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Photos: 100 Days of the Russian-Ukrainian War | Gallery News

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After months of tension, and although many thought it just couldn’t happen, Russian troops invaded Ukraine 100 days ago.

The ensuing fighting caused the largest movement of people in Europe since World War II; more than 14 million people have been displaced and 6.9 million Ukrainians have crossed borders and live as refugees abroad.

In early January, few expected a full-scale war – from Territorial Defense volunteers in Kyiv to soldiers on the front line in Donbass and members of the Azov Battalion in Mariupol. Yet almost every conversation contained the same caveat: “With Russia, you can expect anything.”

Just 32 hours before the invasion was to begin on February 24, hundreds of people lined up outside the now infamous Mariupol Theater to protest against Moscow’s recognition of the separatist Donbass territories of Donetsk and Luhansk.

“Mariupol is, and always has been, a city that doesn’t give up,” one protester told Al Jazeera – a sentiment that now seems oddly prescient.

He didn’t give up. The city’s defenders held out under unimaginable pressure as months of horrific siege destroyed much of the city – including the Drama Theater – and killed tens of thousands of people, according to the Ukrainian government, before the Russia finally took full control of the city on May 21.

It is impossible to overstate how much the lives of those interviewed by Al Jazeera have changed. Some are in Russian captivity – such as British soldiers Aiden Aslin and Sean Pinner and Azov commander Denys Prokopenko – while others have fled and been scattered around the world, or sadly never made it out.

People who fled Mariupol and other Russian-occupied territories to the relative safety of Dnipro and Zaporizhia have told horrific stories of survival. At a local children’s hospital, 13-year-old Milena was shot in the neck by Russian soldiers as she tried to flee the city with her family. Her little body convulsed in pain as medical staff worked to comfort her – one of many lives changed forever before she was even just beginning.

According to UNICEF, almost two out of three Ukrainian children have been displaced by the fighting, while more than 260 have been killed and 400 others injured.

Although Russian President Vladimir Putin expects his “special military operation” to be over in just days, attempts to move quickly to take major cities like Kyiv have failed. Russian troops withdrew from northern Ukraine in early April and from parts of Kharkiv in May.

In Mala Rohan, on the outskirts of Kharkiv, just after its liberation by Ukrainian forces, the carcasses of destroyed Russian tanks and bloodied Russian uniforms littered the ground. When people returned, they found little of what had been their homes. People told heartbreaking stories of death, destruction and rape.

Despite strong Ukrainian resistance, the war is now believed to have entered a deadly new phase in the east of the country. In frontline cities, people have gone months without electricity, water, gas and little food. They have been trapped in dire conditions in basements and under endless bombardment as Russia scrambles to make gains.

Many of those who remain are elderly or ill, those who do not have the means or perhaps the mobility to leave. Yet they are often overlooked by the humanitarian response, the charity HelpAge International warned today.

While experts warn that the battle for Donbass could be long and fierce, characterized by fierce ground and artillery assaults, it is often the most vulnerable who will pay the price.