In the grip of the cold. How to survive in winter in positions with no place to warm up
TEXTS spoke with a soldier who is currently fighting in a frozen trench in eastern Ukraine. The military asked not to be named.
Translated by Dmitry Lytov & Mike Lytov.
Read this article in Ukrainian
Avoid sweating, avoid freezing
You have to choose things very carefully, because they directly affect how you will feel. If you are constantly moving - that's one story. If you were brought to some position where you keep sitting – you may consider yourself lucky, on the one hand; but on the other - hypothermia is more likely to hit you because of lack of motion. But there are even worse situations: when you first actively move, and then you have to sit for a long time without moving.
A particular problem with our unit is that it takes us really long time to get to our positions each time, and then we have to stay there for days with little to no movement. Due to the geography of the location and the proximity of the enemy, we do not have the opportunity to properly equip our place of stay - and, first of all, to heat it. Even getting there is another quest.
First you have to go in an open vehicle. And when you drive in the open body of a pickup truck at sub-zero temperatures, there is no question of comfort, of course. Even at a speed of 50-60 km/h at a temperature of minus 5-9 degrees Celsius (about 15-25 F), something will definitely freeze if you are not in a space suit. Hands and face are the first to suffer.
First you have to go in an open vehicle
So, we arrive, unload, take our things, and then walk several kilometers to the positions. This is where a completely different story begins. The whole way is under fire, so whether you like it or not, you start moving faster. Of course, you should try to sweat as little as possible during the passage. But it is usually impossible. Even when you are exhausted, once a shell falls nearby, you will go faster anyway. Despite the fact that the terrain there is difficult, sometimes you have to climb uphill.
And when you get to the position, you are completely wet. Once you sit down to rest like this, the temperature drops - and after a few hours, your feet start to get terribly cold. Because they were wet while you walked fast. And now you can't move anymore - you're in position. After the passage, it is very important to change your clothes immediately, and sock should be changed first. If you did it in time, you can feel normal for another 5-6 hours.
Therefore, in order to get there, I don't immediately put on warm winter pants, I rather wear the ordinary Ukrainian military pants. Because if you wear warm ones, your legs will overheat when you walk, and they will simply burn when you climb uphill. That's why I carry warm pants with me. These pants and an extra fleece sweater make almost the entire contents of my pack. Plus a sleeping bag and various little things.
And when you get to the position, you are completely wet
In general, you should be very careful about what you wear. Because changing clothes on the road means putting yourself and your friends at risk. But what you need and what you don't, you can find out only through experimentation.
In addition, you should not forget about age. Both cold tolerance and endurance are very clearly correlated with how old you are. If a person is over 40, it is a completely different story. Because guys who are about 30 - they behave differently: first of all, they move faster - obviously, the body fights against low temperature better.
Once we met a young guy at the position with both legs shot, who not only didn't freeze, but even somehow wobbled with his wounded legs. He told us: maybe you will carry me a little, because it is hard for me to walk, I have holes in both legs, I am waiting for evacuation, but nothing has arrived yet. As soon as we saw his legs, we were horrified. But youth is youth, the body fights injuries and wounds much better than in older people.
And you should not forget about age
Of course, multi-layered clothing saves from hypothermia. I wear two thermals. One is made of cashmere, very nice, but also expensive - I bought it myself. Then an army fleece sweater and a warm winter jacket, which I also bought myself. On top of it, I put on an army windbreaker.
Cool "Talans" and cheap Turkish merchandize
Regarding equipment. Our Ukrainian army winter boots "Talan" performed really well. I have something to compare it with - before they were issued to us, I bought foreign winter boots, and ours turned out to be much better. They are made in such a way that you can wear two pairs of socks under the shoes of your size, put an additional insole - and it will still be comfortable. You can walk in them for a long time, your legs don't get tired. We were also given insulated covers - a very useful thing. If you put these shoe covers on the "Talans", your legs feel almost like in a thermos. But, of course, if you sit somewhere for a long time and do not move, and the temperature drops to minus 9-10 C (14-16F), then even such a design no longer provides the necessary warmth, your feet begin to freeze.
A very useful thing in a situation where you have to sit for a long time in the cold in one place without the possibility of heating are chemical heaters. The best ones are made in Germany, and there are some good Chinese ones. Tried the Israeli ones - I don't recommend them, but the German ones are super. There are excellent warmers for shoes, and others for the body.
A very useful thing are chemical heaters, and the best are german
You should always take a few pairs of socks with you. The Ukrainian military socks are actually not quite good – your feet are constantly wet. They seem to be thick, but they do not absorb moisture when walking. On the other hand, the Ukrainian military fleece sweaters work normally.
As for the Ukrainian winter uniform - the jacket and pants that we finally received – it totally sucks. It was ordered from the Turks, and it is absolutely not suitable for our winter conditions. A winter jacket is not winter at all – it has some kind of fleece inside, but definitely not for our winter. The pockets are small, the hood does not fit properly on the head. The pants are also extremely uncomfortable and have small pockets - you can't put anything in them. Perhaps some of them will fit someone, but they are definitely not for field conditions. Of course, we have no questions to the Turkish manufacturers, because they did as they were told, but I wonder how much it cost and who organized it all. That's why I wear Ukrainian winter military pants, which were issued to us last March from old stocks. They are of perfect quality and design.
Read about problems with the supply of winter uniforms in our article here.
The Ukrainian winter uniform - the jacket and pants that we received – totally sucks
But the Ukrainian military sleeping bags that were issued to us are outstanding. I don't know who made them for us, but they are great.
Furnishing the "hole"
We have a "hole" dug in the ground, into which we sometimes climb. There is not much space there, and when the body is still numb, hands and fingers are numb, even taking off your shoes becomes a special quest, a real yoga exercise. The main thing here is to keep calm, because if you start to lose your temper, everything will go awry. You pull off mittens from your hands, the blood flows from your hands, because your fingers cracked from the cold, but you keep going – take off your shoes, put a heating pad on, put the shoes back on, exhale, smoke a cigarette – everything is fine.
Even taking off your shoes becomes a special quest, a real yoga exercise
And in general, after staying at positions for more than a day in winter conditions, problems begin to accumulate. The battle can last for many hours, and during this time you can neither eat nor take a bio break. By the way, an important thing that is not talked about much is, I'm sorry, taking care of your own physical needs. In the positions where we are standing, any unnecessary movement is additional exposure to danger. That's why you try to eat as little as possible so as not to have to relieve yourself one extra time. But when you eat less - you lose energy. You become weaker and begin to freeze. Besides, it all accumulates.
In general, over time, you still put some junk on the place where you are stationed. And then you dive into this junk — and you feel more or less normal. You never know what part of this junk may become useful. A piece of oilcloth, some kind of rag. I recently got a piece of fur of some animal. I threw it under my feet - and it's great, it's warm. It is always good to somehow insulate yourself from the cold. There will definitely be frosts ahead - and you have to endure them.