Winter stings on the Donbass front in Ukraine

Winter stings on the Donbass front in Ukraine


Soldiers battle trenches while rain and snow have turned the streets to mud and prolonged power outages have left many wondering how they will endure the coming cold weather as winter descends on the front lines in eastern Ukraine.

But despite the cold and miserable conditions in the Donbass to the east, the Russians are simply advancing near the front lines, according to Ukrainian forces.

“They’re like zombies. They are shot at and more are coming,” a 30-year-old Ukrainian soldier with the callsign Kit, which means whale, told AFP.

The fighting on the front lines is only getting colder and wetter as the first snow has covered the area and melted, adding to the freezing rains that drench the region almost daily.

“I suffer from the rain. We literally live in a swamp. I went to the hospital yesterday looking like a big pile of mud,” Kit said.

Other soldiers told AFP that many troops were beginning to suffer from trench foot, a condition that causes swelling and numbness in the feet and that also affected many soldiers in World War I.

“Infantry is the heart of every army and they suffer a lot,” Taller, the nickname for a 24-year-old fighting with a special forces unit in Donbass, told AFP after a recent training session.

“Their boots are always wet. They sleep very sporadically. Sometimes they have problems with the food supply,” he added.

– morale ‘extremely high’-

To fight back against the onset of winter, volunteers near the front lines have organized sprawling depots full of donated supplies to be shipped to nearby units.

At a distribution center in the city of Sloviansk, Slava Kovalenko said he distributes thousands of kilograms of goods every week, including clothing, basic medicines, candles and canned goods.

“Warm clothes are in high demand, long underwear, flu medicine, medicinal tea, painkilling ointment. Everyone comes here and asks for it,” Kovalenko said.

And as temperatures drop, fighting in Donbass remains relentless.

On Thursday, the sun managed to break through overcast skies on the outskirts of Bakhmut as lines of Ukrainian artillery batteries, infantry fighting vehicles and tanks dotted the hilly steppe near the front line.

The noise of battle was deafening as an infantry reserve fighter, call sign Rambo, kept an eye on the ensuing clash from a hilltop position.

“We’re preparing for a counteroffensive,” he told AFP while puffing on a vape pen.

Following the withdrawal of the Russian military from the southern city of Kherson earlier this month, Donbass has become Ukraine’s main battlefield, with frontlines now being shortened and troop densities increased.

“Our morale is extremely high,” said another soldier, nicknamed IT Guy.

“In this area we have increased the number of our troops and intensified our offensive movements.”

– ‘We will freeze’ –

With battlefield casualties mounting, the Kremlin has redoubled its attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure, launching waves of drones and cruise missiles at power plants and essential service sites.

Power outages are common now that electricity is rationed, forcing hospitals in the area to rely more on generators to keep lights on when treating soldiers and civilians injured near the front lines.

“The way they are fighting and targeting civilian infrastructure cannot arouse anything but anger,” said Oleksiy Yakovlenko, the chief administrator of a hospital in Kramatorsk.

But even as power outages become more frequent, Yakovlenko promised his determination will remain unshakable.

“If they expect us to get on our knees and crawl to them, it won’t happen,” Yakovlenko told AFP.

For the civilians caught in the crossfire, the coming winter promises only more pain after their communities were largely in shambles after the summer fighting season.

In Lyman, the town’s few remaining residents rely largely on donations from humanitarian groups and firewood to heat their homes.

There has been little electricity or gas in their blocks of flats since the spring, and electricity only comes sporadically.

Most are too poor and too old to move elsewhere on their own.

“I don’t know how we will get through the winter,” said Tatiana Kutepova, 62, a Lyman resident.

“Maybe we will freeze and they will take us to Maslyakivka, our cemetery.”

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