26 January 2023 - Ukraine

HEATING BRICKS AND MELTING ICE: CREATIVE WAYS UKRAINE FAMILIES ARE SURVIVING THIS WINTER

68-year-old grandmother, Larysa*, standing in the yard of her house in Ukraine in front of a wall that she painted (Olena Dudchenko/Save the Children)

 

KYIV, January 26 – Families in Ukraine are resorting to increasingly desperate measures to survive the war this winter, Save the Children said, as daily blackouts last up to 12-hours a day amid freezing temperatures. 

Power cuts are forcing families in parts of the country to melt snow for water, leave food on balconies instead of in refrigerators, and heat bricks for warmth.

Following an escalation of attacks last October, half of the power-generating capacity in Ukraine and about 40% of grids were damaged, according to the  Ukrainian government. Electricity cuts now affect the entire country, lasting from eight to 12 hours per day, while the temperatures have plummeted as low as -15°C (5°F) in parts of the country this month.  

Larysa*, 68, a grandmother who resides alone in Bucha after her children and grandchildren fled the country, now heats bricks in a gas oven and later places them across the house for warmth.  

"Sometimes there is no light for 14 hours. And when there is no light, we have no heating. We turn on the gas oven and that's how we keep ourselves warm. The oven is turned on around the clock. I will pay more for gas, but what else can I do? I would rather pay for gas than get sick," said Larysa. 

Subsequent attacks against energy infrastructure in mid-December left half the regions without power, ensuing water and heating outages for almost three days.  

While hospitals and schools are being prioritised for energy supply, many still run fuel generators to ensure they are stable and functioning.  

A director for the district hospital in Sumy oblast, said: “A child that is born in cold conditions needs special protection. If the hospital cools down [due to a loss of power], we can only operate for a few hours a day. After that, we will only be able to provide first aid and await the evacuation.” 

The hospital serves about 600 patients a day and delivers almost 400 babies every year. Save the Children helped the hospital buy and install a solid-fuel boiler to keep the wards, operation units and delivery rooms warm during an emergency.

Sonia Khush, Save the Children Country Director in Ukraine, said: 

“People in Ukraine are now facing possibly the most difficult winter in their lifetime and many parents are struggling to keep their children warm in semi-destroyed homes, with no electricity or heating amidst constant power outages and ongoing hostilities.  

“It is a matter of life or death if families cannot heat their homes. Ahead of this winter, Save the Children multiplied its efforts to deliver crucial assistance in cash, heating items and restoration of people’s houses, schools, and hospitals. But as long as attacks against energy infrastructure continue, this winter may appear as devastating for children and displaced families in Ukraine, as are missiles and artillery rounds.” 

Save the Children calls on warring parties to adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and ensure that energy infrastructure and civilian objects, such as homes, schools, and hospitals, are protected from attack. 

To help keep families in Ukraine warm this winter, Save the Children and local partners are providing shelter, food, cash, fuel, psychological support, and baby and hygiene kits to displaced families. In areas with active fighting, the aid organisation is distributing winter clothing for children, providing war-affected families with blankets, heaters, and hard coal for stoves. 

Save the Children has been operating in Ukraine since 2014, delivering humanitarian aid to children and their families. It is now supporting refugee families across Europe and helping children to access education and other critical services.

 

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