Ukrainians Hunker Down for a Hard Wartime Winter

Kyiv crater

The crater left by a Russian missile strike in Kyiv’s Shevchenko Park on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022. Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die Magazine.

KYIV, Ukraine — Winter in Ukraine is notoriously tough. Russian missiles could make this one much more miserable.

With its invasion force faltering, Russia has resorted to a campaign of civilian suffering as a last-ditch means to reverse the war’s trajectory. To that end, Moscow escalated its missile and drone strikes against Ukraine this week, brazenly targeting civilian areas with no military value, as well as public utilities.

This week’s attacks likely signal a new, more brutal, phase of the nearly 8-month-old full-scale war. Apart from killing dozens of civilian noncombatants across Ukraine, Russian strikes this week also intermittently cut off power and water supplies to some of the country’s biggest cities, including Lviv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv.

kyiv road

Workers at a road intersection in central Kyiv repair damage from a Russian missile strike on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022. Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Many Ukrainians see this week as a grim harbinger for the war’s next phase, and are consequently preparing in case Russian strikes knock out gas, electricity, or water this winter.

Oleksii Perkin, a 42-year-old translator living in Kyiv, began stocking up on extra supplies during Ukraine’s 2014 Revolution of Dignity.

He has a power bank to charge his gadgets in case the power goes out. He’s stockpiled household supplies, including a two-month reserve of food and medicine, and a five-month reserve of dog food and fish food. He also prepared a first-aid kit, as well a “go-bag” with essential documents.

Now faced with a winter of Russian missile and drone strikes, Perkin plans to buy a gas cooker and has considered buying a generator.

“I do not believe that it is likely that Kyiv residents would be left without both gas and electricity for too long, but I do believe you need to be prepared for that,” Perkin told Coffee or Die Magazine. “Having that stock helped a lot in February … this winter, I just might step it up a bit.”

Kyiv road repair

On Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022, one day after a Russia missile struck here, traffic flows again over a road intersection in central Kyiv. Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Andrii Fedotov, a 32-year-old social worker who lives in Kyiv, recently moved into a smaller apartment with fewer windows. He said the new location is safer from Russian missile strikes and better at retaining heat in cold weather. After this week’s strikes against civilians across Ukraine, Fedotov said he’s taking extra steps to prepare for winter.

“I made reserves of tap and potable water for the case of water supply interruption. I keep my power banks charged and check frequently the charge level on my devices,” Fedotov told Coffee or Die. “I’m weighing if I need a camping stove to secure my nutrition needs without electricity, but I didn’t make a final decision on that.”

Many Ukrainians have used social media as a forum to both solicit and give advice about winter preparations. Irina Timofeveva, a volunteer in the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, posted a list of cold-weather survival tips to her Facebook page this week.

Timofeveva suggested stocking up on warm clothes, sleeping bags, water, nonperishable food, medicine, power banks, flashlights, batteries, and candles. She also recommended keeping hot water bottles filled at all times and offered some instructions on making an improvised toilet, should water stop running.

Russia attacked Chernihiv during the full-scale war’s opening weeks at the tail end of last winter. Thus, Timofeveva said that her advice stems from practical experience.

“Well, yes, we have very extreme experience, so in Chernihiv they perceive the situation somehow calmly, without psychosis,” Timofeveva said in her post.

Winter soldier

A Ukrainian soldier patrols near Ukraine’s three-way border with Belarus and Russia in January 2022. Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Kyiv’s city government is also preparing for a tough winter.

This week City Hall urged city residents not to use powerful home appliances during peak electricity usage hours from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. City officials also issued a statement explaining that the Dnipro River’s elevated water level is the result of the Kyiv and Kaniv hydroelectric plants working upriver in an “intensive mode to support the unified energy system of Ukraine.”

“Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko constantly emphasizes that the autumn and winter period of 2022 to 2023 will be the most difficult since Ukraine’s independence,” Oleksandr Malykhin, head of Kyiv’s Bureau for Housing and Communal Infrastructure Policy, told Coffee or Die.

Kyiv’s pre-winter preparations include a citywide push to make buildings more energy efficient and better insulated. Kyiv’s Department of Housing and Communal Infrastructure has also instructed city residents on ways to conserve electricity and heat.

Most buildings in Ukraine rely on central heating in the form of radiators. Thus, government officials often determine when the so-called heating season begins.

Kyiv 2022-01-13 at 10.11.32 PM

Central Kyiv in January 2022. Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die Magazine.

According to Malykhin, his department has already overseen energy efficiency upgrades to 94% of Kyiv’s residential buildings. Ukraine’s overall goal is to reduce national natural gas consumption by 10% this autumn and winter. And, should Russian strikes create an energy supply emergency, Kyiv officials plan to ration the city’s heating resources.

“We also want to make it clear that there are also generators, fuel, and fuel oil in the event of interruptions to gas, electricity, or heating supplies in Kyiv,” Malykhin told Coffee or Die.

Kyiv City Hall has increased the size of its emergency force by some 10% in preparation for winter. Also, the city government has purchased mobile boilers to use in hospitals, schools, and kindergartens, should Russian strikes disable heating services.

On Oct. 6, Washington announced $55 million in aid to help Ukraine prepare for winter. Spearheaded by the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, the assistance is part of a 5-year-old endeavor to make Ukraine more energy independent from Russia. The new funds will upgrade Ukraine’s heating pipelines and purchase generators and other portable heating equipment. In Kyiv, USAID recently provided about $1.3 million to upgrade the city’s gas pipelines.

On Monday, Russian launched more than 80 missiles and some two dozen drones at targets across Ukraine — including locations with no military value. In Kyiv’s center, Russian missiles struck a busy road intersection at rush hour, a children’s playground in a downtown park, and a popular pedestrian bridge. These targets were clear attempts by Moscow to kill and terrorize Ukrainian civilians.

On Monday in Kyiv, Russian missiles damaged 45 residential buildings, five critical infrastructure sites, six schools, two social institutions, six cultural institutions, five health care facilities, and two administration buildings, City Hall reported. Beyond Kyiv, Russian strikes targeted civilian infrastructure facilities, including power plants, in 12 other Ukrainian oblasts.

Russian strikes have killed more than 70 civilians in the city of Zaporizhzhia since Sept. 30, the Centre for Defence Strategies, a Ukrainian think tank, reported.

Rapid repair work restored electricity to some 4,000 Ukrainian settlements and millions of residents, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Wednesday, adding that Ukraine was braced for more Russian strikes against critical infrastructure facilities.

Anticipating Russian attacks against critical infrastructure this winter, Kyiv is stockpiling energy resources nationwide. The country is on track to amass a reserve of 2.5 million tons of coal, maxing out the national warehouse capacity. By the beginning of October, Ukraine’s national gas reserves were set to reach 15.5 billion cubic meters, with the US having pledged to deliver another 2 billion cubic meters of gas.

Ukraine is connected to Europe’s electrical grid, allowing for energy imports if needed this winter, Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, the chairman of Ukraine’s national energy company, Ukrenergo, said recently.

Kyiv McDonald's

Kyiv residents line up at a McDonald’s restaurant in the city center on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022, one day after a Russian missile strike nearby. Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Similar to Russia’s shambolic national mobilization roundup, Monday’s massive missile strikes highlighted Russia’s flailing invasion campaign on the battlefield. Yet, by explicitly targeting civilians, Russia is more likely to harden Ukraine’s national will to resist, rather than undercut it.

On Tuesday, just one day after Russia’s strikes in the city center, pedestrians filled Kyiv’s sidewalks. Citywide, restaurants and grocery stores and bars and gyms remained open. McDonald’s restaurants in the city center were filled to capacity with long lines stretching out the doors. Just a few yards away from a missile impact crater, children played on slides and monkey bars at the Shevchenko Park playground. Afternoon rush hour traffic flowed across the repaired asphalt at the intersection of Taras Shevchenko Boulevard and Volodymyrska Street, where a Russian missile struck the day before.

The risk of random death from Russia’s missiles clearly failed to paralyze civilian life in Kyiv. Yet, after months of mounting complacency, and with winter around the corner, most city residents now treat the missile threat more seriously.

“For some reason, the lack of hot water scares me most,” Natalka Barsuk, 46, an economist who lives in Kyiv, wrote Wednesday on Facebook. “But we will survive this, and Russia will not.”

Read Next: DISPATCH: Russian Missiles Target Civilians in Central Kyiv

Nolan Peterson is a senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine and the author of Why Soldiers Miss War. A former US Air Force special operations pilot and a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Nolan is now a conflict journalist and author whose adventures have taken him to all seven continents. In addition to his memoirs, Nolan has published two fiction collections. He lives in Kyiv, Ukraine, with his wife, Lilya.
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