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"HYDRA's Winter Soldier Program subjected Barnes to electroconvulsive therapy followed by suggestive keywords and phrases to activate a brain soup knot that could take years to unravel."

The Winter Soldier Program was a top secret HYDRA project started by Arnim Zola in the 1940s to brainwash American soldier James Buchanan Barnes, whom he had administered with his own version of the Super Soldier Serum, and turn him into a super soldier assassin known as the Winter Soldier. Following World War II, the Soviet Union was heavily involved with the program as well.

In December 1991, HYDRA sent Barnes to assassinate Howard Stark and retrieve Stark's replicated Super Soldier Serum, which was used to create more Winter Soldiers. The program was terminated following Barnes' escape and the assassination of the other Winter Soldiers by Helmut Zemo.


Super Soldier Experiments

"Bucky's whole unit was captured in '43. Zola experimented on him. Whatever he did helped Bucky survive the fall. They must have found him and..."
Steve Rogers to Sam Wilson[src]

Bucky Barnes survives the serum experiment

After HYDRA had Abraham Erskine, the creator of the Super Soldier Serum, assassinated in 1943, HYDRA scientist Arnim Zola attempted to recreate the serum himself. While stationed at the Austrian HYDRA Weapons Facility, Zola used Allied prisoners of war who could no longer perform labor as test subjects in his quest to recreate the serum. One of the prisoners, James Buchanan Barnes, was injected with Zola's version of the serum and survived. However, before Zola could continue his work, the facility was infiltrated by Barnes' best friend Steve Rogers, an Allied super soldier known as Captain America who had received Erskine's perfected serum. Zola was forced to abandon his work and flee the facility as Rogers liberated Barnes and the other prisoners.

Bucky Barnes falling to his apparent demise

In early 1945, Barnes and Rogers were tasked with apprehending Zola, and boarded a HYDRA train traveling through the Swiss Alps. During the fight with HYDRA, the side of the train car was destroyed, and a second blast from a HYDRA operative's weapon ejected Barnes out of the train. Despite Barnes' best attempts, he was unable to hold on and fell off the train, plummeting several hundreds of feet.[1] Due to the enhanced abilities granted by the serum, Barnes survived, albeit losing his left arm in the process. He was soon found by the Soviet Armed Forces, who took him prisoner.[2]


Bucky Barnes being given his metal arm

"I know scientists can be mad, but this is an entirely different level of lunacy. It's such a fragile thing to play God with the human brain. HYDRA's methods were effective in making Barnes hyperaware and highly suggestible."

After the end of World War II, Arnim Zola, who had been successfully captured, was pardoned and liberated by the United States government through Operation Paperclip under the condition that he work for S.H.I.E.L.D. However, Zola rebuilt HYDRA within S.H.I.E.L.D., and the organization secretly grew within the U.S. with support provided by the Soviet Union.

After discovering that his test subject Bucky Barnes was still alive, Zola traveled to the Soviet facility.[2] With a super soldier in their possession, HYDRA and the Soviet Union sought to have him under their command, and thus created the Winter Soldier Program, wherein they would erase the man he was so they could rebuild him as they saw fit. The Memory Suppressing Machine delivered electroconvulsive shocks repeatedly to Barnes' mind, severely damaging his limbic system and giving Barnes extensive brain damage. As a result, Barnes lost access to three decades worth of memories prior to this treatment, while rendering him hyperaware of his environment and highly suggestible to commands.[3]

The series of code words to make Barnes into a compliant killing machine were "Желание. Ржавый. Семнадцать. Рассвет. Печь. Девять. Добросердечный. Возвращение на родину. Один. Грузовой вагон."[4] Once these words were spoken aloud, Barnes would say "Я готов отвечать[5]" and would become under the control of whomever spoke the words.[6]

With the brainwashing in place, Zola had the remains of Barnes' mangled left arm amputated, and gave him a metal prosthetic marked with the Soviet red star. Barnes was then trained by HYDRA and, dubbed the Winter Soldier, became one of the world's deadliest assassins.[2] HYDRA continued their mind-controlling research in the North Institute, while hiding behind the S.H.I.E.L.D. facade.[7]


The Winter Soldier being sent onto a mission

"Your work has been a gift to mankind. You shaped the century."
Alexander Pierce to Winter Soldier[src]

As HYDRA and the Soviet Union's super soldier assassin, Winter Soldier was deployed in 1951 to aid the Soviet Armed Forces during the Korean War. Despite the United States Armed Forces being unaware of Winter Soldier's true identity, they were aware of his presence on the Korean peninsula, and sent multiple soldiers to eliminate him, although Winter Soldier killed every single one. As a result, the U.S. military deployed Isaiah Bradley, a test subject whom they had successfully made into a super soldier, to kill Winter Soldier. During the fight, neither Winter Soldier nor Bradley were able to kill each other, although Bradley learned of Winter Soldier's identity and destroyed half of his metal arm.[8]

Barnes is cryogenically frozen

Barnes' metal arm was repaired and he was subsequently sent on multiple assassination missions throughout the 21st century, even killing U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Over the next fifty years, he was credited with over two dozen assassinations, although most of the intelligence community refused to believe in his existence.[2] In order to preserve his longevity, Barnes spent most of his time cryogenically frozen in a Cryostasis Chamber at the HYDRA Siberian Facility, during which he was prevented from aging.[6] Additionally, when he was awakened from his cryosleep, HYDRA often rebooted his mind to ensure compliance.[3]

New Recruits

The kill squad injected with Howard Stark's Super Soldier Serum

"Their most elite death squad. More kills than anyone in HYDRA history. And that was before the serum."
"They all turn out like you?"
Bucky Barnes, and Sam Wilson[src]

As Bucky Barnes was constantly frozen and unfrozen to perform assassinations throughout the generations, the words needed to trigger his brainwashing and control him were transcribed into the Winter Soldier Book and passed down. By the end of the Soviet Union in December 1991, Vasily Karpov, a Colonel in the Soviet Armed Forces and a high ranking HYDRA member, was made Winter Soldier's handler, and oversaw the program from the HYDRA Siberian Facility.

After discovering that Howard Stark had managed to recreate the Super Soldier Serum, Karpov had Barnes awoken from cryosleep and used the Memory Suppressing Machine to give electroconvulsive shocks to Barnes' mind. As Barnes reeled from the torture, Karpov read the trigger words from the book, making Barnes compliant. Karpov then ordered Barnes to assassinate Stark and his wife and retrieve the serum, which Barnes successfully accomplished.

Now in possession of the serum, HYDRA sought to expand on the Winter Soldier Program and had the serum injected into their most elite death squad, transforming them into Winter Soldiers. However, while the serum managed to give the new Winter Soldiers greater strength than that of the original Winter Soldier, Stark's serum had side effects, most notably mental instability that caused the Winter Soldiers to become unruly and turn on HYDRA. HYDRA then had the Winter Soldiers placed in Cryostasis Chambers at the Siberian facility, and elected to continue using Barnes as their Winter Soldier.[6]

Despite considering their new Winter Soldiers as unsuccessful, HYDRA still desired to create more super soldiers and expand on the Winter Soldier Program. Deeming Stark's version of the serum as a failure, HYDRA recruited several people to recreate Abraham Erskine's original serum, including Dr. Wilfred Nagel.[9]

Project Insight

Bucky Barnes is tortured

"Prep him."
"He's been out of cryofreeze too long."
"Then wipe him and start over."
Alexander Pierce and HYDRA Scientist[src]

By 2014, Bucky Barnes had been relocated from the HYDRA Siberian Facility to the Ideal Federal Savings Bank in the United States of America, and awoken from cryostasis to perform more assassinations. Later that year, HYDRA leader Alexander Pierce ordered Barnes to assassinate S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury, and later Natasha Romanoff and Steve Rogers as well, before they could prevent the launch of Project Insight. However, after his fight with Rogers in Washington, D.C., Barnes began to remember Rogers and his fall from the train in 1945, as well as him being captured and cryogenically frozen. As a result, Barnes attacked the HYDRA scientists who were repairing his arm, prompting them to call in Pierce.

After Barnes showed hesitation to complete his mission since he remembered Rogers, and had been out of cryofreeze too long, Pierce ordered the scientists to use the Memory Suppressing Machine to cause Barnes to forget his meeting with Rogers. Following the electroconvulsive shocks, Barnes was ordered to head to the Triskelion and kill Rogers.[2]

Barnes' Desertion

Winter Soldier being reminded of his past

"Your name is James Buchanan Barnes. I'm not going to fight you."
Captain America to Winter Soldier[src]

Arriving at the Triskelion as HYDRA's existence within S.H.I.E.L.D. was announced, Barnes killed several agents before commandeering a Quinjet and flying to one of the Helicarriers. There, he encountered Steve Rogers, and the pair fought. After Rogers successfully prevented Project Insight from being deployed, he refused to fight Barnes, and reminded Barnes of his true name and that he knew him. Despite being momentarily confused, Barnes claimed that he did not know Rogers and that Rogers was his target. As Barnes struck Rogers repeatedly, Rogers, electing not to fight back, told Barnes that he would be with him to the end of the line. The phrase managed to cause Barnes to remember Rogers, and was in shock as he looked down at his friend.

As the Helicarrier was destroyed and Rogers plummeted into the Potomac, Barnes dove in after him and pulled the unconscious Rogers from the river. Leaving Rogers on the river bank[2], Barnes returned to the Ideal Federal Savings Bank. There, he found two HYDRA scientists and lied to them that he had succeeded in his mission with killing Rogers, before attacking the two scientists themselves. However, he then experienced flashbacks to a previous murder he had committed, and therefore decided to let him live before fleeing the facility.[10] In order to find out more about his identity, Barnes visited the Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and saw his own memorial, learning about his past life.[2]

End of the Program

Josef gets shot and killed by Helmut Zemo

"I spent years hunting people HYDRA recruited to recreate the serum. Because once it's out there, someone can create an army of people... like the Avengers. I ended the Winter Soldier Program."
Helmut Zemo[src]

After failing to expand the Winter Soldier Program in the 1990s due to the side effects caused by Howard Stark's version of the Super Soldier Serum, HYDRA recruited scientists to recreate Abraham Erskine's serum for them. However, many of these scientists were hunted down and killed by Helmut Zemo, a Colonel in the Sokovian Armed Forces and leader of its EKO Scorpion unit. In 2016, Zemo assassinated Vasily Karpov and stole the Winter Soldier Book and use to briefly activated the programming in Bucky Barnes to discover the location of the HYDRA Siberian Facility. Traveling to Siberia, Zemo entered the facility and executed the Winter Soldiers in their sleep, effectively ending HYDRA's Winter Soldier Program.[6]

Alternate Universes

Russian Super Soldier Program

"Arnim Zola was a HYDRA scientist who infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. in its infancy. Before he died in ’72, he uploaded his brain to a series of databanks. The one Rogers and I found at Camp Lehigh was destroyed. The other, HYDRA kept here to supervise the Russian Super Soldier program."
Black Widow[src]

In the alternate universe, Arnim Zola infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. to rebuild HYDRA from the inside, working on the Winter Soldier Program. When he died, his consciousness was uploaded onto the series of databanks, one of which was located in HYDRA Siberian Facility, from where he would continue to supervise the program.[11]


Appearances for Winter Soldier Program

In chronological order: