With winter approaching, Ukraine prepares to fight on frozen ground

by | Nov 16, 2022 | Top Stories

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A group of Ukrainian soldiers from the Territorial Defense load a rocket under the cover of trees in Kherson Region in October. The approaching winter may force a change in tactics, Ukrainian military units and Western military analysts say.

Claire Harbage/NPR

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Claire Harbage/NPR

KHERSON REGION, Ukraine — They load the rockets in a grove of trees, under the cover of yellowing leaves. One by one, they’re lifted from the back of a still-running pickup and slid into the launcher welded to the bed of a neighboring pickup. A group of Russian soldiers has been spotted hiding in a tree line on the west bank of the Dnipro River about 5 miles to the south. The rockets are intended for them. “Fire show,” says a chuckling member of a special Ukrainian Territorial Defense team, who goes by the nickname Badger, as he screws silver percussion caps to the nose of each rocket. Minutes later and a couple of miles down the road, beside a field of dead black sunflowers, the rockets take flight in a plume of smoke. Soldiers pile back into the pickup and speed out of Russian artillery range to the north with a passing honk.

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A Ukrainian soldier writes on a rocket before loading it to fire in the Russian-occupied Kherson region in October.

Claire Harbage/NPR

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Claire Harbage/NPR

For much of the last eight months, the war along Ukraine’s front lines has resembled a deadly game of hide-and-seek. Troops, tanks and artillery hole up in tree lines, firing across the country’s flat fields while fearing — and evading — reconnaissance drones overhead.

The approaching winter may force a change in tactics, Ukrainian military units and Western security analysts say. “You have nothing to hide [under],” says a soldier from the territorial defense battalion, who goes by the call name Playboy. “It’s so much easier to find you.” NPR is only using nicknames of some of the soldiers interviewed, as required by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry. “War in the winter will depend on effective reconnaissance and effective artillery,” Playboy continues. “Who will be more effective in this part, that one will be much better on the battlefield.”

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