Lenox native James Brooke has traveled to about 100 countries reporting for The New York Times, Bloomberg and Voice of America.

A family in a darkened hospital corridor

Natalia Voblikova and her daughter wait in a hospital corridor, right, as doctors stabilize Natalia's son in Kherson, southern Ukraine. Columnist James Brooke writes that Ukrainians are facing a grim reality this winter: "Kholodomor," or death by cold.

Everyone knows about the Holocaust. During World War II, the Nazis killed six million Jews, including about one million from Ukraine.

Many people know about the Holodomor, or death by hunger. From 1932-33, the Kremlin carried out an artificial famine that killed about four million Ukrainians.

Now, with the first snows falling, Ukrainians face a new threat — “Kholodomor,” or death by cold.

In recent days, Russian soldiers made a highly publicized retreat from the west bank of the Dnipro River. The Kremlin fought back by launching six waves of missile attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure from Oct. 10 to Nov. 15, reports Ukraine’s national grid operator Ukrenergo. In the most recent barrage, 97 Russian missiles hit 15 key infrastructure sites, depriving Ukrainians of heat, power and clean water.

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal reports on the results of this blitz: “Almost half of our energy system is disabled.” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warns that 10 million Ukrainians — about one quarter the pre-war population — have no power. In a recent nightly, televised fireside chat he said: “If we survive this winter, and we will definitely survive it, we will definitely win this war.”

With Kyiv seeing its first winter snows, Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko is setting up 1,000 emergency heating centers. In the event of a complete blackout, city officials are drawing up plan for a total evacuation of Ukraine’s capital. Deputy head of Kyiv administration Mykola Povoroznyk, said of the preparations: “We are preparing for different scenarios, including a complete shutdown.” With a pre-war population of three million, Kyiv is Europe’s seventh-most populous city.

Maxim Timchenko, CEO of Ukraine’s largest private energy company, is advising Ukrainians who can to leave the country for the winter to save power. He said last week on BBC: “If they can find an alternative place to stay for another three or four months, it will be very helpful to the system.” His company supplies about a quarter of Ukraine’s power.

Through controlled, rolling blackouts, energy officials are spreading the misery around all 24 regions of Ukraine. Without electricity, water systems will fail, rendering cities largely uninhabitable.

The architect of the attacks on civilian infrastructure is Russian Army General Sergei Surovikin. Last month, he was appointed head of Russian forces in Ukraine. Five years ago, as commander of Russian forces in Syria, Surovikin was credited with using extensive air strikes against civilian targets to turn the tide of the war in favor of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Due to his ruthlessness, his colleagues call him “General Armageddon.”

“Russia has launched hundreds of missiles and kamikaze drones at key infrastructure targets including Ukrainian power plants, large substations which facilitate the flow of electricity to consumers, high-voltage transmission lines, and distribution lines across the country,” energy journalist Aura Sabadus writes for The Atlantic Council. “This bombing campaign is systematic in nature and appears to have been planned with the help of Russian technical experts who have a good understanding of Ukraine’s electricity infrastructure and weaknesses.”

Timchenko, of the private power producer, agreed, telling BBC that the Soviets designed Ukraine’s power system and now the Russians are destroying it. He said: “They were colleagues. Now they are enemies. They bring all this knowledge to Russian military forces, educate them, make very concrete targets, know big parts of our grid or power stations.”

An international campaign is underway to rush to Ukraine heaters, transformers, mobile generators, repair equipment, tools and fuel, writes Sabadus. This campaign is led by the European Commission’s Emergency Response Coordination Center.

But temperatures in Kyiv are dropping below freezing every night. With two-thirds of Ukrainians living in apartments, the prospect of freezing in the dark could prompt the repeat of last spring’s flight of millions to Europe.

Since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees have taken up temporary residence in Poland, swelling Poland’s population by 4 percent. As winter descends on Ukraine, flows to Poland are rising again, hitting 20,000 a day.

In the past, Russians have shown callousness about energy disruptions to foreign civilian populations. On New Year’s Eve 2008, as Russia prepared a showdown with Ukraine over gas supplies, I watched on TV as two Russian army soldiers presented a skit from the Russian Army Theater, Moscow’s largest theater. As the actors started to slowly turn a big wheel on a fake pipeline, the live audience of 1,900 laughed uproariously, chanting: “Turn it off! Turn it off!”

The next morning, Gazprom sharply reduced gas shipments to Ukraine and Eastern Europe. During the three-week shut down, hundreds of people froze to death, largely in retirement homes in the Balkans. This winter, experts warn that thousands of Ukrainians risk dying of cold.


During this Thanksgiving and holiday season, please think about helping Ukrainians get through the winter.

Three friends of mine in Ukraine have switched gears and are running aid organizations.

Andriy Stavnitser, an Odesa port owner, runs Help Center Ukraine. The company runs a warehouse in New Jersey that collects heaters, generators, sleeping bags and medical supplies for shipment to its collection center in Lublin, Poland. From there, aid goods are trucked across to Ukraine.

Timofiy Mylovanov, former economy minister and now president of the Kyiv School of Economics, is raising $1 million to build bomb shelters for schools. Schools without bomb shelters are not allowed to open. A shelter in a village school can cost as little as $10,000. Donations are tax deductible for U.S. citizens. The Kyiv School of Economics pairs donors with schools so American and Ukrainian children can become pen pals.

Andrew Bain, a Colorado native and president of a leading Kyiv ad agency, leads The Ukrainian Freedom Fund, a Wyoming-based 501©(3). Bain, a retired U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Colonel, leads the “Warm Up Ukraine” campaign. For civilians and soldiers, the foundation is buying hats, gloves, jackets, socks, boots, thermal underwear, multi-layer sleep systems, furnaces and generators.

Lenox native James Brooke has traveled to about 100 countries reporting for The New York Times, Bloomberg and Voice of America. He reported from Russia for eight years and from Ukraine for six years, coming home a year ago.