For many along Ukraine's division line, cold is also an enemy

With over two million Ukrainians still displaced from their homes, UNHCR and local partners are helping the most vulnerable survive freezing temperatures.

When a mortar crashed into the roof of Ludmila Mamot's house in the village of Nevelske last year, her three great grandchildren were injured.  © UNHCR/John Wendle

NEVELSKE, Ukraine – This is a shattered town just a few hundred metres from the front line. Once 850 people lived here. Now just 44 remain.

Ludmila Mamot is one of them. She’s a great-grandmother and her husband and three succeeding generations have stayed with her. And so she checks her winter fuel supply: briquets stuffed with sunflower seeds and husks, donated by the NGO Caritas.

“This is the first time we’ve got aid like this, and we’re thankful,” she said. “But, of course, it won’t be enough for the winter.”

Next door, in one of the two habitable rooms left in the broken house, her daughter-in-law Natalia folds the mounds of clothes the family will need for the winter.

“This is the first time we’ve got aid like this… But, of course, it won’t be enough for the winter.”

A mortar crashed into the roof of the house last year. It collapsed, injuring her three grandchildren in bed. They survived but much of the house burned. A great slab of the roof still lies in the nearby bedroom.

The family has made rudimentary repairs but Natalia says if the winter bites, they’ll be cold. All the windows were broken and air still whistles in.

And so to the storage cellar in the yard. It’s a gloomy four-square meter underground room, cramped for a family of seven. Here the family took shelter when there was shelling and here they’ll stay with their home-made stove if the temperature really drops.

“If there’s not enough heat, we’ll come here,” she said, “because the room is smaller and it heats up more quickly."

Ukraine: Fighting the cold

Many towns nearby are portraits of desolation – with houses half-destroyed by shells, bullets and fires. One of them is Sevierne.

Evgeny is a displaced person. He fled to Sevierne from nearby Pisky. The fighting there finally overwhelmed him.

“They hit my house, I repaired it. They hit it again and I rebuilt. Then another hit, and I finally had to leave,” he said.

Sevierne may not have been his best choice. The town appears to be in a bureaucratic limbo. He can’t register as a displaced person from here.

In the street a delegation of frustrated women poured out their complaints to representatives of the NGO Proliska. One woman who is also named Ludmila, but goes by Liuda, said when she phoned up the local administrative office, they say there’s no Sevierne on their map. The handful of residents can’t register for compensation to repair their damaged houses.

“They hit my house, I repaired it. They hit it again and I rebuilt. Then another hit, and I finally had to leave.”

If they can’t register as displaced people, they can’t get pensions and few can afford to buy coal for the winter.

Proliska works with UNHCR and one of the goals of their visit was to assess fuel needs. Last year the NGO with other partners helped UNHCR to provide 60,000 people with winter assistance.

There will be more coal distribution this year to people like those in Severnoe, according to Irina Sinitsa, a project manager with Proliska.

“But we don’t have enough, and there are still a lot of families left without coal and without anything to heat their houses,” she said.

In this landscape of destruction, paths in the nearby forests are mined, making it dangerous for people to collect wood for fuel.

The cold once again becomes an enemy. And, despite their fortitude, many here don’t have the proper weapons to fight it.