemed to be Russian vehicles still smoking with bodies of burnt soldiers around them. It was one of their attempts to reach Kyiv and even though they were the ones bringing war to that place, I couldn’t help but feel sad for them. There were pictures and videos of civilians being removed from under the rubble because the building where they lived was hit. Panicked people during air attacks. Morgues full of bodies. And much more.

Then there’s the really bad content. While I try to keep my distance from such content, I’m aware of the video where Ukrainian soldiers shoot the legs of Russian PoWs, the one where Russian forces cut the genitals of a Ukrainian PoW while he was alive (and the online hunt to find who did it), the videos (ground + drone) where a few Russian soldiers faint a surrender while the last guy comes out shooting the Ukrainians, resulting in all Russians killed and some causalities on the Ukrainian side too (the later part of the video was then used by some to show the aftermath of “executions” without providing context). A few weeks ago there was a video where an unarmed Ukrainian PoW was saying his last orders before being shot. While I was writing this section, a new video where an alive Ukrainian soldier is being beheaded with a knife (I’m not going to mirror the video here for obvious reasons, but here’s copy of a thread where it was being discussed). Really nasty stuff.

This footage is not nice to watch, but maybe more people should watch some of it. Maybe throw in some descriptions or visuals of what happens when a nuclear bomb is dropped on civilians. Perhaps then, having a better idea of what war is actually like, less people will be so quick to get behind dumb wars like this one (I’m thinking of the flag waving crowd and the clowns that make a living on TV by saying that nuclear weapons should be used or that the war must expand to other countries).

Confusion, mistakes, propaganda, doublespeak, and lies

There was a lot of confusion during those first hours and days of the invasion. The fog of war affects everyone and it was hard to be 100% sure of what was happening, why it was happening, and what was going to happen next. If you’re reporting or following any similar situation live, then you will – willingly or not – report or receive wrong information.

There was a lot of movement during the first days and weeks, which resulted in accidental encounters between both sides. I remember a video – which I can’t find – where we had one Russian and one Ukrainian military vehicle travelling on the same road, but on opposite directions. The Ukrainian opens fire when passing by the Russians, but both continue on their way as if neither was prepared to engage. There was also reports of Ukrainian checkpoints being surprised when Russian forces reached them as they thought they controlled the area.

Situational maps from different sources showing how much Russia had advanced started to appear online. You couldn’t trust official sources or those that were supporting one side too much as they would try to show something that was more favourable to their side. Russia advanced down some important road towards Kyiv? Some maps would just paint that road “red” to show it was controlled by Russia, while others would display the whole region as Russian-controlled. The reality was probably a mix of both. The most reliable maps were probably the outdated ones (by a few hours/a day) that used open information (eg: social media content) as confirmation.

Some reports were confusing, turned out to be wrong or it’s still hard to know what happened for sure.

For example, the “tank” that ran over a car (video from afar and close up) was initially reported to be Russian, but some noted that the “tank” might have been[a] an Ukrainian Strela-10. Was this a panicked crew or the reported Russian saboteurs who had captured some Ukrainian equipment and uniforms, and tried to enter Kyiv? It could be saboteurs, after all we can see the Strela-10 on the videos (very graphic: link, link) where they were “retired”. But then we are relying on what the people on those videos are saying and since it was a very confusing situation and people were paranoid, we must also consider friendly fire. Later on, an article named The Russian Cops Who Tried To Storm Kyiv By Themselves[a] describing the attempts of Russian special police to reach Kyiv, talked a bit about this. Although they got the name of the Ukrainian official wrong (it’s Hanna Maliar[a], not Anna Mailer, unless it’s a translation thing), you can find news about the Facebook posts[a] mentioned by them:

Like a 21st Century Paul Revere, the CCTV images quickly spread like wildfire across social media. Various sources issued similar warnings that Russian soldiers had seized two Ukrainian vehicles, and disguised as Ukrainian soldiers, were now trying to infiltrate Kyiv.

The claim that Russian soldiers had disguised themselves as Ukrainian troops first came from Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Anna Mailer. Mailer shared an image from the CCTV video in a Facebook post, warning Kyivettes that some deceitful Russians were on their way.

The sentiment was echoed in another Facebook post by the Ukrainian State Service for the Special Communications and Information Protection shortly after that. In the post, the Special Communications agency shared a 9-second clip of the CCTV footage, adding, “In particular, the enemies use two Kozak armored personnel carriers, three KRAZS, and a GAZ-66. In addition, the invaders are dressed in military uniforms of the armed forces of Ukraine.”

However, in actuality, this was the lost convoy of Kemerovo officers blundering their way towards Kyiv and not a group of cunning saboteurs in disguise.


In fact, shortly after making the claim, Deputy Minister Mailer edited her original post, deleting the image and saying, “As it turns out, it’s not those ZSU [The Armed Forces of Ukraine] cars that disappeared, but identical.”

In their afternoon briefing, the Ukrainian General Staff later said, “Enemy reconnaissance and sabotage groups operate insidiously, disguising themselves in civilian clothes and infiltrating cities in order to destabilize the situation.”

So aside from Mailer’s initial retracted statement, no Ukrainian officials ever actually claimed Russian soldiers were disguising themselves as Ukrainian soldiers.

The author later expanded on this (reddit comment[a]):


As some others have correctly commented, those early street battles that went on during the morning of 2/25 in the Obolon District of Kyiv, were tragically friendly-fire incidents. I kind of eluded to it when I mentioned that after Deputy Defense Minister Anna Mailer’s initial warning, no Ukrainian officials ever actually said Russian soldiers disguised as Ukrainian troops ever tried to infiltrate Kyiv.

Unfortunately, Mailer’s initial warning went viral and no one ever really saw or reported that she had quickly edited her original Facebook post walking back what she said. Instead, it tragically spurned a series of friendly fire street battles in Obolon because Ukrainian soldiers no longer trusted each other. This all stemmed from that original group of Russian OMON and SOBR cops who insanely tried to drive straight into Kyiv.


I don’t know who’s right and one could argue that it’s still Russia’s fault if it was friendly fire because it only happened because of their invasion, but this shows the level of confusion going on. Both sides made mistakes because it’s was hard to understand what was happening.

Then there was things like the Ghost of Kyiv[a], a Ukrainian MiG-29 which was protecting the capital. At the time I found it to be a weird story because even though we had videos of a plane flying over the city, it was unlikely to be always the same plane or the same pilot. There was no “Ghost of Kyiv”. To quote the Wikipedia article:

The Ghost of Kyiv has been credited as a morale booster for Ukrainians and as a narrative for Ukraine’s success during the Russo-Ukrainian War. Two months after the spread, the Ukrainian Air Force acknowledged that he was a myth, and warned people not to “neglect the basic rules of information hygiene” and to “check the sources of information, before spreading it”.

I guess people hold on to these things when the situation is bad. Can’t blame them.

There’s also the now very famous “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.” quote attributed to President Zelensky after receiving an offer to evacuate. Even though it’s hard to confirm the statement[a] since it wasn’t a public conversation, I think it was very important for Ukrainian morale and helped to shape opinion outside the country. This was very different from what we’d seen in Afghanistan[a] a few months earlier where the president fled the country.

There were also two famous occurrences I remember well.

In one video, some woman went up to a Russian soldier and asked him what they were doing there. Then she offered him some sunflower seeds so they could grow when he finally dies in Ukrainian soil:

And obviously the recording from the Snake Island, where a border guard replied to an ultimatum by the (now sunk) Russian cruiser Moskva with a go fuck yourself[a]:

At the time it was reported that everyone there had been killed and this was yet another example of defiance.

Imagine you’re an Ukrainian soldier under fire and see your president not running away, women going up to the enemy’s face and telling them that they’re going to die, and see other soldiers telling the enemy to go fuck themselves… there’s some incentive to not just give up. It might be propaganda (what isn’t?), but it helped them.

Eventually we learned that the guys from the Snake Island were actually alive. I don’t know if they knew and still used the recording to rally the people or if after losing contact they assumed that the men had died, just like many had during those first hours of the invasion. While it’s easy to assume malice, we should keep in mind the level of confusion on that day and that the island probably wasn’t the main priority at the time.

I also remember a few examples of Ukrainians that spoke Russian (their main language) and went up to Russian soldiers to show their dissatisfaction with what was happening. It was clear to me that this wasn’t going to be an easy task for Russia. Even if the invasion was successfully, many didn’t want them there.

Going back to the weeks and days before the invasion, as I explained above, we had the “west” saying that Russia was going to invade and Russia saying that it was all a lie. Russia, as far as I’m aware, maintained their position until the Putin’s announcement went live on TV and a confirmation was made by their representative (Vasily Nebenzya[a]) at the United Nations… but wait, it’s not a war! It’s a special military operation!

No one can’t prepare an invasion like this in just a few hours or days, so if we’re looking at this from a neutral position and see what was said by the “west” and by Russia until that point, it’s clear who was lying.

Just like the maps, you can’t trust either side when it comes to their losses (both soldiers and equipment). This was true back in February 2022 and continues to be the case more than a year later. With this said, I believe Ukraine was being more truthful at the time on matters that weren’t affected by the initial confusion. For example, about losses of troops:

1) On the 25th, a day after the invasion started, President Zelensky said that the Russians had advanced and that Ukraine suffered loses (source[a]):

Zelensky Losses

Keeping in mind that this is the leader of a country under attack trying to keep the people motivated, if we remove the initial positive tone, he’s not hiding the loses of both men and territory.

2) On the 26th (two days after the invasion), Russia’s Ministry of Defence still reported no losses (source[a]):

No Russian Losses

This was false. By the 26th we had video proof (some linked on this post) of dead Russian and Ukrainian soldiers. Any side claiming no losses was lying.

It was only on the 2nd of March that they confirmed some losses on a daily report: 498 Russian troops dead and 1597 injured. Part of the official video with automatic YouTube subtitles (a bit out of sync, I think):

On a side note, the map behind him is from Open Street Maps (screenshot). Could be just for show, but hopefully they were not using them to move around in Ukraine as map quality varies from place to place.

Public opinion and reaction

We all live in some “bubbles” which affect our perception of events, but I believe the opinion of most in Europe and North America was mostly in favour of Ukraine.

This wasn’t because they had been brainwashed for years to support Ukraine. There was a lot of noise when Russia invaded Crimea and then when a civilian plane was shot down in the east, but also reports from time to time about some less friendly people fighting in the east. Plus, this was two years after a pandemic that brought a lot of change with it. Everyone was trying to go back to normal and the old war in Ukraine wasn’t a concern for most.

The support, in my view, was due to Russia being the one invading. Independently of the reasons presented by Russia, the suffering and fear of a wider European war was caused by them. Factually, it was Russia who crossed the border and started this new phase of the war. It was their soldiers, their tanks, their missiles. Ukraine needed help to defend themselves.

There were two groups that “annoyed” me (and still do): the just stop the war crowd and the we support Russia because of the Soviet Union one.

Simply stop the war!

Just stop the war and stop sending weapons to Ukraine.

I agree that the war should stop. Above I wrote about the nastiness of war and criticised those who want it so badly, so I get it. However, many of those saying this seem to think that 1) you can really just stop the war and 2) that sending Ukraine weapons is only prolonging the suffering. Here’s the thing: You can’t just stop a war when one side (Russia) is looking for more than just a change of government or an assurance of some kind. From statements from their officials to opinions on programs on their state TV channels to videos from their soldiers, there’s a need to “clean” Ukraine.

See what happened during the temporary occupation of the area north of Kyiv. The actions of Russian forces are now known as the Bucha massacre[a]. In late 2022, the The New York Times published a visual investigation of what happened there. It’s supported by CCTV and drone footage, social media information, and reports/photos/videos of people that live there. Since the video requires a login because of age restrictions:

Later on, mass graves were found[a] in Izium, in the east.

If you are “pro-Russia”, you might say that there’s no way Russian forces would do this, but then when we have videos from Russian sources they record themselves executing or torturing Ukrainian soldiers. Is it that hard to imagine that they could do something similar to people who need to “disappear” anyway?

Pavel Gubarev[a], one of the main figures in the Donbas back in 2014, had this to say in October 2022:

Those are Russian people, who are possessed. We aren’t coming to kill you, but to convince you. But if you don’t want us to convince you, we’ll kill you. We’ll kill as many as necessary: 1 million, 5 million, or exterminate all of you.

Does it look like that it’s all going to stop with a simple “please stop”?

When they say that military help shouldn’t be provided to the country being attacked, I fail to see how that actually helps people on the ground. It stops the combat, but not the killing, the annexations, the “denazification” (a term that seems to include anyone isn’t aligned with Russia), the erasing of a culture, the “russification”. You’re not helping the Ukrainian people by removing the means for them to resist.

On top of this, if we listen to Russian media or what some of their officials say, from the Baltics to Kazakhstan, there are lots of ethnic Russians in “need of protection” and countries that need to receive the Ukrainian treatment. We must be careful here because if we don’t make it clear that these type of actions can be costly, we might end up creating bigger problems. Appeasing[a] strong leaders didn’t work very well in the past and I’m not sure that it would work now with someone obsessed with the guy who conquered the Sea of Azov more than 300 years ago. A weak response not only may give them ideas to do the same to more countries, but also give others ideas to invade Taiwan or something like that. Something to keep in mind if you really want peace.

Good ol’ Soviet Russia!

This second group is a mix of people who think we’re still in the 70’s or simple sides with the opposite of what the west – especially the US – sides with.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to blindly support anything. Be it a sports team, a political party, a country, a brand, a politician, a friend, etc, we should look at the problem/question/product/etc, try to understand it, consider the evidence and then make up our own mind. I don’t understand how a sports fan, a religious person, people involved in politics, etc, turn off their thinking brain and still support “their side” even when there’s proof of corruption, crime, etc. It bothers me a lot when a friend or family member is in the wrong and I’m expected to side with them. So you can see why it’s hard for me to comprehend the support from some for a war started by Russia just because the US is against it or because Russia used to be the “heart” of the Soviet Union.

I’m from Portugal. While I have been living the the UK for the past 15 years, I still keep an eye on what’s happening there. Portugal has a communist party which always manages to have a few members elected to the national parliament. I don’t have a problem with this because, well, people have different views and it’s part of democracy, but man, they do have some weird positions.

This party was against the Iraq War and saw it as “American imperialism”. They even spent time saying that we should find ways to avoid war in Ukraine. You’d expect them to be shocked with invasion! But no, they decided to do some mental gymnastics and blame everyone but the country launching the invasion. You see, all this is actually caused the US, NATO, and the EU!

I know that this position from a small party from a small country doesn’t really matter much, but people/groups like this exist. Of all parties, they were the only ones who refused to condemn the invasion (source[a], source[a]) even though they kept saying that “war isn’t the solution” for the problem. When Zelensky was invited to talk in parliament, they refused to be present and gave 5 reasons for their decision… a fact check[a] concluded that all 5 were wrong. For a while they also refused to call it a war, just like Russia: it was a “military operation”.

Since Russia was the main force behind the Soviet Union and since Russia’s position is the opposite to the US position, then Russia is what they support. There are many who think and pick sides like this. It doesn’t matter who does it or what it is about, it doesn’t make sense to me.

For me, a war is a war, independently of who’s waging it. Something bad doesn’t become good just because it’s our side doing it. Sometimes the side we prefer is in the wrong and our enemy is actually right. Sometimes both sides are wrong or bad. Sometimes both sides are bad, but one side is worse than the other. Anyway, it’s sad to see rational thinking going out the window in situations like this.

Public protests

Back in February 2003, as the Iraq War was about to happen, protests against it were organised[a] in many countries around the world. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I was too young to care about it, but reading about it now, it doesn’t seem to have been very a popular war in Europe. In the UK – one of the countries part of the coalition – pools show that there was support[a] for it, but not in a massive way. In London (my future home city), between 750k and 1 million people protested. It didn’t stop the government, but it’s clear that there was some push back.

Protests because of the 2022 invasion of Ukraine were not as big. At least in Europe, still winter and with the concerns about Covid, the conditions weren’t the best. But still, a few thousand here in London, more in Berlin, etc (wikipedia[a]).

There was some protests in Russia. Numbers are all over the place, but in 2014[a] between 3 thousand (Moscow police), 30 thousand (Reuters), and 100 thousand (organizers) protested against the actions in Crimea. It’s not much if we compare it to the 700k in London against the Iraq War, but it was a lot for Russia. There was some protests[a] in 2022, but smaller than before. There were lots of arrests though. You could even be arrested for holding a white piece of paper:

I don’t want to be too harsh as clearly some in Russia don’t support the war and it’s not easy to protest, but I was expecting more. There wasn’t much of a reaction from the population other than shrugging or small protests. There’s almost no contradictory opinions, there are laws that stop them from being against the war, some of the younger generations are leaving… it’s depressing to see.

Social media downfall

If you’ve read until here, then you know that it was through social media that most information and content reached me. Twitter had some original content or reposted content from sites/sources I don’t use (eg: VKontakte) or wasn’t aware of (eg: Telegram channels). Reddit was similar to Twitter, but probably better as there are smaller subs for specific subjects which makes it easy to find content and don’t attract the same type of discussions as larger subs. Telegram provided a lot of content from Russian and (less) Ukrainian sources.

It’s important to note that many of the sources were one sided or even controlled by states, but the picture posted on a pro-Russia channel of Russian soldiers entering a city would tell us that they had advanced in the area and the video from a pro-Ukraine channel showing their soldiers still in the city hours later would tell us that the Russians didn’t control the city.

On Twitter, search pages for queries like the name of specific cities were more or less clean for the first few hours. As discussion about the war increased, so did the content from accounts that were also posting about vaccines, Donald Trump, truckers protests in Canada, etc. Some of them were too obvious. I mean, why would someone from Venezuela or Zimbabwe be tweeting 24/7 (they don’t sleep?) about “MAGA”, blaming the west about the invasion, and sharing false reports about the war? I’m sure there was similar accounts posting pro-Ukraine content, but either they were less blatant or were buried under supportive tweets from normal accounts.

And by the way, I’m fairly sure that some accounts are centrally controlled or heavily influenced. In September, during the 2022 Kharkiv counteroffensive[a], multiple pro-Russia Telegram channels of all sizes posted the same message at the same time. “There is no panic. In Balakleya there were mostly mobilized. […]”:

[ Left: original. Right: translated with Google Translate. Memes were made about this. ]

Things started well on reddit, but eventually some subs also went down hill. On subs focused on this war, people started downvoting any content that showed Russian successes. This is to be expected on platforms that give that power to the users, but if most on the site see this war as Russian aggression, then they won’t like content that show their success and thus the content will be downvoted. There was also one sub where, apparently, its creator decided to start removing content that painted Russia in a bad light, which resulted in him being kicked from there. The danger here is that if we’re not careful and only consume one sided content, we’ll get a wrong idea of what’s happening.

Eventually things started to change. Some live streams stopped working, either because the Russians had disconnected them/there was internet blackouts or because the Ukrainians were trying to hide their movements. Civilians shared less information online (a request from the authorities, but for a good reason: “leaks” from either side often resulted in strikes, destroyed equipment, and dead people). Accounts that became popular sometimes would post stuff without verifying it just so they could be first. And after the initial wilderness, both sides were trying to control the flow of information. The thing is, if you want to know what’s really going on, the tweets and telegrams from some newspaper in Kyiv or Moscow are not good sources.

Social media is still useful to find content about Ukraine, especially when there’s a communication blackout and something is happening. Here we must be careful though, as one side will use the other’s silent to overwhelm everyone with their “truth”. A good example of this was the 2022 Ukrainian Kherson and Kharkiv offensives and the “media blackout” that preceded them. Most information was coming from Russia and according to them both offensives were going badly… well, they were pushed back on both places.

2022 Kharkiv Counteroffensive

Online discussions

I can’t comment on the discussions before the invasion started. I stopped using social networks like Twitter and Facebook years before and I wasn’t following the situation in Ukraine, so I don’t know how it was before the invasion.

The replies to the early reports were a mix of disbelief it was really happening and condemnation, at least on sites like Twitter and Reddit. As more footage of what was happening spread, I started to see calls to something to be done or messages agreeing with measures that supported Ukraine (accepting refugees, sending them weapons, sanctions, etc).

Right from the start, there were comments that removed or shifted the blame from Russia to someone else. I think it’s fair to say that it got worse as more days passed. There was also comments saying that it was a lost war and that Ukraine should just surrender. There was push back, at least in open discussions. Some of the arguments and counter-arguments I’ve seen:

  • It’s NATO’s fault because they keep expanding → There’s no way Ukraine would have been accepted into NATO with the corrupt/weak/bloated military they had in 2014; Before the invasion there were talks about them being permanently neutral and Russia didn’t care; What’s Russia saying/doing for so many countries to want to join NATO and have their protection instead of being neutral or joining the Russian equivalent CSTO?
  • It’s the US/EU/NATO fault! → It was Russia who made the decision to invade in 2014 and escalate in 2022.
  • Ukraine was preparing to invade Russia → Obviously false as they don’t have the military resources, experience, population, or economy to do it, not to mention that Russia has nuclear weapons.
  • Ukraine was killing people in the Donbas → Reports from the UN say that it’s not true; It’s Russia fault as it’s the consequence of their invasion in 2014, way before there was trouble in that area.
  • Russia intervened to save lifes → Good job, they’ve killed more in X weeks/months than the war in X years.
  • Ukraine is full of nazis! → They have a jewish president; You’re over-blowing the problem, almost no one on the extreme right.
  • The “Kyiv regime” was put there by the west! → It was a revolution; What happened followed the Ukrainian law, like it or not; Russia intervenes and props up government, sometimes using force (Belarus, Kazakhstan), why are you complaining?
  • Look at who you are supporting: <insert image of some ukranian neo nazis> → Look a who you are supporting: <insert image of some russian neo nazis>.
  • Using crimes to justify even more crimes.
  • And so on.


On top of the toxicity and repeated arguments, no one really changes their mind, so it’s all a waste of time. I was glad (and sad) to see that my decision to stop using social media years before was still a good one.

My position on Ukraine

There are three reasons why I usually don’t express my opinion online:

  • I usually don’t have a lot to say.
  • I struggle to put ideas into words. It’s a lot of work and I’m lazy.
  • What I write today might be taken out of context and used against me in the future.

The opinion I currently have is shaped by what I currently know and influenced by a certain context, but the world isn’t black and white, things change and my opinion changes with them. My position will change if the good guys today become the bad guys in the future.

It is my opinion (April 2023) that Ukraine is the victim in this war (not to be confused with me hating Russians). Therefore I hope they manage to take back their territory and end the war in a strong enough position to stop future invasions by any country.

Why do I have this position?

If we go back to the end of the Soviet Union and the results of the referendum on Ukrainian independence[a], 92% of the population voted for Ukraine to be an independent state. The lowest result was in Crimea, but even there, and with what I believe was a majority of ethnic Russians, the results were 54.19% in favour. There was a Ukraine before the Soviet Union (albeit different of today’s Ukraine) and after its dissolution all regions decided to be part of Ukraine, not Russia.

Fast forward to 2013-2014, Ukraine was turning west and a plan was being worked on to proximate Ukraine and the European Union (European Union–Ukraine Association Agreement[a]). This would facilitate things like trade between both sides. The Ukrainian president at the time (Viktor Yanukovych[a]) suddenly changed course and instead decided to turn east, get closer to Russia, and join the Eurasian Economic Union[a]. Ukrainians protested[a], some died, things got out of control and just as fast as he had performed a switcheroo, the president was fleeing to Russia and in early February 2014 Ukrainians had a revolution[a] on their hands.

During the last week or so of February, there were a few pro-Russia protests[a] in the South and East of Ukraine. If the earlier protests were claimed to be supported by the “west”, these were supposed to be supported by Russia. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, but since we’ll never know for sure and I’m only trying to understand who started the armed conflict, it doesn’t really matter.

Here’s something that matters to me: At the end of February, unidentifiable armed soldiers[a] and local militias essentially took control of the government and important buildings/areas of Crimea. According to Russia’s president himself, those soldiers were Russian. The “local militias”, while I don’t know to what extent, also had Russians in them. Igor ‘Strelkov’ Girkin[a], a Russian army veteran and former FSB (successor to the KGB) officer, said that he was one of the commanders of the militia and that the militias contained Russian volunteers.

Who invaded Ukraine and started an armed conflict? It was Russia, by their own admission.

On the 16th of March a referendum was held in Crimea to decide if they should join Russia. It passed with 95-96% of the votes. There are questions about the validity of the results and about the observers picked to monitor the referendum. In any case, the main problem for me is that everything happened under an occupying force and with armed militias around those making decisions. See for yourself what Girkin had to say about it:

But it didn’t stop with Crimea. On March 3rd 2014, a pro-Russia Ukrainian called Pavel Gubarev[a] (which said in 2022 that they would kill as many Ukrainians as necessary, see video above) declared himself the “people’s governor” after protestors took over a government building in Donetsk. The intention was to have a referendum like the one in Crimea. He’s also credited with the creation of the “Donbas People’s Militia”.

Girkin moved from Crimea to the Donbas to help out. On the 12th of April he led a group who took control of different state buildings in Sloviansk, Donetsk. According to him, his group had been formed in Crimea and had volunteers from Russia and Ukraine with combat experience. What came next was the War in Donbas[a] where nasty things where done by nasty people. This was one of the excuses used by Russia to provide direct help to the separatist regions and then invade Ukraine properly in 2022.

As far as I can tell, Russia invaded Crimea and was directly involved in the armed revolt and later combat in the Donbas.

What about the neo-nazis?

We can’t talk about the war in Ukraine without talking about far-right groups and their involvement in the fighting. As far as I can tell, they exist and behave as you’d expect. I’m not going to defend them or their alleged crimes, but there’s a context and their existence doesn’t give anyone permission to invade, kill, and annex parts of another country.

First, we all must acknowledge that almost every country in the world has the same problem. The problem is larger in some countries than it is in others and some of the groups are on the far-right, others on the far-left, and others are so extreme and weird that it’s hard to tell where they sit. Some are ultra nationalists, some are anarchists. Some are religious, some are not. You’ll find them in political parties, in organised football fan groups, inside security forces, etc.

Yes, Ukraine has ultra nationalists with extreme views, but so does Russia and some even openly support and participate in this war. Does this give anyone permission to invade Russia to “de-nazify” the place? Of course not.

Second, context is needed. When a country is under threat, many of the people who are usually willing to fight often have certain types of views. When they band together, you get a group with extreme views that is well motivated and ready to fight what they see as the enemy.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Ukraine’s military was caught with their pants down, they were open to accept anyone who wanted to fight. I believe that’s how the Azov Battalion[a] came to be. Other groups also joined the fight and not all are far-right neo-nazis. In 2018 VICE posted a video titled Ukraine’s Rogue Militias[a], which can be useful to get some insight about what had happened in 2014 and how the situation was 4 years after it all started.

This is not an attempt to excuse the actions of these groups, but the context matters as many of the groups Russia complains about were created as a reaction to their own actions.

Third, from my limited knowledge, some seem to exaggerate the problem. One could argue that even one neo-nazi is one too many, but they’re certainly not the majority of Ukraine’s population as claimed by some people. A few points:

  • In 2014, already after the initial fighting with Russia, the Armed Forces of Ukraine increased its size to 204k soldiers, not counting civilian staff. The highest number I could find for the main target of criticism (Azov) was 2500 members. That’s less than 1.5% of the total number of Ukrainian forces.
  • In 2019, Ukraine elected Volodymyr Zelenskyy[a] – a jew – as president of the country with 73% of the votes. While electing a comedian might have been a vote of protest, he won everywhere but Lviv (in the west).
  • During the 2019 parliamentary elections[a], the far-right party (Svoboda) received 2.16% of the vote, keeping 1 seat but losing 5.

No doubt that there are neo-nazis in Ukraine, but I can’t find evidence of it being a widespread problem in the years leading up to the 2022 invasion.

I know that Ukraine is far from perfect, but there’s more than just neo-nazis in the country.

On a side note:

If it was Russia’s intention to destroy groups like Azov, then I’m not sure if they’ve been successful. With the siege of Mariupol[a], Russia provided them with the opportunity to go from a small group to become “heroes” in Ukraine. Now they have more supporters than before and other units (unrelated to the original group, as far as I’m aware) are being named after them.

Final words

I was surprised with the amount of information I was getting during the first days of the war.

Usually I’d get my news about something like this by going to a news website, picking a newspaper left by someone else on the bus or train, watching a news channel, etc, but here I was watching it happen in near real time directly on my computer. Tanks on the move on a YouTube live stream, air raid sirens or the sounds of explosions on some random webcam, seeing a missile hitting something just a few minutes after it happened on Twitter, and so on. I’m certainly not the first to follow a war like this, but it was something new to me.

I’d like to point out that this might not work well for everyone. We should do this for any sources of information, but especially when anyone can post and make claims, we need to have the capacity to filter information. There was a lot of wrong information flying around. From wrong claims, to old content being presented as new or gaming footage being presented as real footage. We must keep an open mind and receive information from different sources and sides, otherwise we can’t reach proper conclusions.

Finally, I don’t think it’s healthy to follow the situation too closely. I’ve written about this on my Less News post, but this stuff can be addictive and too much of it isn’t good for one’s mental health. I spent more time than I should checking how things were going, but by the 3rd day I started pulling back again. I tried to have a proper night of sleep, forced myself to get some work done, etc. While what was happening was sad, seeing someone dying or checking if the lines had moved didn’t help anyone. There was nothing I could do.

I wonder how it will be 20 years from now. Maybe we’ll be able to see everything in real time inside some virtual reality and get PTSD from it. This assuming that the internet won’t be censored to the point where such acts of violence can’t be easily shared.