Europe

Another Winter at the Front Lines in Ukraine

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Reporting on the war in Ukraine often feels like one long camping expedition. You bundle up in warm layers and set off in the dark to get into place — embedded with a military unit, for example, somewhere along the 600-mile front line — before sunrise.

It’s been two years since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, and another winter at war is almost through. For soldiers, winter brings frigid conditions in the trenches. There’s less cover, since the trees are mostly bare of foliage. Ukraine’s rich, black earth is soft, and with the frequent rains, the roads and fields become a quagmire. Soldiers describe trudging through knee-deep mud and spending hours exposed to artillery fire as they tow vehicles out of the mire. As temperatures drop below freezing, the roads and tracks turn into sliding, rutted obstacle courses.

For reporters, the winter conditions add to the dangers and complications of working in a war zone. No one wants to slide into a ditch within range of Russian artillery, which sounds constantly along the front. In the cold, the batteries in tape recorders and cellphones die. I usually carry a pencil with me, since pens can freeze and stop working in the snow or rain.

I learned that while reporting in Chechnya, the rebellious republic that made a bid for independence from Russia, where I first worked for The New York Times nearly 30 years ago. I went on to cover wars and strife all over the world for the newspaper, aiming to bear witness, to see for myself what was happening and tell readers.

In December, the Ukrainian reporter Vladyslav Golovin and I arranged to visit units of the Ukrainian army’s 72nd Separate Mechanized Brigade. It was a rare chance to spend the day with a battalion commander on an important part of the front in southeastern Ukraine.

A press officer asked us to be at the meeting point before dawn, so our team of drivers, reporters, a photographer and a security adviser took lodging in a nearby town. We met down a side road in the dark, the ice cracking under our car tires as we turned in.

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