Fighting in the Trenches of the Russo-Ukrainian War is More Like WWI Than We Thought – There’s Rat and Mice Infestations

Photo Credit: Ozge Elif Kizil / Anadolu / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Ozge Elif Kizil / Anadolu / Getty Images

Many are aware that trench warfare has featured heavily on some fronts of the Russo-Ukrainian War, bringing to mind images of World War I and the Western Front. It appears the trench systems winding through Ukraine are more similar to their Great War counterparts than first thought, with service members complaining of worsening conditions and rat infestations.

Ukrainian soldier walking through a trench
Photo Credit: Ignacio Marin / Anadolu / Getty Images

News of the poor conditions was brought to light by CNN, which reported that mice and rat infestations are spreading diseases that cause “soldiers to vomit and bleed from their eyes.” Not only does this impact the overall strength of both the Russian and Ukrainian militaries, but it also serves as a stark reminder of why trench warfare was so deadly during the First World War.

Videos and images uploaded to social media show the extent of the problem, with troops on both sides having to contend with rodents scurrying along wires and their beds – some have even made their homes in coat pockets. What’s more, they’re chewing through wires, damaging equipment.

While measures have been taken, such as the recruitment of “trench cats,” there are simply too many mice and rats for the animals to be effective.

Aerial view of Russian Army trenches in Avdiivka, Ukraine
Photo Credit: Kostya Liberov / Libkos / Getty Images

In December 2023, the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine issued a release, in which it talked about an outbreak of “Mouse Fever” among Russian soldiers in Kupiansk. Stating the disease is transmissible between mice and humans, the ministry listed several symptoms, including:

  • High fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Severe headaches
  • Rashes and redness
  • Hemorrhaging in the eyes
  • Kidney issues, causing problems with urination and severe lower back pain

“Complaints about fever from the Russian Army personnel involved in the war against Ukraine were ignored by the command, considering them as another manifestation of evasion from participation in hostilities,” the release read, adding the disease has “significantly reduced the combat capability of the Russian soldiers.”

Ukrainian soldier standing in the middle of a trench
Photo Credit: Ozge Elif Kizil / Anadolu / Getty Images

Along with spreading disease, the mice and rat infestations have also begun to impact morale along the 621-mile frontline, with many unable to get more than a few hours of sleep per night because of the rodents crawling over and biting them. The damage to equipment also puts them at risk, as they are sometimes unable to transmit communications.

According to CNN, the infestations are primarily the result of seasonal changes and the rodents’ mating cycles. With Ukraine in yet another winter, the former means that more and more mice will be making their way to the trenches, in an attempt to keep warm amid the negative temperatures.

The static nature of the Russo-Ukrainian War has also played a part, with fighting at a stalemate.

Two soldiers peering over the top of a trench
Photo Credit: Ed Ram for The Washington Post / Getty Images

As aforementioned, the infestations being experienced in the trenches of the Russo-Ukrainian War are very reminiscent of what troops had to contend with during WWI. Unsanitary conditions, the mass death tolls and the static nature of the conflict made the Western Front an ideal breeding ground for rats, meaning servicemen came face-to-face with the rodents regularly.

Forced to live in such close proximity to the rats, soldiers on the frontlines often suffered from a myriad of contagious diseases, the most common being typhus, trench fever and leptospirosis. While the rats themselves didn’t always transmit these illnesses, the lice that fed on them did, and that, paired with the rodents’ propensity to gnaw on the injuries of the wounded, made living within the trenches a veritable hell on earth, both physically and mentally.

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As with the Russo-Ukrainian War, steps were taken to lessen the amount of rats in the trenches along the Western Front. Cats and dogs were brought in to kill the rodents, and chemicals were also used. However, the latter’s deployment was short-lived, after it was shown the gases had a negative effect on the soldiers themselves.

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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