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  • Writer's pictureJanine di Giovanni

Christmas in Kyiv: “The Cold and Loneliness Scared Me—Not the Russian Missiles”

From Ukraine, a veteran war correspondent finds that the deprivations inflicted by Putin and his troops have actually strengthened the resolve of the country’s civilians.



People walk in the snow in the city center of Kyiv, Ukraine, Nov. 18, 2022. BY ANDREW KRAVCHENKO/ AP PHOTO


The World Health Organization says that, with the cold setting in across Ukraine, the conditions will increase the risk of hypothermia. This will also contribute to cases of pneumonia, heart attacks, strokes. The sick might not be able to reach health care facilities; an estimated 700 of them have been hit by Putin’s weapons—a similar tactic that he used in Syria to crush the resolve of the medical community, the humanitarian volunteers there, and the Syrian population.


Ukraine is now Putin’s target, and by using missiles and drones to attack the electricity grids and heating structures, he and the Russian military seek to freeze Ukrainian civilians into submission or surrender. There’s not much chance of that. The Ukrainians have endured shocking deprivation before—Stalin attempted to starve them to death in the 1930s during the Holodomor—but there is a particularly gruesome kind of menace that comes with unending cold in a country where average temperatures in winter can drop well below zero.


It is also debilitating for those who, despite war, are trying to live their lives with some kind of normalcy. Meeting a high-level government official in Kyiv earlier this month, my colleagues and I sat, in heavy blankets, in a darkened café lit by candles. We were discussing how to chronicle ongoing war crimes. And the irony did not escape us that as we spoke of atrocities, Putin was trying to freeze people to death by taking away their sources of heating, water, and light. It would have been comical had it not been so sad.


Read the full story in Vanity Fair here.


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