Winter And Russian Infrastructure Attacks Shape The War In Ukraine : Consider This from NPR Russian attacks have repeatedly targeted Ukrainian energy and heating infrastructure, threatening to leave millions vulnerable to the approaching bitter cold of winter.

Winter will also force both sides to change their tactics on the war's frontlines. NPR's Nathan Rott reports on what leafless trees and frozen fields mean for the battlefield.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment to help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

Email us at [email protected].

The (Literally) Cold War In Ukraine

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


One of Russia's most potent weapons in Ukraine isn't a missile or a drone or some battlefield technology. It's the cold. Just ask Ilya Ledichenko (ph).

ILYA LEDICHENKO: When I wake up, it was so cold. And I go to work, and it's cold, too.

SUMMERS: NPR caught up with him last week after Russian attacks on infrastructure took out electricity, heat and water for large parts of Ukraine. He wore his coat to bed after his apartment building in a suburb of Kyiv lost power. At the restaurant where he worked, he pulled out the gas cooker, and his co-workers set candles on customer tables.

LEDICHENKO: By gas cooker, and candle give us a light - very romantic.

SUMMERS: He mustered a sense of humor to try and face the biting temperatures. But the Russian attacks on energy infrastructure are deadly serious.


HANS KLUGE: Put simply, this winter will be about survival.

LEDICHENKO: That's Hans Kluge, the regional director for Europe at the World Health Organization, on a visit to Ukraine this month.


KLUGE: The winter will be a threat for millions and millions of Ukraine people. I have seen it. In fact, now the temperature is hovering around zero degrees Celsius, but soon it will plummet down to minus 20.

SUMMERS: That's well under zero degrees Fahrenheit. He warned of the direct risks from cold - frostbite, hypothermia, stroke, heart attack and also knock-on effects from the power outages.

KLUGE: How can a hospital function without electricity? How can maternity wards function without incubators, vaccine storage without fridges?

SUMMERS: For the last few months, Russia has repeatedly targeted Ukrainian energy and infrastructure. Russia claims that infrastructure constitutes military targets. Ukraine and its allies say that the attacks are meant to punish Ukrainian civilians and break the people's will to fight. Here's Ukrainian energy minister German Galushchenko talking to NPR in September.

GERMAN GALUSHCHENKO: It looks like that is the strategy. I mean - but that is, of course, not something similar to the war action. That's more close to the terrorism.

SUMMERS: The country continues to grapple with power outages. Ukraine's power operator said this week that producers were steadily restoring power and were meeting about 80% of the country's needs. But rolling blackouts are still in effect to ration energy, and more attacks are surely coming. On a darkened street in Kyiv, a young man named Vladimir Yanachuk said Ukrainians are ready.

VLADIMIR YANACHUK: We are not afraid about this. Ukrainian not afraid about this. And winter will be hard. But this winter will be hard not only Ukrainians, for Russian soldiers, too.

SUMMERS: Consider this. Russian attacks are making this a cold, miserable winter in Ukraine. But the winter will have consequences for both sides on the war's frontlines.


SUMMERS: From NPR, I'm Juana Summers. It's Tuesday, November 29.


SUMMERS: It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. To understand what the winter will mean on the battlefield in Ukraine, you need to understand how this war has been waged so far. A lot of the fighting has been a sort of deadly game of hide and seek. Troops hide under the cover of trees from reconnaissance drones, which signal to the other side where to fire. Both Ukraine and Russia have conducted the war this way on the flat terrain throughout the country's south and east. NPR's Nathan Rott has been looking into why both sides will have to change tactics as winter sets in.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: For most of the last eight months, this is what the fighting has looked like near Ukraine's frontlines.


ROTT: A group of Ukrainian soldiers, part of a territorial defense unit that calls itself the Legendary Battalion, gathers at the back of a running pickup in a grove of roadside trees, under the cover of yellowing leaves. Three long, gray rockets rest in the truck bed. Badger, a nickname, screws little silver cones to the top of each.

What are these guys?

BADGER: Fire show.

ROTT: Fire show?

BADGER: (Laughter).

ROTT: Percussion caps in place, the rockets are lifted and loaded into a launching platform that's been welded to the back of another camouflage pickup nestled even further under the trees.


ROTT: A soldier using the nom de guerre Playboy is directing this strike.

What are you guys targeting right now?

PLAYBOY: Right now it's tree line where are sitting Russian troops.

ROTT: A tree lined with Russian troops about 8 kilometers to the south of where we are now.

PLAYBOY: We have guys in this village, and they're looking at everything. And they give us the target.

ROTT: Intelligence, eyes and ears on the ground, informing the Ukrainians where to attack.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

ROTT: Another soldier walks up and explains that we're about to drive even closer to the front line, well within the range of Russian artillery, to fire. So once they launched these rockets, we need to get back in our car and leave the area immediately before the Russians can fire back.


ROTT: A few minutes later, we park along a narrow two-lane road and get out...


ROTT: ...Next to a field of dead black sunflowers. Soldiers climb into the bed of the truck 100 yards ahead and adjust the launcher. A pause, and...


ROTT: Songbirds fly away as the rockets jets south in a plume of smoke.

We're out of here.


ROTT: We get in our vehicle and drive quickly out of artillery range to the north. This long-distance game of cat and mouse could soon shift because winter is starting and the conditions for this kind of fighting are changing. At a military base in the city of Kryvyi Rih, Playboy explains how winter will make this type of fighting much more difficult to conduct.

PLAYBOY: Because you don't have nothing to hide, and you staying in the open space. And it's so much easier to find you.

ROTT: Artillery and vehicle tracks will be easier to see in the snow. Leafless trees will offer less cover.

PLAYBOY: Effectively we're, in the winter, a defense of effective reconnaissance and effective artillery. Who will be more effectively in this part? That one will be much better in the battle field.

ROTT: This is something leadership of Ukraine's armed forces is stressing as the winter months approach. At a training facility outside of the city of Dnipro in south central Ukraine, Master Sergeant Oleksandr Honchurak, a member of Ukraine's infantry, says winter requires much more stealth.

OLEKSANDR HONCHURAK: (Non-English language spoken).

ROTT: "You have to move with more secrecy, a bit faster," he says. "You have to move with your eyes open - more work with drones, more observing, more planning." Winter warfare is not new to Russia and Ukraine. They've been fighting in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine since 2014. Frederick Kagan with the Institute for the Study of War, a D.C.-based think tank, says that's important for Ukraine supporters, namely NATO and the U.S., to remember, especially, he says, as some military analysts predict a slowdown in fighting as temperatures drop.

FREDERICK KAGAN: We need to get that model out of our heads because that's not historically the way war in this part of the world works.

ROTT: Winter typically favors the aggressor. And Kagan says right now that's Ukraine.

KAGAN: I do think that there will be another window for Ukrainian mechanized counteroffensive operations if there is a hard freeze that solidifies the ground.

ROTT: Counteroffensives that will continue to be dependent on Western aid - weapons and cold weather gear. At frontline areas in the country's southeast and windswept north, Ukrainian soldiers are making their own preparations, stocking up on firewood to be stored in deep trenches they've carved into the earth. Dmytro (ph) with the Kharkiv region Territorial Defense says this is a position they've taken back from Russia. So they're preparing in case they decide to return.

DMYTRO: (Through interpreter) So that's the first line of defense. So if any other...

ROTT: New attacks.

DMYTRO: (Through interpreter) ...Tries, new attacks - yeah - come, that's the first line that we can spot them and protect.

ROTT: The wind gusts, and a soldier beckons us to join him in a nearby trench.

OLEG: (Non-English language spoken).

ROTT: Wood planks are laid over the mud to keep feet clean. The wind inside the trench is a little less cutting, far more so in a hut they've built underground.

It's a lot nicer in here.

Oleg (ph) and Igor (ph), two territorial defenders who up until eight months ago worked as a butcher and an electrician, respectively, welcome us with coffee.

How are you feeling about the upcoming winter?

OLEG: (Through interpreter) A stove here, a stove there. You know, everywhere it's warm. I will show you around, and you'll see it's not a problem at all.

ROTT: Oleg shows off cold weather gear - coveralls and coats, sleeping bags and blankets donated to the territorial defense. A bench in the hut is covered in grapes and pears given to them by local farmers. They both light cigarettes, and I ask if they think winter helps them or Russia.

IGOR: (Through interpreter) It's our land. It's our motherland. It helps us.

ROTT: At least that's their hope.


SUMMERS: NPR's Nathan Rott.



Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.