As the Russian offensive continues unabated on Ukrainian territory, and more specifically in the Donetsk region, Ukraine is anticipating and preparing for a winter with frightening conditions

The war continues, winter is coming, Ukraine is getting ready

AFP/ ARIS MESSINISa - A soldier of Ukrainian troops stands near a road on Ukraine's eastern frontline

After a lull in the Russian army's operations, firing has intensified on the Donbas front, which is now the geographical focal point of the war. Faced with massive destruction of the infrastructure necessary for heating and electricity supplies and fears of an even more violent Russian incursion, Ukrainian President Volodimyr Zelenski ordered the evacuation of the nearly 200,000 civilians in the Donetsk region to "save as many lives as possible".

As the days, weeks and months go by, Ukraine is reviewing its strategy and prefers to anticipate the coming winter. Russian rockets fired at three electricity substations in April temporarily cut off the power supply to some neighbourhoods. According to a study by the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center, 5,000 km of gas pipelines were damaged and almost 3,800 gas distribution centres were affected. Damage to thermal power plants and gas boilers is also notable, with 200 destroyed after the Russian attacks.

The gradual onset of winter is causing Ukraine to fear that this temporary situation will become permanent, prompting the country to prepare in advance. Residents are stockpiling firewood, ironmongers are building cookers, and foresters are sawing enough trees to provide as much firewood as possible for the winter. Andriy Savoyi, mayor of Lviv, sums up the Ukrainian strategy: "Our goal is survival. Wood, cut from forests all over the country, is now stored on a large scale, in vast reserves that are monitored by developers", according to the head of the Ukrainian forestry agency, Yuriy Bolokhovets. 

AFP/ ARIS MESSINIS - Un soldado de las tropas ucranianas se encuentra cerca de una carretera en la línea del frente este de Ucrania

Reduced gas supplies from Russia to Europe and numerous Russian bombings of Ukraine's strategic energy infrastructure further complicate the situation. In this context, the government has launched a massive emergency fuel stockpiling plan, in addition to building up emergency stockpiles and food reserves. 

Russia's continued bombardment of Ukraine's strategic sites has led Kiev to fear that it will not be able to supply enough electricity this winter. The government is therefore moving to increase the number of gas storage and power stations, as well as developing heating plants.

Some residents have begun to anticipate the winter by stocking the basement of their homes with firewood, gas cylinders and a lamp in case of a prolonged power outage. One resident of the city of Lviv said that "in the end, we can survive without electricity and gas, but we cannot survive if the invaders take over". 

Clear-headed and aware of the risks ahead, Ukrainian Minister of Community and Territorial Development Oleksiy Chernyshov declared late last week that "the Russians can continue to target critical energy infrastructure before and during the winter". So while Kiev's administrative director, Iryna Dzhuryk, hopes she will not have to use them, many cities are investing in tents for up to 50 people each in case multi-family apartment buildings run out of the gas needed to heat them. 


Moreover, uncertainty over the future of the war is reinforcing Ukraine's efforts to prepare as best it can for winter. Indeed, while some expect to see Russia defeated by the time the cold weather arrives in October, others are more cautious and point to the possibility of a protracted conflict in which Ukraine is trapped by Russia, which would reduce Ukraine's energy capacity. Moreover, Ukraine's energy security is now under threat as it buys its natural gas from its European neighbours, which in turn are in difficulties as Moscow cuts off energy supplies to the EU. Finally, Latvia's announcement of additional aid to Ukraine on Saturday 30 July prompted Moscow to completely cut off gas supplies to Riga. 

This risk of gas shortages is all the more perceptible as the state oil and gas company, Naftogaz, has indicated that although storage reserves are around 11 billion cubic metres, these levels are below the government's desired level. Gas is one of the most important energy sources for Ukraine, as it is used to heat thousands of sports facilities, schools, homes and administrative buildings. The sub-zero temperatures of the coming winter threaten Ukraine's ability to supply enough electricity to every household in the country. In fact, the mayor of Lviv has announced the regulation of household electricity for this winter, ordering thermostats to be lowered to 15 degrees Celsius as winter approaches. 

"The Russians will do everything they can to try to destroy us. But no one has managed to unite us as much as Putin," the mayor of Lviv said last week. It is now a race against time - or rather against winter - said the specialist from the Royal Institute for Security and Defence. Let's hope Ukraine prepares for winter in time, before time runs out.