In October, seven months into its invasion of Ukraine, Russia began shelling Ukraine’s power stations and infrastructure, transforming the winter cold into a weapon of war. Families across the country found themselves without heat or power for long stretches of time, forced to fight their own, intimate battles with the bitter cold.
In Kivsharivka, a small town in the Kharkiv region, the winter cold seeped in through walls damaged by shelling earlier in the war. It spread as damp and frost through apartments accustomed to central heating. “I do not play in my room now because the pillows here got mouldy,” says 6-year-old Vira Ovcharenko. As temperatures fell far below zero and snow covered the ground, Nina Hartseva, 89, stayed wrapped up in her coat day and night, keeping a gas stove burning in the kitchen, her only source of warmth.
Across Ukraine, municipal workers battled to restore power stations targeted over and over by Russian missiles. When they succeeded, families could huddle around electric heaters for warmth. But many turned to the forest too, heading into woodland riddled with landmines to chop firewood to burn in stoves. “What would we do without the forest?” Anatoliy Demiannyk says.