Ukraine’s Winter War

Vulnerable civilians brace for coming freeze

As temperatures plummet in Ukraine, slowing the ground war, Russia resumes bombing the country’s heating infrastructure.

They target Ukraine’s cities, aiming to make life unbearably cold and dark for hundreds of thousands of people, and force another wave of mass movement out of Ukraine and into Poland and other European countries.[1]

Attacks on Ukraine’s energy grid have begun. Ukrainian officials said that by early November 2023, Russia had struck Ukrainian infrastructure 60 times. The British Ministry of Defence and others have warned that Russia appears to be stockpiling its missiles for an intense winter offensive against Ukraine’s infrastructure. The country’s cities are bracing for an onslaught.

The dangers in cities are different than in rural villages, but in all cases, civilians face continuing Russian shelling. In the city of Kharkiv, the power plants are targeted, and civilians are threatened by heavy bombardments aimed at the heating infrastructure. In Kupiansk, there is the prospect of a Russian assault; close-quarter fighting will make leaving home to find fuel very dangerous. In rural areas locals searching for firewood risk stepping on mines.

In November 2023, Human Rights First traveled to Kharkiv and Kupiansk, to smaller communities close to the front lines of the fighting, and to villages near the Russian border. This report focuses on those vulnerable communities in the Kharkiv Oblast, and human rights defenders (HRDs) helping them.

Locals discussed how they are preparing for attacks on heating and electricity supplies. Many said that Ukraine’s ability to guarantee electricity in the coming months depends on its air defense systems, but not every rocket or drone can be intercepted.



  • Brian Dooley
  • Maya Fernandez-Powell

Published on November 17, 2023


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