Wartime Winter in Ukraine: 10 things you need to knowPublished: Jan 17, 2023 Reading time: 6 minutes
As winter engulfs Ukraine, the Ukrainian people are being tested by increasingly frequent Russian airstrikes on civilian infrastructure. Russia's actions make it incredibly difficult for ordinary Ukrainians to survive the freezing temperatures. Towns and villages are shrouded in darkness, and people often have no way of keeping warm. As Ukrainians face their toughest winter since World War II, here are 10 things you need to know about winter in Ukraine.
1. What is winter like in Ukraine?
Winter in Ukraine lasts from December to March, with average temperatures ranging from -4.8°C to 2°C accompanied by heavy snowfall. Winter temperatures in Ukraine can quickly drop to -20°C or below. No other humanitarian crisis in the world is happening in such a cold environment; it is clear that the winter cold is being used indiscriminately by Russia as a weapon in this war.
2. What is the situation on the ground like?
As winter engulfs Ukraine, the needs are massive: 5.9 million people are displaced within Ukraine, and a further 7.9 million people have fled the country due to the war; 60 people are killed or injured every day, and 40 % of the population needs humanitarian assistance. Hundreds of thousands do not have a home to return to, and millions more are forced to live without water, electricity, gas supplies and no heating for months. All people in Ukraine live with the threat of rockets and airstrikes; these can bring death and destruction at any time and to any place. As a result, most people in Ukraine are living under tremendous psychological pressure.
3. How does the humanitarian situation differ in different parts of Ukraine?
In areas along the frontline, the humanitarian situation is dire and is worsening. Essential services like medical aid, availability of electricity, heat and water supplies, and the availability of food are limited. People in these locations live under constant shelling for months, often seeking shelter in basements for long periods.
Further from the frontline, the situation in liberated areas is alarming. In these areas, the main problem is damaged infrastructure and limited access to essential services after months of Russian occupation and fighting. People in parts of Donetsk, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson, Poltava, Sumy, Chernihiv, Kyiv and Mykolaiv Oblasts bordering occupied territories Russia or Belarus live with a constant threat of rocket attacks and shelling.
In the rest of Ukraine, people live with the constant threat of aerial attacks and with regular disruption to electricity, gas, heat, and water supplies.
4. What do people need to get through winter in Ukraine?
The acute needs differ according to the region. People mainly need shelter to keep warm during harsh winter temperatures and to access essential services like electricity, gas, or water, not to mention medical aid. Immediate assistance is required to minimise the humanitarian crisis.
5. Who are the most vulnerable during the winter in Ukraine?
All the people living in the areas along the frontline. Older people are often less mobile and more dependent on the services provided by the community; as such, they are particularly vulnerable to the winter. Limited communications also make it more difficult for families to take care of them. People displaced within the country are also particularly vulnerable because they have often fled home without the appropriate clothing and equipment for winter months. Many times they stay in buildings unsuitable for freezing temperatures. Over a million people remain in 5,600 collection centres across the country.
6. What are Ukrainians doing to help themselves in winter?
Thousands of Ukrainian volunteers are helping others with evacuations, delivery of food, water, and other necessary items, accommodation, transportation or medical aid. Workers are repairing energy infrastructure damaged by Russian airstrikes round the clock.
To minimise the suffering of the civilian population, the government has established thousands of "invincibility centres" across the country where people can go to get warm, charge their phones, connect to the internet, and receive hygiene products. Medical staff, including psychologists, are also present.
7. Did winter cause any new migration trends within Ukraine or outside the country?
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there are 5.9 million Ukrainians internally displaced as of 5 December, a reduction from 6.5 million recorded at the end of October. Yet, in the past month, some 680,000 people have been forced from their homes; 40 per cent have fled from the east and 25 per cent from the south of the country. According to the IOM's latest estimates, there is no evidence of a new massive wave of displacement due to low temperatures and the energy crisis across most-affected oblasts. Only 7 per cent of the people questioned during the latest General Population Survey are considering moving from their place of residence, while over 785,000 of those displaced are planning to remain and assimilate into their new communities.
Though analysts have anticipated that massive population displacement was one of Moscow's goals, the successive mass missile and drone strikes against Ukrainian energy infrastructure have not produced new refugee flows out of Ukrainian cities comparable to the first weeks of the war.
For example, in March, less than one million people remained in Kyiv; today, there are around 3.6 million people in the Ukrainian capital. Among them are 300,000 internally displaced people who fled to Kyiv from other regions.
8. How is People in Need helping Ukrainians to get through this winter?
Our team, together with local partners, is working round the clock to replace windows and rooves and to deliver stoves and mattresses to keep homes warm across Ukraine. People also receive cash to buy winter items or materials to fix their homes themselves. We are providing material for "invincibility centres" and repair collection centres where people are displaced by Russia’s invasion.
Additionally, we continue to provide food, water, and hygiene kits to thousands of people living mainly in areas along the frontline. Furthermore, we have a focus on long-term infrastructure repairs, such as water pipes in liberated areas.
9. What does our help include?
We are supporting education by repairing schools. We are already running ten child-friendly spaces for children to play and experience some semblance of childhood during this troubled time. Our mobile team of psychologists, as well as our psychosocial hotline, continue to provide support to thousands of people. Tens of thousands of people receive vital cash aid, allowing them to buy what they need and, at the same time, supporting their local economy.
10. What are the plans for the future?
In the future, we will focus on livelihood support and reinvigorating local economies. These activities will allow Ukrainians to begin to rebuild the lives that Russia’s invasion has upended.
People in Need in UkrainePeople in Need has been providing humanitarian aid in Ukraine since 2014. Since the start of the invasion, we have provided aid worth more than €58 million to more than 500,000 people, and we have 270 colleagues on the ground. You can support our work by donating to the PIN Ukraine Emergency Appeal here.