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Ukraine invasion: Who are the main players in the conflict? Yahoo News Explains

Russia has launched an attack on Ukraine and as the Ukrainian people brace, the world stands at the doorstep of what could be the most significant conflict in Europe since World War II. Yahoo News explains who is involved, both directly and indirectly, and what you need to know as the fighting begins.

Video transcript

- Russia has declared war on Ukraine.

CHARLIE D'AGATA: That sounded like a fighter jet overhead.

- The capital of Ukraine is under attack.

- The war in Ukraine has begun.

- And as the Ukrainian people brace, the world stands at the doorstep of what could be the most significant conflict in Europe since World War II. But the fighting on the ground is not as simple as Russia versus Ukraine. So who are the main players? First, of course, there's Ukraine led by President Volodymyr Zelensky. There are a little over 44 million people living there. Most of whom are Ukrainian and speak Ukrainian with a small portion of the population who identify as ethnically Russian and speak Russian.

Although, those two things are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Ukraine has an estimated 250,000 active military personnel with close to 1 million more reservists who can be called upon as needed. Within the ranks of those reservists or a number of volunteer militias. These groups have played a large role in Ukrainian history. Most recently, they were credited with holding the front lines during the 2014 conflict with Russia. However, many of these resistance fighters have ties to far right ideologies, including neo-nazism. And if these groups rise to power, Ukraine could be facing a whole different set of problems from within.

On the other side of this equation are the pro-Russian separatists within Ukraine who since 2014 have maintained de facto control of the Eastern parts of the Donbass region, which includes Donetsk and Luhansk. The two breakaway states that Russian President Vladimir Putin recently declared to be independent. You may also remember that back in 2014, it was these pro-Russian separatists who shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, killing all 283 innocent passengers.

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- Since then, their grip on the region has tightened, and there is some evidence to suggest they have support among the local population. Although, their sovereignty is not especially recognized by anyone other than Russia. Although, Russia is technically a democracy, Vladimir Putin has acted as head of state as both President and Prime Minister interchangeably to skirt term limits for more than 20 years. And while there are opposition parties, Putin has managed to keep them suppressed and maintain control of the parliament known as the Duma to receive speedy approval for his agenda.

Russia has just under 1 million active military personnel, about 20% of whom are being mobilized along its Ukrainian border, as well as in Belarus and an Eastern enclave of Moldova. Back in 2014, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, and now seems poised to come back to finish the job in the Donbass region. The final piece of this puzzle is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO for short, which is a strategic alliance between the US, many European nations, including former Soviet and Eastern Bloc states and others.

Ukraine is not yet a member of NATO and Russia would like to keep it that way. NATO has thus far taken military intervention off the table, but its members are supporting Ukraine with financial aid, military equipment and training and levying sanctions against Russia that could have grave consequences for their economy. In the coming days, we are likely to see action on the parts of all of these groups. With Ukraine volunteer militias and NATO on one side, and Russia its allies and pro-Russian separatists on the other. As the war unfolds, Yahoo News will have the latest.