Ukrainians resort to portable boilers to avoid freezing to death: “I’m not leaving here, this is my land”

With a leaden sky above our heads announcing the first snow and looking at the ground to “not step on anything that is not asphalt, no pothole, no piece where the grass does not allow us to see what is below” we entered Tsupivka.

We walk in, the cars stay on the other side of the bridge, which is bombed. Although they have repaired a section with planks of wood, wide enough for a vehicle to pass, it takes your breath away every time someone crosses it and the planks dance noisily. But the bridge is not the only problem.

Russian troops have mined all the populations that have been occupied in Ukraine during the war. Including Tsupivka. The day before we arrived, two people died in this very place. They were traveling by car and maybe they got too close to the ditch. “The Russians mined diagonally“Victoria Onoprienko, the City Council official who is accompanying us, clarifies to me, while she points with her finger at various holes in the road that we are crossing.

[Imágenes dantescas en Járkov tras el bombardeo: una ciudad cuando solo queda la luz de los móviles]

Tsupivka is north of Kharkiv –in a region completely devastated by bombing– just 10 kilometers from the border with Russia. The constant artillery fire that came from there has blown up medical centers, schools, churches, train stations. There is practically no healthy house left in this region, and those that are not ready for demolition have no electricity, running water, or heating.

In Tsupivka, the sadness and the debris they have replaced the flowers and vegetables from which the town lived. For this reason, of the 1,000 inhabitants that used to live here, today only 30 remain. Some have nowhere else to go, others simply do not want to leave their home, like Sasha, who at 62 assures that “this is my land, I am well here. In the city I would be a parasite, with nothing to do.”

Sasha, a resident of Tsupivka, has resisted in his house throughout the Russian occupation and is willing to endure the winter without electricity, running water, or heating.

Maria Senovilla

Sasha retired two years ago, and she hoped to rest, garden and be calm after dedicating his life to the village school. The russian invasion He has changed his plans. “He was the head of school maintenance, a lifetime working there.” The school, like almost everything in Tsupivka, is also bombed.

Sasha and his wife intend to spend the winter here, despite everything. Despite the anti-personnel and anti-tank mines that are planted everywhere, despite having to draw water from a well, and despite not having heating in a place where it reaches 20 degrees below zero in the harshest moments of winter.

seasoned ukrainians

Like all men his age, born when Ukraine belonged to Soviet UnionSasha has surpassed many hardships throughout his life. The difficulties of growing up in this part of the world during the Cold War and the consequences of the fall of the Wall, which brought with it a heartbreaking crisis –in the 1990s– have hardened him. Sasha is a tough, resilient guy. But the cold does not distinguish between tough old people and others who are not so hard.

For this reason, from the Dergachi City Council, on which this region, they have an exhaustive census of the people who have not wanted to be evacuated after liberating their towns. Who are they, where do they live, do they need medicine, food… or warmth to resist winter.

With the town shelled and without electricity, the residents of Tsupivka depend on volunteers to survive

Maria Senovilla

Ukrainians have not been caught by surprise by the cold. Since before the summer they were already thinking about the winter, about how to resist the bombed energy infrastructures. From Dergachi City Hall also they anticipated and looked for suppliers of portable boilers, which would work with solid fuel –firewood– and could be manufactured on time.

In their search they found Mission Kharkiv, an NGO founded by a Spaniard of Ukrainian origin which is dedicated to distributing medicines –door to door– for chronic and cancer patients in the middle of the war. during these drug deliveriesthey also realized that the cold was going to be deadlier than the bombs in the towns where there will be no heating this winter.

Volunteers and solidarity

They thought of solutions and decided that they were going to manufacture boilers. Before the summer they sought funding and got $20,000 from the German Care fund and the International Renaissance Fondation – George Soros’s NGO. With that money they started production in a warehouse in Kharkiv. “It’s a soviet design very basic, but it works very well, and it is on open resources on the Internet”, clarifies Rostislav Fillipenko, the founder of Mission Kharkiv.

“Each boiler requires 100 kilos of iron, which is more expensive than in Spain, by the way”, continues Fillipenko. At the moment they have manufactured 50 units, which they deliver to towns such as Tsupivka, in homes that the municipalities have registered as “Vulnerable or displaced by war.”

Dying from the cold in the 21st century

“We are looking for more financing, we can manufacture other 160 boilers before the extreme temperatures arrive if we get resources”, he assures. “But every time it’s more difficult to get donations, people have grown tired of the war in Ukraine just when help is most needed.” They accept patrons from anywhere in the world, by the way, through PayPal:

Before saying goodbye to the indefatigable Sasha, I ask him if he doesn’t have fear to spend the winter here, without light, without a doctor, when the snow covers everything with a thickness of half a meter. “No fear, no hosts,” he exclaims in Russian, causing laughter from everyone present. Although later he admits that he is concerned about the mines.

Sasha, next to the trailer where the volunteers have loaded the portable boilers for her house and that of other residents of Tsupivka

Maria Senovilla

I also ask him how he is going to survive with all the shops in Tsupivka closed and without electricity to store food in the freezer. “The volunteers they bring me food, and I have Bookings of potatoes and some other things”, he assures. Rostislav helps him load two of the boilers onto the trailer of his little tractor, one for him and one for his neighbors, and we see him off by the bombed-out, planked-up bridge.

I leave Tsupivka smiling. It’s impossible not to after meeting Sasha. But I think about it The next few months are going to be tough. here, in the middle of a war that to this day remains unpredictable. And it seems to me that I am in another century.

[Zaporiyia-Melitopol, la maniobra que puede acabar con las esperanzas de Rusia en el frente sur]

In this century, where we answer calls with a Smart watch or we set the thermostat at home using an app on the mobile, it is difficult to accept that in Europe they can thousands of people die of cold or hungerNo electricity, no running water, no heating. Without the international community doing anything to prevent the kremlin continue to bomb Ukraine’s electrical and heating infrastructure, with the aim of freezing the civilian population to death.

Russia-Ukraine War