Ukraine: A cold war

Posted: 20 Dec 2022 by Natalia Olowska-Czajka

As the year’s end is approaching and everyone is focusing on their preparations for the holiday season, some thoughts about this year’s events come to our minds. And inevitably, there is the thought that this year saw a war happening in Europe, which none of us would have thought was possible in the 21st century.

But there it is – the war in Ukraine.

And it is worth providing an update on what is happening there in terms of the regular people’s lives, the lives of the brave Ukrainian people, including families with children and the elderly.

So many of us thought that the COLD WAR is OVER – yet the European perspective now is that THE COLD can be an enemy’s weapon in this war. This war is also the war with THE COLD and the COLD can be a means to try to break people and even physically threaten them, not to say anything worse.

The temperatures in Kyiv are now far below zero degrees centigrade (-7C or 21F). It is clear that in such cold temperatures, and with the daylight available for a shorter period at this time of the year, people need electricity: to have their households being operational, to maintain their businesses, to stay warm, to stay connected with the world.

Recent Russian missile attacks on the strategic energy infrastructure are having a devastating effect on civilians' lives and the news broadcast is that:

  1. there is no place, city or region in Ukraine that is not affected by shortages of electricity;
  2. there are repetitive breaks in the electricity supplies causing blackouts;
  3. in many places this affects not just the electrical power but also the heating system and temperatures in people’s homes.

It may help to reflect on what we need and rely on electricity for in our lives – to understand and feel what the Ukrainians are really going through:

  1. we need power to have access to the Internet. We rely on the Internet to stay connected with our families. With the lack of Internet there comes the fear of not knowing what the situation of our loved ones, what is happening to them which is a huge worry to those abroad, including 2 million people who emigrated to Poland after the war started.
  2. we need power for schooling - most of the Ukrainian pupils are still on distance learning, and when there is no power and no internet, the children cannot attend their classes for days.
  3. the elevators in the multi-story buildings do not work and a lot of people live in blocks of flats in big cities, including buildings 15 or 20 stories high. For them to get home means climbing all these floors on foot.
  4. with no electricity a lot of supermarkets and shops offering other goods remain closed, so the supply of goods shrinks – because there is no light to illuminate the interior and no power to operate the cash tills and the electronic payment systems.
  5. the judicial system operating online is threatened; hearings are revoked or adjourned due to the lack of electricity.
  6. no electricity means no water - like in Mikolayiv and consequently might cause a permanent stop of the heating system.
  7. The skyscraper office buildings cannot welcome their tenants – workers, administration, contractors.

The longest blackout in the Kyiv region happened after the 15 November bombings and lasted 50 hours.  Last week a new wave of bombings meant further blackouts were close to this sad record.

The new heros within the society are not just the soldiers fighting in the battle fields – they are the electricians and all other workers in the power plants – because soon after the missile strikes, it falls to them to immediately start rescuing the damaged systems and returning the electricity supply risking their lives and working non-stop.

Poland was expecting more refugees (we call them – “the newcomers”, we do not want to stigmatize them) coming in due to these extremely difficult conditions. But for the Ukrainians staying in Ukraine despite the cold and the dark became a new form of a resistance movement – they are going to stay there and show everyone that they will survive, and they will protect their homeland and their homes.

As a result,

  1. power banks are in great demand and are difficult to obtain
  2. those who can afford it, buy generators, and produce their own electricity
  3. people try to think out of the box, using other electricity supplies, like gas – if they have it
  4. people show solidarity – they are sharing resources, making sure power gets to all those in need
  5. everyone is trying to maintain their lives as normal as possible – so generator supplied cafes and restaurants or card payments systems are present wherever possible.

Everyone is trying to live their “life as usual” as much as they can: the public transport is operating, despite the threat of bombing. People work, visit others, prepare for their holidays (which for most Ukrainians will fall on 6 January 2023 according to the orthodox calendar).

A part of the new normality is working remotely from generator-supplied restaurants and staying there the entire working day, sipping coffee or tea and staying connected with the world via the internet.

When we sit at our dinner tables for Christmas this year, enjoying our favorite traditional meals and looking at each other’s faces lit with beautiful lights please, let us think that it is sadly a blessing that most Ukrainian people will be deprived of this year.


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