Fighting the cold in the trenches of eastern Ukraine

Fighting the cold in the trenches of eastern Ukraine


With “tactical socks”, NATO-standard sleeping bags and even a sauna, a unit of soldiers from Ukraine’s 5th Brigade is preparing for winter in a trench on the Eastern Front.

“Winter in Donbass is hell. It is a steppe climate with freezing nights and temperatures can drop to minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit),” said one of the soldiers, Yury Syrotiuk.

“There is no forest, the wind blows through everywhere. I was here in 2014 and it was unbearable,” said the 46-year-old.

This part of the front has remained relatively static throughout the conflict, but Russian forces are only 700 meters away and artillery fire is frequent.

Nevertheless, life goes on in the maze of trenches.

The soldier unit and their cat, John, are each deployed in the trenches for a week before being swapped out.

Following an internet tutorial, they built a sauna that doubles as a hammam a meter underground.

The sauna measures only two square meters and is heated with a wood stove.

The opening and the insides are lined with silver-colored insulating material.

An ammunition box at the entrance serves as a dressing room for the soldiers, who enter the sauna naked and wash themselves in it.

Water or snow in a bucket creates the steam.

“After living in the mud, you come out a new person,” said Syrotiuk, a bearded former local official from the capital Kyiv who has been on the front lines since February.

– fear of ‘trench foot’ –

Covered in camouflage netting, the underground camp is a sea of ??mud that sticks to the soles of soldiers’ boots.

Before entering the living moat and the kitchen, the soldiers have to wash their boots on a metal pipe.

The most valuable object inside is the “burzhuyka” – a small wood-burning stove with a chimney that keeps everyone warm.

Soldiers put their hands nearby and then put them between their chests and their bulletproof vests to warm their bodies.

The other home comfort is a gas heater used to make hot tea and coffee.

Everyone must remove their boots before entering the isolated sleeping area, where soldiers perch on wooden crates.

A plastic thermometer decorated with pink flowers reads 22 degrees Celsius inside and 5 degrees outside on an autumn morning.

The commander of the unit, who calls himself “Losha,” said the soldiers were given sleeping bags by volunteers that are designed to withstand temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius.

“You can use it to sleep in the snow,” he said.

Soldiers were also sent raincoats, special underwear including leggings, and “tactical socks” to avoid “trenchfoot” – a bane for soldiers in World War I.

“But what warms us even more than NATO-standard socks or sleeping bags are the words, the shouts and the little drawings of our loved ones,” Syrotiuk said, smiling.

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