war - Photo by Kevin Schmid on Unsplash

Ukraine appears to be mounting an operation to retake the tiny headland.

Frank Ledwidge

8 min read

If you’re working from home all or part of the time, the chances are that your home working space is getting chillier as winter sets in. But with heating so expensive right now, having it on all day isn’t really an affordable option. So what can we do to stay warm?

In evolutionary terms, we are tropical animals: when naked and at rest, we’re most comfortable in air around 28°C, with an average skin surface temperature of 33°C. But to survive and function normally, we must also maintain our deep body (core) temperature close to 37°C. The process of doing so (thermoregulation) involves our body “sensing” its temperature – we have sensors just beneath the skin’s surface as well as in deeper tissues like the brain – then adjusting our heat production, gain and loss accordingly.

In a cold room, the skin’s cold receptors are the first to be stimulated and cause the skin’s blood vessels to constrict, redirecting warm blood beneath the insulating fat layer we have just beneath the skin. Because hands and feet require blood flow to keep them warm and functional and have little fat coverage, they cool quickly. So, in a cold room, the first parts of us to feel the cold are the extremities: our fingers and toes.

If cooling continues, the superficial nerves, muscles and joints (especially of the arms) can become impaired, meaning that dexterity, speed of movement and sensitivity to touch suffer. This can make tasks like typing and texting harder, slower and more prone to error. Work efficiency can be further impaired by the distraction of feeling cold.

The solutions

Our first task is to keep our extremities warm by keeping blood flowing to them, and the best way of doing this is by maintaining (or raising) our core body temperature.

There’s no need to heat a whole house or room. You’re much better off heating yourself up, and it starts with making sure you’re wearing appropriate clothing.

Clothes such as woollen jumpers and leggings trap millions of tiny pockets of air which provide insulation. Thermals are great, but multiple layers of ordinary clothing can work just as well. If sitting, a blanket or duvet over the legs and waist can help. Add a hot water bottle underneath, or use a wearable electric blanket if you want. Remember, heating the human not the house is much cheaper.

Because the temperature of the hands and feet dominates the overall perception of thermal discomfort, focusing on these areas is key. Think insulating socks, slippers and fingerless gloves. Placing your hands in your armpits when not typing can help, too. If you want to splash out, heated gloves and slippers could also be an option.

As mountaineers say, “if you want warm hands wear a hat”. Scalp blood vessels don’t constrict as much in the cold, meaning that heat can be lost through the head. So it’s worth having a hat available on your desk. Heat can also be lost as it rises from underneath clothing and escapes at the neck. So wearing a scarf, buff or polo neck helps, too.

You also might like to try exercising. Around three-quarters of the energy used for exercise comes out as heat, so just stepping up and down the bottom step of a staircase can generate 100 watts of heating and start to raise your body temperature in a few minutes. A short period of exercise now and again can make a big difference to your thermal comfort and is good for your general health, too.

The Kinburn spit, a tiny headland at the mouth of the Dniepro river, has been described as having “enormous strategic importance” in the next phase of the Ukraine war. Ukraine has indicated its intention to liberate it and an operation seems to be under way to do so.

Considering the area’s location and history, retaking this strip of land makes sense. The sandy Kinburn spit is the tip of a peninsula which is about 40km long and between 4km and 12km wide. Jutting into the Black Sea, it commands the entry to the Dniepro (in Russian, Dnieper) river system which traverses and indeed bisects Ukraine all the way north to Kyiv and beyond.

It also controls access from the Black Sea to the significant port of Mikolaiv. This in itself could be truly vital. As matters stand amongst Ukraine’s existing ports, only Odesa is larger. Ukraine is in dire need of an alternative exit point for its exports. Possession of this flat patch of land also allows those who control it to project force and consequently influence south and east into the Black Sea. That is how the Russians have been using it since they captured it in June.

History also indicates this small area’s importance. Since the Russians took an active interest in this area in 1737, several major battles have been fought for control of the peninsula and the local area.

Most notable are the battles of Ochakov (1737 and 1788) which secured Russia’s possession of southern Ukraine (or “New Russia” as Catherine the Great called it). At sea, the significant naval battles of Liman (1788, where the Russian fleet was commanded by the founder of the US Navy John Paul Jones) and Kinburn (1855) serve now to highlight the spit’s military importance.

In terms of contemporary operational matters, the spit was as far west as the Russians have penetrated in 2022. Their presence put Russian rocket systems within range of Ochakiv town just three miles away across the water, (which it proceeded to shell). Now matters are different and Russia, anticipating attack by Ukraine, is constructing large fortifications to the east of the Dniepro River (or the “left bank” as it is called).

Ukrainian forces are looking to impose upon their enemy some very difficult dilemmas. Geography and logic dictate that one way or another Ukraine will have to advance on the left bank of the Dniepro. One option is to come from the east, striking from Zaporizhe.

Another, somewhat more risky possibility, is to cross the river at or near Kherson where they can receive artillery support. An attack from Kinburn towards Russian forces deployed between Kherson and Crimea, even on a relatively small scale, outflanks Russian forces and requires the Russians to divert scarce forces  to deal with it. Those forces will be under Ukrainian artillery fire from across the Liman Bay only a few kilometres away – well within range.

By any normal military calculations any effort to cross the bay, take the Kinburn spit and advance onto the peninsula would be seen as utterly hopeless. An attempt at landing would not be expected to get beyond the opposite shore a few kilometres away, let alone get ashore and establish some kind of foothold.

But these are not normal circumstances. As matters stand, Russian ground forces are in poor shape. They cannot be everywhere and moving forces from one area to defend or indeed deter attack at another is very difficult. Further, any Russian attempt to attack a Ukrainian beachhead on the Kinburn spit will get hammered by Ukrainian artillery on the opposite bank of the Dniepro.

What about the Russian navy – how do they figure in this? To assault Kinburn, Ukraine has to cross 4km of water, and even in the absence of large ground forces, a reasonably competent navy should easily be able to prevent a crossing. Since the sinking of the Black Sea fleet’s flagship the Moskva in April, the Russian navy ventures out of its (increasingly insecure) base at Sebastopol only to fire cruise missiles at largely civilian targets far out of range of Ukraine’s missiles deployed on the south-west coast. In other words, Ukraine can take the Kinburn spit.

Maintaining momentum

It is vital that Ukraine maintains its momentum to ensure its enemy doesn’t have the time to organise, construct effective defences and regroup. By establishing a presence on Kinburn, the Ukrainians are opening what amounts to another front, however narrow, creating further problems for Russian commanders already struggling to deploy limited and often ill-trained forces.

If Ukraine can gain a foothold on this flat, featureless sandbar and develop a beachhead from which it might advance up the peninsula (or if it has already done so) it will mark yet another step in Ukraine’s relentless advance towards Crimea. There is no doubt this is their ultimate objective.

General Zaluzhny, the Ukrainian chief of general staff has been luminously clear about this: “The 2023 campaign will involve the de-occupation of Crimea.” President Zelensky has been even clearer: “Everything started with Crimea and will end with Crimea.”

Russia has no idea what Ukraine will do, and it must make provision to defend against a whole range of possibilities. This in itself is testament to the shift in the strategic posture of the invader from the offensive to the defensive marked by the Kharkiv offensive in September. Russia has lost the initiative.

The question for Russian generals is not “what will we do?”, it is “what will the Ukrainians do?”. If Ukraine takes Kinburn, it will be one more considerable step towards standing at the threshold of Crimea only 100km away – the Perekop Isthmus, the narrow strip of land that connects the peninsula to the rest of Ukraine.

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