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Autumn into winter – reflections on the war in Ukraine

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

Latest from our Education Worker, Karen Robinson

I care for my mother full-time. She lives very near the sea. It is a beautiful spot but there aren’t many trees nearby so I hadn’t really registered, until I had a break at the end of October, that autumn had arrived.


Staying in a tiny Wiltshire village in the Cotswolds, with no shops but two pubs, I revelled in the colours of the trees and the berries, and the scrunch of leaves underfoot. I relaxed in the autumn sunshine and explored the local churchyard.

On the news, in the bed and breakfast where I was staying, there was a report from Ukraine. It showed men, soldiers, in a trench, autumn leaves underfoot. Same autumn, not far away on the same planet, human beings. Living through hell.


Trenches dug out. Rudimentary. Basic. Not so different from the trenches in the First World War, in northern France. Over a hundred years ago – before the invention of the computer or the nuclear bomb. Different time, but not so different. Same physical structure, same fear, human beings.

The reporter on the television said there was a ‘window of opportunity’ for Ukraine, before winter. He was talking about a military ‘window of opportunity’. To push forward and take back land taken by Russia. That land also has trenches – dug and occupied by Russian soldiers. Same physical structure, same fear, human beings.


The following excerpt, from an article in The Independent in November 2022, gives a sense of conditions on the Russian side: ‘The sister of a Russian soldier said that her brother was drafted into the Russian military on 16 October. The troops were brought to the Luhansk region on 1 November, after which they were posted immediately on the frontlines.


She said her brother Alexander was told to dig trenches for himself, reported Business Insider. “The commanders said that you are meat, they brought you here for this, they will kill you all anyway. They gave them one sapper shovel for 30 people and told them to dig trenches for themselves,” the woman said, recounting what her brother told her, in an interview with TV Rain, a Russian-language independent television channel’.


Back in the peaceful Wiltshire village I came across two inscriptions in beautiful Cotswold stone either side of the churchyard gate. The names of men from the local area who had been killed in the First World War. Two men with the same surname, ‘Goodfield’, I guess were probably from the same family. The painful, violent loss of men from this tiny village in Wiltshire over one hundred years ago.


It is December now and I am back in the Cotswolds. Visiting my father, a conscientious objector in the years following the Second World War. (Conscription continued for several years after the war). He is 89 now and nearing the end of his life. Autumn has moved into winter. Heavy heaps of snow rest on the branches of a bay tree outside the room where I am staying. Snow is still falling. At this particular moment, from here, it looks beautiful. Enhancing the feeling of cosiness inside.

Yet for many other people the winter and the snow spells fear, cold fear. Ukrainian and Russian soldiers withstanding plummeting temperatures in the trenches, Ukrainians displaced from their homes, over 1.5 million people in the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa currently without power following Russian drone attacks, those in the UK unable to heat their homes due to the rise in energy prices caused partly by the war in Ukraine. They, and so many others, desperately need this war to end.


Sources

1. Photo: Autumn Leaves. Wiltshire. October 2022. Karen Robinson.


2. Photo: A Ukrainian serviceman stands in a trench on the front line in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region, on October 24, 2022, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine. Photo by Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP. From article: ‘Battling the cold in the trenches of eastern Ukraine’. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/10/26/world/winter-in-russia-ukraine-war/ 26 October 2022.


3. Photo: The Battle of the Somme, July – November 1916 (Q 4135). Men resting in sleeping shelters dug into the side of a trench near Contalmaison. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205193966


4. Photo: Remembering those who died during First World War. Churchyard, All Saints Church, Crudwell, Wiltshire. Karen Robinson. October 2022.


5. Photo: Anatolil Stepanov. Winter war in Ukraine. From article: Winter Soldier, Winter Misery: Will Cold Weather Hand An Advantage To Ukraine Or Russia? Mike Eckle. December 2022. https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-winter-war-advantage/32166159.html


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