Bleak winter looms as Russian strikes cripple Ukraine’s power capacity

  • Ukrainians may or may not warm to the aftermath of the bombings
  • Temperatures are already below freezing in many areas
  • Kherson residents will be offered to move to safer areas
  • Ukraine’s security forces raided a famous Kyiv monastery

KYIV, Nov 22 (Reuters): President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged Ukrainians to conserve energy amid Russian attacks that have cut the country’s electricity capacity by half, as the United Nations health department warned of a humanitarian disaster in Ukraine this winter.

Authorities said millions of Ukrainians, including in the capital Kyiv, would be without power until the end of March because of the missile attack, which Ukraine’s national grid operator Ukrainergo said had caused “huge” damage.

Temperatures have been unseasonably mild in Ukraine this autumn, but are starting to dip below zero, with winter temperatures expected to drop to -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) in some areas.

Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian energy facilities followed a series of battlefield setbacks that saw Russian forces withdraw from the southern city of Kherson to the east bank of the mighty Dnipro River that divides the country.

“Saving electricity remains crucial,” Prime Minister Denis Schmihal said in a telegram on Tuesday.

Planned power shutdowns are being carried out in all regions and emergency shutdowns are possible in some situations as cold weather sets in and power consumption increases, he said.

“The planned damage to our energy system from an attack by Russian terrorists is enormous, so all our people and businesses need to pay attention and redistribute their consumption throughout the day,” Zelensky said in a video speech overnight.

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Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, chief of Ukrainergo, said on Tuesday that there were practically no thermal or hydroelectric plants left, although he rejected the need to evacuate civilians.

“We cannot produce enough energy for consumers to use,” Kudritzky told a briefing, adding that temperatures are expected to rise again after a short cold snap on Wednesday, giving the power generation system a chance to stabilize.

‘Dark Days’

The World Health Organization (WHO) said hundreds of Ukrainian hospitals and healthcare facilities were without fuel, water and electricity.

“Ukraine’s health system is facing the darkest days of the war so far. It has endured more than 700 attacks and is now the victim of an energy crisis,” WHO’s Europe Regional Director Hans Kluge said in a statement after visiting Ukraine. .

Workers are racing to repair damaged power infrastructure, said Sergey Kovalenko, head of Yasno, which supplies energy to Kyiv.

“Gather warm clothes, blankets, and think about options that will help you survive a long outage,” Kovalenko said.

In a Telegram message to Kherson residents — especially the elderly, women with children, and those who are sick or disabled — Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk posted a number of ways residents can express interest in leaving.

“You may be moved to safer parts of the country during the winter,” she wrote.

Russia’s strikes on energy infrastructure are a consequence of Kiev’s unwillingness to negotiate, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last week, state news agency Tass reported.

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Mykhailo Podoliak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, said Russia was now bombing Kherson from across the Dnipro River because its forces had fled. “No military logic: they want revenge on the locals,” he tweeted late Monday.

Ukraine’s Suspiln news agency reported new explosions in the city of Kherson on Tuesday.

Moscow denies deliberately targeting civilians in what it calls a “special military operation” to liberate Ukraine from nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities.

Kiev and the West describe Russia’s actions as an unprovoked imperialist land grab in a neighboring state that once dominated the former Soviet Union.

The nine-month war killed tens of thousands, displaced millions and crippled the global economy. Europe will be hit hardest by the world’s worst energy crisis since the 1970s, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said.

Since 2014, fighting has continued on the eastern side, with Russia attacking a section of the western front of the city of Donetsk, which has held its proxies.

“The attacks continue to damage critical infrastructure and civilian housing,” Ukraine’s General Staff said.

Four people were killed and four wounded in Ukraine-held areas of the Donetsk region in the past 24 hours, regional governor Pavlo Kyrileno said on the Telegram messaging app.

Russian shelling also hit a humanitarian aid distribution center in Orihiv in southeastern Ukraine on Tuesday, killing one volunteer and wounding two women, the regional governor said.

Orihiv is 110 kilometers (70 miles) east of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, which has come under renewed shelling in the past few days, with Russia and Ukraine claiming responsibility for the explosions.

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In the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014, Russian air defenses were activated and two drones were shot down over the city of Sevastopol on Tuesday, the local governor said, urging people to remain calm.

Sevastopol is the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

Assist and Raid

Meanwhile, Ukraine received 2.5 billion euros ($2.57 billion) in new financial aid from the European Union on Tuesday, Finance Minister Serhii Marchenko said.

In Washington, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the disbursement of $4.5 billion in US financial aid to Ukraine to boost economic stability and support key government services will begin in the coming weeks.

Ukraine’s SBU security service and police raided a 1,000-year-old Orthodox Christian monastery in Kyiv early Tuesday as part of suspected “subversive operations by Russian special services,” the SBU said.

The sprawling Kyiv Pechersk Lavra complex – or Monastery of the Caves – is a Ukrainian cultural treasure and home to the Russian-backed wing of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which falls under the Moscow Patriarchate.

Russia’s Orthodox Church condemned the raid as “intimidation”.

Reporting by Oleksandr Kozhukhar and Maria Starkova in Kyiv, Lydia Kelly in Melbourne and Ronald Popsky in Winnipeg; Written by Mr Navaratnam and Gareth Jones; Editing Lincoln Fest, Alex Richardson, Mark Heinrich

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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