Rats and mice invade Ukrainian trenches in echo of World War I

(CNN) — The front lines of Russia’s war in Ukraine have been infected by rats and mice, which reportedly spread diseases that cause soldiers to vomit and bleed from their eyes, losing their ability to fight and creating horrific conditions Due to which the soldiers get worried. In the thick of World War I.

A Ukrainian soldier woman, whose call sign is “Kira”, recalled how her battalion was struck by a “mouse epidemic” last fall while fighting in the southern region of Zaporizhia.

“Imagine you go to bed and the night starts with a mouse getting into your pants or sweater, biting your fingers or biting your hand. You sleep two or three hours, depending on how lucky you are, Kira told CNN. He estimated that there were about 1,000 rats in his four-soldier shelter. “It was not rats who came to meet us; “We were their guests.”

The infection is partly caused by the changing weather and mating cycles of rats, but it is also a measure of how stagnant the war has become, with Ukraine’s counter-offensive largely thwarted by heavily armed Russian security forces. Had done it. In the midst of another harsh winter, the rats forage across a nearly 1,000-kilometre front in search of food and warmth, spreading disease and discontent.

Kiara said she tried everything possible to rid her bunker of rats: spraying poison, ammonia and even praying. Nearby shops stocked up on anti-mouse products and made money, he said. But as the rats kept coming, they tried other methods.

“We had a cat named Busia and at first he also helped the rats and ate them. But then there were so many that he refused. “A cat can catch one or two mice, but if that’s 70 mice, that’s not realistic.”

Videos shared on social media by Ukrainian and Russian soldiers show the extent of infections on the front lines. Mice and rats are found running around under beds, in backpacks, electric generators, coat pockets and pillows. One shows rats coming out of a Russian mortar tower like Browning bullets.

In another, a cat attempts to pin a mouse to a chair, before a soldier hits the top of the seat and dozens more spring into action. The cat, being hopelessly outnumbered, gives up and retreats.

BAKHMUT DISTRICT, UKRAINE - 27 OCTOBER: A rat trap is seen in a garbage bin as the Ukrainian army suffers from large numbers of rats in their trenches on October 27, 2023 in the Bakhmut district of Ukraine.  Ukrainian forces are struggling to retake Bakhmut, which was captured by Russian forces in May after a year-long battle.  During the summer, Ukraine recovered the area north and south of Bakhmut, but Russia occupied the city.  (Photo by Kostya Liberov/Libcos via Getty Images)

An attempt to stop a swarm of rats from a rat trap in a trash can in a ditch near Bakhmut, Ukraine, in October 2023. Libkos/Getty Images

Ukrainian military intelligence in December reported an outbreak of “mouse fever” in several Russian units around Kupyansk in the Kharkiv region, which Moscow has been trying to claim for months. The report said the disease spread from rats to humans “by inhaling dust from rat feces or by including rat feces in food.”

CNN has not been able to independently verify the report, but according to the Ukrainian military symptoms of the disease include fever, rashes, low blood pressure, bleeding in the eyes, vomiting and, because it affects the kidneys, back pain. intense and problems urinating

The result, Ukrainian defense intelligence said, is that “‘mouse fever’ has significantly reduced the combat capability of Russian troops.” He did not say whether Ukrainian soldiers were similarly affected.

Ukrainian officials have not mentioned any specific conditions affecting Russian soldiers, but there are a variety of diseases associated with living near rodents that have similar symptoms, including tularemia, leptospirosis and hantavirus.

The report was reminiscent of World War I, where the accumulation of debris and decaying corpses allowed “trench rats” to breed rapidly. Rats are nocturnal and are most active when soldiers are trying to rest, causing them a lot of stress.

Robert Graves, an English poet who fought in the trenches, recalled in his memoirs how rats “came out of the canal, devoured the corpses in abundance, and increased in great numbers.” When a new officer arrived, on his first night he “heard the sounds of a fight, shone his flashlight on the bed, and found two rats on his blanket fighting for possession of a severed hand.”

In World War I, the rat population increased as the conflict stopped. And there are fears that the same has happened because of Russia’s war in Ukraine. General Valery Zaluzny, head of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, told The Economist late last year: “Like in the First World War, we have reached a level of technology that puts us at a standstill.”

Three German soldiers show the results of a rat hunt in a trench at night on the Western Front during World War I.  (Photo © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Three German soldiers demonstrate their victory after hunting rats one night on the Western Front during World War I. Holton Deutsche/Corbis Historical/Getty Images

Ihor Zahorodniuk, a researcher at the National History Museum of Ukraine, told CNN that the rat infestation was partly due to the peak of rodent reproduction in the fall, but also due to the effects of the war.

“Winter crops sown in autumn 2021 were not harvested in 2022 in many places and self-seeded liberally. “The rats that were raised in it survived the very warm winter and harvested new crops,” he said. The war also dispersed natural predators, allowing rats to spread more freely.

Apart from causing anxiety and disease in soldiers, rats also wreak havoc on military and electrical equipment. While he served as a signalman and lived isolated from other combat soldiers in Zaporizhia, Kira said that rats “managed to climb onto the metal boxes and chew through the wires,” disrupting communications.

“The rats chewed up everything: radios, repeaters, cables. Rats would climb onto cars and cut electrical wires so they couldn’t work, and they would also cut through tanks and wheels,” Kira said. “The damage caused by rats in our shelter alone is one million hryvnia (US$26,500).”

Zahorodniuk stressed that the damage could be serious, “because loss of communications could cost lives.”

KREMINNA, UKRAINE - JANUARY 12: Soldiers sleep in dugouts after their shift as Ukrainian National Guard soldiers maintain their positions in the snowy Cerebrian forest in temperatures of -15 degrees Celsius in Kreminna, Donetsk Oblast, January 12, 2024.  Ukraine.  (Photo by Kostiantin Liberov/Libcos/Getty Images)

Soldiers sleep in a shelter while maintaining their positions in the snowy Serebryan forest in the Donetsk region in January 2024. Libkos/Getty Images

As Ukraine faces another winter, the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better. “It will get colder and colder and more and more people will go into the trenches. The situation will not change until everyone goes through this,” Zahorodniuk said.

In World War I, soldiers were unable to solve the problem of trench rats. Instead, they killed rats for sport. Trying to bayonet someone became a form of entertainment. The population did not decrease until the war ended. But Zahorodniuk warned that Ukraine must not let the same thing happen again.

“The fight against them must be organized and not rely on soldiers and volunteers who cannot imagine ways to fight. This is bad. After all, it is about the combat capability of the military. “We have to take care of our soldiers.”

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