Ukraine invasion: How did we get here and why has Russia attacked?

A Ukrainian sniper and Vladimir Putin Credit: AP

Words by ITV News Multimedia Producer Connor Parker

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has shocked the world, but it is far from the first time the two nations have been caught in a struggle for survival.

On 24 February after months of preparation, Russian Federation forces under the direction of President Vladimir Putin entered Ukraine in a hostile invasion of the country.

What Mr Putin's goals are for the conflict remain unclear, Ukraine is the poorest country in Europe and Russia faces a hostile population if they do succeed in occupying large swathes of land, so there appears to be little to gain economically.

Mr Putin has also already paid a high price for the aggressive action which has resulted in crippling sanctions being placed on the Russian economy and diplomatic isolation on the world stage.

But Russia's interest in Ukraine is as much to do about culture, security, history and prestige as it is to do about economic gains.

What's the background?

Ukraine has long been a source of tension between the West and Russia, which has competed for it to be part of their spheres of influence.

It was a major theatre of both the World Wars as the Germans sought to wrestle control of it from the Russians.

One of the main interests in taking the region at the time was because Ukraine has some of the most fertile lands in Europe and had long been used to feed Russia - something the Germans wanted.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed to fight the Russian invasion Credit: AP

However, ultimately it remained in the hands of the Soviet Union despite nationalist uprisings during the Russian Civil War in the late 1910s and early 1920s.

During that time some Russian leaders on both sides of the conflict did not believe Ukrainians were culturally distinct from Russians, they thought they were one and the same.

This is partly due to the fact the first Russian nation was the medieval Kievan Rus, which was centred around the current Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and is still prized by many Russians today.

After the end of the civil war and the rise of Stalin, Ukraine suffered heavily at the hands of the Soviets.

In a historical event known by Ukrainians as the "Holodomor" millions died due to a man-made famine that some argued was a deliberate genocide.

It was a part of a famine that impacted the whole Soviet Union in 1932-33, after Stalin attempted to speed up the industrialisation of the country and enforce collective farming methods that didn't produce the desired results.

Some also believe Stalin deliberately enforced policies to exterminate Ukrainians.

Ukraine and 15 other countries recognise it as genocide against their people.

Eventually, Ukraine gained independence in 1990 when the Soviet Union split up, something Mr Putin has described as a mistake.

Since then, being either Western or Russian focused, has played a huge part in internal Ukrainian politics.

In 2013, pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych backed away from a friendship agreement with the European Union in favour of closer ties to Russia.

Anti-government protests by the Western supporting population in the capital of Kyiv broke out, and riots in January 2014 left almost 100 people dead.

At the same time, pro-government protests erupted in the eastern parts of Ukraine that have a large population of ethnic Russians.

Mr Yanukovych fled Ukraine in February 2014 and a pro-European government was elected.

The ousting of the president caused Russia's President Putin to invade and annex the Crimean peninsula as well as encouraging an armed uprising in the east of the country.

The annexation of Crimea was met with fury by the West and led to Russia being expelled from the G7, starting a new period of frosty relations between the two.

Pro-Russian militias also launched a separatist movement in eastern Ukraine, leading to a bitter conflict that was paused after a peace agreement brokered by France and Germany was signed in 2015.

The agreement was a diplomatic coup for Moscow, requiring Ukraine to grant broad autonomy to the rebel regions and offer a sweeping amnesty to the rebels.

What happened in the lead up to the conflict?

In December, the US said it believed Russia is planning to deploy 175,000 soldiers along the border, with almost 100,000 troops already there.

By February the US said Russia now had at least 150,000 troops - with reports of 170,000 - in position and was ready to invade at any time.

Russia's invasion took longer than they planned Credit: AP

Eventually, almost 200,000 troops arrived at the border, as well as in Belarus.

During the build-up Mr Putin spoke and wrote regularly about how he believed it was a mistake by Lenin to let Ukraine be a separate republic within the USSR.

He also spoke about how it was a further mistake to let Ukraine go when the USSR broke up.

All of this has been part of his central argument that Ukraine has no right to exist, it should just be part of Russia.

In an attempt to diffuse the situation, leaders and senior diplomats from the UK, Germany and France flew to Kyiv and Moscow to try and find a compromise.

Listen to the ITV News podcast What You Need To Know, for the latest expert analysis on Ukraine

But none of it worked, despite near-daily comments from senior Russian politicians saying they did not plan to invade.

Instead, Mr Putin effectively tore up the 2015 peace agreement and recognised the two breakaway provinces in Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine (collectively known as the Donbas) on February 21.

Crucially he recognised all of the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, not just the regions occupied by the rebels.

This led to international condemnation and drastically increased already high tensions.

Mr Putin quickly sent troops into the two regions, three days later he invaded.

At 4am Moscow time Mr Putin announced a "special military operation" in the Donbas, claiming he was protecting ethnic Russians from discrimination from Ukrainians.

He also claimed Russia needed to "de-nazify" the country.

What does Russia want?

It is impossible to know the true goals of Mr Putin, western intelligence has said he wants to install a puppet regime in Kyiv and likely annex some of the eastern regions.

What he has spoken about is Ukraine's wider role in the geo-political tensions between Nato and Russia.

The war has ravaged Ukraine Credit: AP

Russia has long accused Nato of encroaching on its borders, something it describes as unacceptable.

Ukraine has the ambition to join Nato written in its constitution.

At a press conference held at the end of last year, he said: "We have made it clear that Nato’s move to the east is unacceptable."

Nato has countered it is a defensive alliance and it is down to nations to freely decide if they want to join or not.

Ukraine also wishes to join the EU, which would firmly put the country within in Europe's orbit rather than Russia's - something Mr Putin finds intolerable.