Press release February 24, 2023
Freedom House Affirms Ukraine’s Sovereignty, Right to Liberty on the One-Year Anniversary of Russia’s Full-Scale Invasion
The Russian military invasion of Ukraine is an attack on the Ukrainian people and on democracy globally. Freedom House urges democratic governments worldwide to publicly recognize and support a Ukrainian victory as the only acceptable outcome of this war. Anything less all but guarantees future authoritarian aggression.
On the anniversary of the full-scale military invasion of Ukraine by Russia’s authoritarian regime, Freedom House president Michael J. Abramowitz issued the following statement:
“Today, we honor the resilience of the Ukrainian people as they bravely defend their sovereign territory against Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war of conquest, which has cost hundreds of thousands of lives. The Kremlin’s indiscriminate targeting of civilians—including children, the elderly, and people with disabilities—and its forcible deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia amount to war crimes, for which Putin and his accomplices must be held accountable through continued sanctions and asset freezes, asset seizures that support Ukrainian reconstruction, and justice through a special tribunal. The world must not ignore the crimes of the Russian leadership and military, and their mercenaries and enablers.
“The international community must stand with Ukraine, in word and in deed, until victory is achieved on their terms. We urge democratic governments to publicly recognize that Ukrainian victory is the only acceptable outcome of this unjust war. Anything less all but guarantees future aggression from Moscow. While the provision of weapons and technical and security assistance is needed to achieve victory on the battlefield, democracies must also provide support for human rights defenders, journalists, and citizens who are engaged in the vital wartime work of documenting human rights violations, collecting evidence of war crimes, and assisting those whose lives have been forever changed by the war.
“We urge democratic countries to remain unwavering in their support for Ukraine and its people, including by providing direct budgetary support to the Ukrainian government, with appropriate oversight, to withstand the considerable economic and social shocks the invasion has caused. We must also prepare to support Ukrainian reconstruction, as it rebuilds and further strengthens its democratic institutions. Close partnership with Ukrainian civic organizations and independent media will be essential in that process.
“Ukraine fights not just for democratic values, human dignity, and the right to chart its own future. It fights for its very existence. And it fights to show the world that authoritarian powers cannot win over democracy. The outcome of this war will have consequences that span continents and generations. Ukraine must win.”
On February 24, 2022, Russia’s authoritarian regime launched an unprovoked, illegal, full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a significant escalation of its attempt to seize sovereign Ukrainian territory since 2014. Despite boasting that they would quickly overrun the country, the Russian military encountered fierce resistance from the Ukrainian people. Russian authorities ultimately withdrew troops from northern Ukrainian territory, leaving behind staggering evidence of war crimes including mass execution, torture, and rape of civilians by Russian military personnel and mercenaries.
After failing to seize and occupy northern regions, the Russian military launched a renewed offensive on eastern and southern parts of Ukraine. By May, Russian forces had taken the strategic port city of Mariupol. Russian attacks indiscriminately targeted civilians, including at a maternity hospital and a theater that had clearly indicated that children were inside. Most of the city was reduced to rubble, causing a massive humanitarian crisis.
Ukrainian forces retook significant territory in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions during the fall. As Russian forces continued to face defeat on the battlefield, there was a significant increase in long-range missile and drone strikes against civilians and civilian infrastructure throughout the country. Mercenary Wagner Group forces gained notoriety, recruiting convicted felons from prisons and committing brutal acts against civilians. Despite losing territory in these regions, the Kremlin illegally claimed to annex Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia through sham referendums, drawing international condemnation.
Missile and drone strikes against civilian populations and Ukraine’s energy infrastructure have continued through the winter months, as the Kremlin’s wartime playbook seeks to terrorize and freeze the Ukrainian population into defeat. Intense fighting continues in the Donbas region, with Ukrainian and Russian forces dug in and bracing for a renewed offensive in the coming months.
Russia was rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2022, Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2022, and as a Consolidated Authoritarian Regime in Nations in Transit 2022. Russia is also one of the world’s worst perpetrators of transnational repression.
Ukraine was rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2022, Partly Free in Freedom on the Net 2022, and as a Transitional or Hybrid Regime in Nations in Transit 2022.
Crimea and Eastern Donbas were both rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2022, and are assessed by Freedom House as occupied territories rather than independent countries.
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