Battling 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 Donbas is hell. It is a steppe climate with icy nights and temperatures can go down to minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit),” said one of the soldiers, Yury Syrotiuk.

This part of the front has remained relatively static in the conflict but Russian forces are just 700 metres away and there is frequent artillery fire.

The unit of soldiers and their cat John are deployed in the trenches for a week at a time before they are rotated out.

The sauna measures just two square metres and is heated by a wood-fired stove.

An ammunition crate by the entrance acts as changing room for the soldiers who enter the sauna naked and wash themselves inside.

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

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

Inside, the most valued object is the “burzhuyka” — a small wood-fired stove with a chimney which keeps everyone warm.

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

A plastic thermometer decorated with pink flowers shows 22 degrees Celsius inside, while outside it is 5 degrees on an autumn morning.

“With these you can sleep in the snow,” he said.

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



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