The terrible cost of Russia’s war is being felt far beyond the battlefield

Delegates from around 160 countries will gather in Switzerland on June 15-16 as the country hosts a Summit on Peace in Ukraine. The goal of the two-day event is to develop a “common understanding” on a possible path toward a just and lasting peace in Ukraine.

This new peace initiative comes at a critical point in the Russia-Ukraine War. More than two years since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, there remains no end in sight to what is the largest European conflict since World War II. Instead, Vladimir Putin’s invading army is once again advancing, and has recently attempted to open a new front with a cross-border offensive close to Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv.

In parallel to these front line advances, the Russian military is also conducting in a nationwide bombing campaign that appears designed to terrorize Ukrainian civilians and force millions to flee their homes by making large parts of the country uninhabitable. Since the beginning of 2024, Russia has damaged or destroyed around half of Ukraine’s remaining energy generation capacity, leading to rolling blackouts. Meanwhile, recent air strikes against civilian targets such as shopping centers have left dozens dead. This air offensive illustrates how the escalating costs of the conflict are being felt far beyond the battlefield.

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The most immediate consequences of Russia’s invasion have been carnage and destruction on an unprecedented scale for twenty-first century Europe. Military losses on both sides have not been officially disclosed and remain hotly disputed, but are widely believed to be in the hundreds of thousands. A similar number of soldiers have suffered life-changing injuries.

Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians have likely been killed during the invasion. Large numbers of Ukrainians have been subjected to forced deportation to Russia, including thousands of children. Many more have been abducted and remain missing. A long list of Ukrainian towns, villages, and entire cities have been reduced to rubble.

Even for those who have escaped physical injury or the loss of property, Russia’s invasion has often had a devastating impact. Almost everybody in Ukraine has lost a friend, acquaintance, or family member in the war. Experts are already warning that Ukrainian society must prepare to deal with major mental health challenges for decades to come.

The demographic situation is equally alarming. Around a quarter of Ukraine’s prewar population have been forced to flee their homes, becoming either internally displaced or leaving the country for the neighboring EU. This has led to a dramatic decline in Ukraine’s overall population. The longer the war continues, the less likely it becomes that Ukrainian refugees will return home.

In areas such as education, the costs of Russia’s invasion are severe and will likely be long-lasting. Prior to the full-scale invasion, Ukraine ranked among the world’s most educated populations. However, ongoing hostilities now threaten this status. A generation of young Ukrainians have had their schooling and university studies disrupted or derailed entirely by the war. Inevitably, many have chosen to continue their studies abroad. The same is true for Ukrainian academics. This wartime brain drain represents a massive blow to Ukraine’s future.

The Ukrainian economy has displayed remarkable resilience over the past two years of full-scale war, but even this cannot disguise the harm done by Russia’s invasion. With almost twenty percent of Ukraine currently under Russian occupation or close enough to the front lines to make normal business activities impossible, many companies have had to relocate or cease operations entirely. Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports has created further logistical problems, while also reducing export revenues and depriving the Ukrainian authorities of taxes.

Finally, with Ukraine’s law enforcement agencies focused on war-related priorities and as employment options become more limited, crime is becoming a mounting challenge. According to recent research, most Ukrainian organized crime groups have severed longstanding ties with their Russian counterparts, but remain active and continue to seek opportunities created by wartime realities.

From mental health and population decline to the economy and education, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has had a profoundly negative impact on Ukrainian society that will be felt for generations to come. This should be at the forefront of people’s minds as they gather in Switzerland to discuss how to end the war and establish a sustainable peace for Ukrainians.

Mark Temnycky is a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.

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The views expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its staff, or its supporters.

The Eurasia Center’s mission is to enhance transatlantic cooperation in promoting stability, democratic values and prosperity in Eurasia, from Eastern Europe and Turkey in the West to the Caucasus, Russia and Central Asia in the East.

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Image: People stand near an improvised memorial site on Independence Square in Kyiv, where relatives and friends plant Ukrainian flags with the names of military personnel killed in battles with the Russian army. Ukrainian capital is located away from the fighting places, but the presence of war is felt in the city and affects many aspects of the life of local residents. Russian troops entered Ukrainian territory on February 2022, starting a conflict that provoked the destruction of areas and humanitarian crisis. (Oleksii Chumachenko / SOPA Images via Reuters Connect)