A harsh winter looms as Russian attacks affect Ukraine’s power capacity

Ukraine’s government on Tuesday urged people to conserve energy amid unrelenting Russian strikes that have halved the country’s electricity capacity, as the United Nations health agency warned of a humanitarian disaster in Ukraine this winter.

Authorities said millions of Ukrainians, including in the capital Kyiv, could face power outages at least until the end of March due to the rocket attacks, which Ukraine’s national grid operator Ukrenergo said had caused “colossal” damage.

Temperatures have been unusually mild for the time of year in Ukraine this autumn but are beginning to drop below freezing and are expected to drop to -20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) or even lower in some areas during the winter months fall lower.

Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian power plants follow a series of battlefield setbacks, including a withdrawal of Russian forces from the southern city of Kherson to the east bank of the mighty Dnipro River, which bisects the country.

“Saving electricity remains crucial,” Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told Telegram on Tuesday.

Planned power shutdowns are taking place in all regions, and emergency shutdowns are possible in some situations as frost has set in and power consumption is increasing, he said.

Ukrenergo’s chief Volodymyr Kudrytskyi said on Tuesday that virtually no thermal or hydroelectric power plants remained unscathed, although he dismissed the need for civilian evacuation.

“We cannot generate as much energy as consumers can consume,” Kudrytskyi told a briefing, adding that after a brief cold snap on Wednesday, a renewed rise in temperature is expected, providing an opportunity to stabilize the power generation system.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said hundreds of Ukrainian hospitals and health facilities lack fuel, water and electricity.

“Ukraine’s healthcare system is facing its darkest days yet at war. Having suffered more than 700 attacks, it is now also a victim of the energy crisis,” said Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, in a statement following a visit to Ukraine.

According to Sergey Kovalenko, the head of YASNO, which supplies energy to Kyiv, workers are trying to repair the damaged power infrastructure.

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

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Deputy Chief of Staff Kyrylo Tymoshenko said in a briefing quoted by Ukrainian media that gas supplies had been restored in 1,300 settlements retaken from Russia in a Ukrainian counter-offensive.

Water supply was restored in 1,400 settlements and mobile communications in 1,200 settlements.

In a telegram message to residents of Kherson, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has published a number of ways residents can express their interest in leaving. “They can be evacuated to safer regions of the country for the winter period,” she wrote.

The state news agency TASS quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov last week as saying that Russia’s strikes in the energy infrastructure are a consequence of Kiev’s unwillingness to negotiate.

Ukraine’s presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Russia was bombing Kherson from across the Dnipro River after its troops fled. “There is no military logic: they just want revenge on the locals,” he tweeted late Monday.

Moscow denies deliberately targeting civilians as part of a so-called “military special operation” to rid Ukraine of nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities.

Kyiv and the West describe Russia’s actions as unprovoked, imperialist land grabs in the neighboring state it once ruled within the former Soviet Union.

The nine-month-old war has killed tens of thousands, uprooted millions and crippled the global economy. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said the world’s worst energy crisis since the 1970s would trigger a sharp slowdown that would hit Europe hardest.

Fighting continued to rage in the east, where Russia is pushing an offensive along a sector of front west of the city of Donetsk that has been held by its proxies since 2014.

“Attacks continue to damage critical infrastructure and homes,” Ukraine’s General Staff said.

Four people have been killed and four injured in the Ukrainian-controlled areas of the Donetsk region in the past 24 hours, regional governor Pavlo Kyryleno said via messaging app Telegram.

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

Orihiv is about 110 km (70 miles) east of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, which has come under renewed shelling in recent days, with Russia and Ukraine swapping blame for the blasts.

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

Sevastopol is the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Meanwhile, Ukraine received a new tranche of financial assistance worth 2.5 billion euros ($2.57 billion) from the European Union on Tuesday, Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko said.

Speaking in Washington, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the disbursement of US$4.5 billion in US aid to Ukraine will begin in the coming weeks to bolster its economic stability.

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

Kiev’s sprawling Pechersk Lavra complex – or Monastery of the Caves – is a Ukrainian cultural treasure and the headquarters of the Russian-backed wing of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which falls under the Moscow Patriarchate.

The Russian Orthodox Church condemned the raid as an “act of intimidation”.

© Thomson Reuters 2022.

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