Frontline Ukrainian village braces for winter after months of war

By Sergiy Chalyi

HULIAIPOLE, Ukraine (Reuters) - After eight months of war that has devastated their frontline village, residents of Huliaipole in eastern Ukraine are preparing for their next big battle - the approaching winter.

Sixty-year-old Natalia sleeps in a dark and dingy basement with several neighbours, their beds lined up side by side with barely any space between them.

Conditions are tough, and there is no electricity, but the cramped basement has helped them survive.

"I sleep here," Natalia said, touching one of the beds. Pointing to the others, she said: "Here my neighbour sleeps. Another couple of neighbours sleep here. And here a fifth person, Vera, sleeps. That’s the way it is for now."

Her grandchildren lived there with her in the early stages of Russia's Feb. 24 invasion, she said.

"The children slept against the wall, though there were no beds back then. We brought carpets, blankets, pillows. We put children against the wall while we were sitting on benches. We were under heavy bombardment back then," she said.

Fresh water is provided by the fire brigade or is drawn from a local well, she said.

"At first, we cooked on open fire. And now, we have gas, we bought a gas canister, but we need to save it," she said.


Huliaipole is part of the Zaporizhzhia region which Russian President Vladimir Putin said he had annexed at the end of September, in a move condemned by Kyiv and its Western allies.

The village has at no point been occupied by Russian forces although many buildings have been destroyed and many civilians have fled. Those who remain regularly take cover as the crump of shelling echoes through the village.

A white sign that welcomes visitors with a red heart declaring "I (love)Huliaipole" is now pockmarked.

"The winter starts and it is very cold and so we try to support the people with warm shoes and food – what they need," said Benjamin, a German volunteer among aid workers who are helping residents prepare for winter.

The aid workers have provided wood stoves before winter, when temperatures often plunge far below zero Celsius.

"We are under constant shelling, without heating. Conditions are very harsh and difficult for the work," said Raisa Alferova, a 57-year-old paramedic.

(Writing by Timothy Heritage, Editing by Gareth Jones)