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December 22, 2023
Support for Ukraine

A Second Winter of War in Ukraine


Woman looking out of smashed windows in her apartment

Written by Alice Greider (Senior Older People Programmes Officer) and Beth Saffer (Head of Older People Programmes).  

Rolling blackouts, damaged housing and energy infrastructure, and disconnected communities made last winter incredibly challenging for Ukraine. As we write this, the first snowfalls have already hit Ukraine, and all signs are pointing towards another harrowing winter. Adverse weather conditions have already killed 12 people in Odesa and Mykolaiv oblasts and left 1,500 settlements without power. 

A sense of foreboding, a storm brewing on the horizon, pervades the country as the days become shorter and nights get colder. Military frontlines are at a stalemate, and like last year, a wintertime escalation of aerial bombardments with no end in sight. Not least, a sense that global attention has moved on, just when conditions become ever more perilous.   

Winter in Ukraine is formidable at the best of times, never mind after well over 600 days of conflict. The country sees on average 105 days a year where temperatures drop below freezing. Incidentally, the coldest regions of Ukraine are the same regions which are mostly heavily under attack by Russia, along the border in the East and South. 

A bombed out home
The bombed out remains of a home in Rural Ukraine

Relentless shelling across Ukraine has left an estimated 1.4 million homes damaged or in ruin. Their residents have either been forced out, or are attempting to survive as best they can in poorly insulated homes. Many cannot leave due to financial or practical challenges, such as being elderly, ill or less mobile.  

To make matters worse, in October 2022, Russia started a coordinated strategy of targeted missile attacks on energy infrastructure. This causes long blackouts, forcing Ukrainian authorities to schedule rolling power cuts to preserve finite energy supplies. It is estimated that over 70% of Ukrainians experienced prolonged disruptions in essential power services last winter. These blackouts lasted from anything between a few hours to multiple days. This has left heating infrastructure weak and less resilient, and it is more than likely Russia will use the same strategy to threaten Ukrainian civilian life again.   

For the roughly 40,600 older people that World Jewish Relief assists inside Ukraine, winter brings a particular vulnerability. Those who are less mobile to start with will struggle to stay warm. Many health conditions and risks are only worsened by cold, such as strokes, heart attacks, depression, and arthritis. The seasonal illnesses that affect everyone during winter, such as flu, colds, and pneumonia are more dangerous for older people. Icy and slippery conditions outside create additional hazards, leading some to avoiding leaving the house for much-needed exercise, which further reduces physical strength and increases frailty.   

Older person in Ukraine surrounded by World Jewish Relief staff
Older people in Ukraine are especially vulnerable to winter's effects.

The winter is especially challenging for those on fixed incomes such as on pensions or disability benefits. Central heating in Ukraine is expensive, especially for those on an average pension of £119. The price of solid fuels such as firewood, coal, or briquettes has skyrocketed, as many see it as a more reliable source of energy nowadays. This price inflation is especially impacting rural communities, who have no alternative energy source. The military has also requisitioned a supply of firewood for their needs, further fuelling demand. For older people, balancing financial resources to cover food, healthcare, and heating is a constant problem, especially during wartime.   

Analysis suggests that this winter will be another nightmare of infrastructure attacks, blackouts, and darkness. One of our partners in Kharkiv stated,   

“This very well could be the toughest winter Ukraine has faced in a long time”. 

A woman looking out of windows
Hanna, an older resident of Kherson, looks out of her apartment.

This sentiment seems to capture the mood of the nation. Across the country, we see the huge needs among those especially marginalised, from towns near the frontline in Zaporizhzhia oblast that have been without heating since May 2022; to state institutions for older people which are reliant on non-existent local budgets to accommodate not only their own residents but new ones from evacuated areas too; to people under constant fire in Kherson. For an already vulnerable population group, battered from last winter’s attacks and ongoing wartime conditions, this precarity is especially worrying. People in Ukraine are dreading the winter.   

And they feel more alone than ever. Politics internationally and conflict in other parts of the world have turned attention away from Ukraine. International support last winter was strong, and life-saving heating points and targeted widespread winter aid were rapidly distributed, and Ukraine held on. Yet to endure a second such winter will require more resources and support that Ukraine simply is no longer receiving. We remain committed to supporting the people of Ukraine in their daily struggle to remain optimistic and resilient during these tough times.  

This winter, World Jewish Relief, working through its network of local partners in Ukraine, will reach almost 3,000 older adults with winter-specific assistance including warm clothing, generator fuel, winter packages, utility bill subsidies and supplying coal and firewood. We are also funding emergency home repairs including temporary windows in 8 locations, and three warm hubs.