From the beginning of March 2014, in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and the Euromaidan movement protests of anti-government groups supported by Russia took place in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine, together commonly called the “Donbass”. These demonstrations, which followed the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, and which were part of a wider group of concurrent pro-Russian protests across southern and eastern Ukraine, escalated into an armed conflict between the separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (supported by Russian army), and the Ukrainian government. In the Donetsk People’s Republic, from May 2014 to a change of the top leadership in August 2014, some of the top leaders were Russian citizens. During the middle of 2014, Russian paramilitaries were reported to make up between 15% and 80% of the combatants.


Between 22 and 25 August 2014, Russian artillery, personnel, and what Russia called a “humanitarian convoy” crossed the border into Ukrainian territory without the permission of the Ukrainian government. Crossings occurred both in areas under the control of pro-Russian forces and areas that were not under their control, such as the south-eastern part of Donetsk Oblast, near Novoazovsk. These events followed the reported shelling of Ukrainian positions from the Russian side of the border over the course of the preceding month.

Events of 22 August were a “direct invasion by Russia of Ukraine”. Western and Ukrainian officials described these events as a “stealth invasion” of Ukraine by Russia. Two years later, in October 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin justified the incursion as “defending the Russian-speaking population in the Donbass”.

As a result of this, DPR and LPR insurgents regained much of the territory they had lost during the preceding government military offensive. A deal to establish a ceasefire, called the Minsk Protocol, was signed on 5 September 2014. Violations of the ceasefire on both sides were common. Amidst the solidification of the line between insurgent and government-controlled territory during the ceasefire, warlords took control of swaths of land on the insurgent side, leading to further destabilization. The ceasefire completely collapsed in January 2015, with renewed heavy fighting across the conflict zone, including at Donetsk International Airport and Debaltseve.

A new ceasefire, called Minsk II, was agreed to on 12 February 2015. Immediately following the signing of the agreement, separatist forces launched an offensive on Debaltseve and forced Ukrainian forces to withdraw from it. In the months after the fall of Debaltseve, minor skirmishes continued along the line of contact, but no territorial changes occurred. This state of stalemate led the war to be labelled by some a “frozen conflict”; despite this, the area stayed a war zone, with dozens of soldiers and civilians killed each month. Since the start of the conflict there have been more than 10 ceasefires, each intended to be indefinite, with the latest having started on 24 June 2017; both sides claim it collapsed almost instantly.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was a scheduled passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that was shot down on 17 July 2014 while flying over eastern Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board.  Contact with the aircraft, a Boeing 777-200ER, was lost about 50 km from the Ukraine–Russia border and wreckage of the aircraft landed near Torez in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, 40 km from the border. The crash occurred in an area controlled by the Donbass People’s Militia during the Battle in Shakhtarsk Raion, part of the ongoing war in Donbass. The crash is the deadliest airliner shootdown, eighth-deadliest aviation disaster