Nuclear threats and refugees: The latest on Russia and Ukraine

Story by CBC Kids News • Published 2022-10-06 06:59

Residents in parts of Ukraine vote to join Russia, experts say results aren’t valid


Seven months after Russia invaded Ukraine, some experts have said Russian President Vladimir Putin has grown more desperate.

“His side is losing the war and he's trying everything,” said Stephen Saideman, a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa and director of the Canadian Defence and Security Network.

Here's a summary of the three major issues at play right now.

1) Putin makes nuclear threats

In a televised address on Sept. 21, Putin talked about using his arsenal of nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory, stating: “This is not a bluff.”

This caused concern for other world leaders like U.S. President Joe Biden.

“America and its allies are not going to be intimidated,” said Biden in a speech on Sept. 30. He went on to call Putin’s comments “reckless words and threats.”

All eyes are on Putin as he continues to raise the stakes in the war in Ukraine. (Image credit: The Associated Press)

Since then, on Oct. 1, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Russia favoured a “balanced approach” to the issue of nuclear weapons, not one based on emotion.

What’s a nuclear weapon?

A nuclear weapon is a type of explosive that has massive destructive power.

They are the most powerful weapons on Earth and have only been used twice against a population before, when the U.S. bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945, leading to the end of the Second World War.

A man stands next to a tiled fireplace in a home in the city of Hiroshima, Japan, that was destroyed, along with the town of Nagasaki, when they were hit by nuclear bombs just three days apart in 1945. Tens of thousands of people died from the inital blasts and then the radiation from the bombs. (Image credit: Stanley Troutman/The Associated Press)

Only a handful of countries in the world have nuclear weapons, such as the U.S., Russia and China. Canada does not.

Because of how catastrophic nuclear war is, many countries that have nuclear weapons, like the U.S., say they will do everything to avoid it.

Russia not likely to use nuclear weapons, experts say

Saideman has been studying the situation in Russia and Ukraine closely.

He wants to reassure kids in Canada that a nuclear war is very unlikely.

“The risks to Russia if they were to start using nuclear weapons are great,” he told CBC Kids News.

He said that if Putin does use nuclear weapons, countries like the U.S. would likely respond with even more destructive measures, something Putin is aware of.

In response to Putin’s threats, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Sept. 21 that ‘Putin’s behaviour only goes to show his invasion of Ukraine is failing.’ (Image credit: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Many experts say Russia isn’t showing signs that it’s prepared its nuclear bombs.

“They just haven’t done anything that would suggest that they’re about to launch weapons or they’re thinking about it seriously,” Saideman said.

2) Russia claims ownership of 4 Ukrainian regions despite international outrage

Earlier in the war, Russia invaded four regions of Ukraine: Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk.

Russia has annexed Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk in referendums. These referendums or votes have been called illegitimate. Crimea went through a Russian annexation referendum in 2014 that has also been called illegitimate by Western countries. (Image credit: Philip Street/CBC)

Putin now is claiming the regions as part of Russia — which is called annexation.

From Sept. 23 to 27, he organized referendums for the people in those four regions to vote in.

What’s a referendum?

Voters were given two choices: join Russia or remain independent.

Choosing to rejoin Ukraine was not one of the options.

People vote at a mobile polling station during a referendum in Mariupol in eastern Ukraine, on Sept. 24. (Image credit: The Associated Press)

According to Russia-appointed officials, the overwhelming majority of voters chose to join Russia and agreed to annexation.

But the results of these votes were rejected by Ukraine and many Western countries, including Canada.

That’s because these countries say the votes to annex the four Ukrainian regions were too quickly organized and coercive — meaning they were made under force or with threats by the Russian military.

In the past few weeks, Ukraine has regained control of some areas that had been lost to Russia.

3) Russians flee, but refugees encounter obstacles

On Sept. 21, Putin also announced a partial mobilization of Russian forces.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said 200,000 Russian men were called up to duty immediately.

Many Russians have tried to flee so they don’t have to fight.

Some who spoke to CBC say they are victims, don’t believe in the war and are running for their lives.

Some governments are now calling them refugees.

A refugee is somebody who seeks refuge in another country when things like war or natural disasters threaten their safety in their own country.

Hundreds of thousands of Russians, especially men, have left so far, according to Russian media.

Russians walk toward the border crossing into Georgia, left, abandoning their blocked cars. Russian recruits take a train after Putin’s announcement of partial mobilization, right. (Image credits: The Associated Press)

In Russia, airplane ticket prices soared and cars lined the highways as Russians tried to leave.

Not everyone welcomed those fleeing.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Georgia have turned Russians away.

Countries like Germany and Kazakhstan are welcoming those fleeing.

Will this war ever end?

For now, Saideman says this back and forth of war will continue, but might be slowed down due to the approaching winter in Europe.

“I do think the war is going to continue,” said Saideman.

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With files from Chris Brown/CBC, Reuters, The Associated Press