Last week in Europe, Central Asia, and the Caucasus, the region saw continued violence in the Russian military invasion of Ukraine and along the Armenia-Artsakh-Azerbaijan Line of Contact. Demonstrations were recorded in countries across the region related to several causes, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, women’s reproductive rights, and in Greece, police presence on university campuses.
In Ukraine, heavy fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces continued in the eastern and southern regions of the country last week.1Amid the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, changes in the media landscape, inaccurate or delayed reporting on active fighting, and the pullout of international monitors from the country all present difficulties for tracking political violence, especially in real time; these challenges should be taken into account when using any real-time data on this context, including from ACLED. The Donetsk region remained the most active conflict zone, home to almost half of all political violence reported in the country last week. Russia continued to carry out airstrikes and artillery attacks and to clash with remaining Ukrainian troops in the besieged Azovstal plant in Mariupol. Ukrainian authorities reportedly negotiated humanitarian corridors for the surrounded troops in Azovstal; on 16 May,2This piece focuses on events up to Friday, 13 May. The evacuation of Ukrainian troops from Mariupol is outside of the time period of this piece and will be covered in more detail in next week’s Regional Overview. Russian troops began evacuating Ukrainian soldiers from Mariupol to occupied territories for a potential future prisoner exchange (Reuters, 17 May 2022). In the Luhansk region, Russian forces engaged in several unsuccessful offensive operations last week. Ukrainian forces repelled Russia’s multiple attempts to cross the Siverskyi Donets river in the Severodonetsk district of the Luhansk region, inflicting significant losses on the Russian side (The Guardian, 14 May 2022; Suspilne Media, 13 May 2022). Following several effective counterattacks, Russian soldiers withdrew from Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, which suffered heavy Russian bombardment last month (Al Jazeera, 13 May 2022).
Russian forces continued to shell residential areas on the frontlines and launch missiles at various regions in Ukraine, often targeting civilian infrastructure. On 7 May, a Russian airstrike on a school building in Bilohorivka in the Luhansk region reportedly killed around 60 civilians (BBC, 8 May 2022). At least 50 more civilians were reportedly killed last week by Russian shelling and missile strikes across the country.3Fatality numbers are frequently the most biased and poorly reported component of conflict data; they can vary considerably and are often the subject of debate given the strategic incentives to over- or underestimate these numbers, as well as the significant logistical difficulties in collecting accurate data, among other factors (for more, see this piece by ACLED in Washington Post, 2 October 2017). Russian forces also increased the shelling of the Sumy border region, which Ukrainian troops liberated from Russian control in early April. These trends contribute to the 204% increase in violence in the Sumy region last week relative to the past month flagged by ACLED’s Subnational Surge Tracker. The Subnational Tracker first warned of increased violence to come in the Sumy region in the past month.
Demonstrations in solidarity with Ukraine took place in Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. In Russia, anti-war action continued last week, despite intimidation from the state. Over 100 people in several cities, including Moscow and St. Petersburg, were arrested for wearing anti-war symbols or protest signs during the Victory Day celebrations on 9 May (Novaya Gazeta, 9 May 2022). A day later, unidentified groups threw Molotov cocktails at two military enlistment offices in the Moscow region and Omsk (Activatica, 10 May 2022; The Moscow Times, 13 May 2022). This violence contributed to the 83% increase in violence in Russia last month relative to the past year flagged by ACLED’s Conflict Change Map, which first warned of increased violence to come in the country in the past month.
Meanwhile, on the occasion of Russia’s Victory Day, people gathered in Rome, Italy, in support of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia last week (La Repubblica, 8 May 2022). Demonstrations in support of Russian troops were also recorded in Russia, Germany, Spain, Cyprus, Moldova, Serbia, Slovakia, and Poland.
In Greece, far-left students and members of anti-establishment groups demonstrated against police presence on university campuses last week. In Thessaloniki, demonstrations turned violent as demonstrators clashed with riot police, including those protecting the construction crew working on a new university library in a space formerly occupied by anarchists (To Pontiki, 10 May 2022). Since last year, there have been ongoing demonstrations against the government establishing a university police force, claiming that policing on campuses will infringe on academic freedoms. Amid the demonstrations, the Council of State, the country’s supreme administrative court, ruled that establishing a university police force is constitutional (To Pontiki, 11 May 2022).
Meanwhile, protests in favor of abortion access, and against the possible overturning of the US landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, were recorded in France, the Netherlands, and Czech Republic last week. If the ruling is overturned, individual US states would have a constitutional right to ban abortion (BBC, 3 May 2022). A wave of pro-choice demonstrations also took place in Croatia, though seemed to be unrelated to the developments in the US. Several feminist groups organized large protests in nine Croatian cities, demanding adequate healthcare for women. The demonstrations were triggered by the case of a pregnant woman who was denied an abortion by hospitals in Zagreb despite the fetus being diagnosed with a malignant and deadly brain tumor (Total Croatia News, 12 May 2022). Although abortion is legal in Croatia, doctors can refuse to perform the procedure based on conscientious objection, a right currently exercised by around half of the country’s obstetricians–gynecologists (BBC, 15 May 2022).
Along the Armenia-Artsakh-Azerbaijan Line of Contact, ceasefire violations continued last week. One civilian was wounded amid fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces in the Gegharkunik province of Armenia. Additionally, one civilian was killed in a mine explosion in the Shirak province of Armenia and two were wounded in mine explosions in the Agdam district of Azerbaijan.
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