Harsh winter looms as Russian attacks hobble Ukraine’s power capacity

  • Ukrainians barely heated after bombing
  • Temperatures have dropped below freezing in many regions
  • Kherson residents receive offers to evacuate to safer areas
  • Ukrainian security services raid famous Kyiv monastery

KYIV, Nov 22 (Reuters) – Ukraine’s government on Tuesday urged people to conserve energy after a relentless strike in Russia halved the country’s power capacity as the U.N. health agency warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine this winter.

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

Temperatures in Ukraine this fall have been unseasonably mild but are starting to dip below zero, with temperatures expected to drop to -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) or lower in some parts of the winter months.

The Russian attack on Ukrainian energy facilities follows a series of battlefield setbacks, including the retreat of Russian troops from the southern city of Kherson to the east bank of the mighty Dnieper River that divides Ukraine in two.

“Conservation of electricity consumption remains crucial,” Prime Minister Denis Shmihal said in a telegram on Tuesday.

Power outages are planned in all regions, and emergency power outages are possible in some cases due to the onset of frost and increased power consumption, he said.

The head of Ukrenergo, Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, said on Tuesday that hardly any thermal or hydroelectric power stations remained unscathed, although he denied the need to evacuate civilians.

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“We cannot generate as much energy as consumers can use,” Kudrytskyi told a briefing, adding that temperatures are expected to rise again after a brief cold snap on Wednesday, offering an opportunity to stabilize power generation systems.

“Darkest Days”

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

“Ukraine’s health system is facing the darkest days of the war so far. After more than 700 attacks, it is now also a victim of an energy crisis,” WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kruger said after a visit to Ukraine the statement said. .

Sergey Kovalenko, head of YASNO, which supplies energy to Kyiv, said workers were racing to repair damaged power infrastructure.

“Stock up some warm clothes, blankets, consider options that can help you get through a prolonged power outage,” Kovalenko said.

Kirillo Tymoshenko, President Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff, said in a briefing quoted by Ukrainian media that gas supplies had been restored to 1,300 settlements recaptured from Russia by the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

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 released the various ways residents can express their intention to leave. “You can be evacuated to safer parts of the country during the winter,” she wrote.

Russian state news agency TASS quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying last week that Russia’s strike on energy infrastructure was the result of Kyiv’s reluctance to negotiate.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Russian troops had fled and were therefore bombing Kherson from across the Dnieper. “No military logic: they just want revenge on the locals,” he tweeted late Monday.

Moscow has denied deliberately targeting civilians in what it called a “special military operation” to rid Ukraine of nationalists and protect the Russian-speaking community.

Kyiv and the West have described Russia’s actions as gratuitous imperialist predation of its once-Soviet neighbor.

The nine-month war has killed tens of thousands, displaced millions and battered the global economy. The world’s worst energy crisis since the 1970s will trigger a sharp economic slowdown, with Europe hardest hit, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said.

Fighting continues to rage in the east, where Russia is launching an offensive along a stretch of the front west of the city of Donetsk that its proxies have controlled since 2014.

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

Four people were killed and four wounded in the Ukrainian-controlled Donetsk region in the past 24 hours, Donetsk region governor Pavlo Kyryleno said on the Telegram messaging app.

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

Orihiv is about 110 kilometers (70 miles) east of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which has been shelled again in the past few days, with Russia and Ukraine taking responsibility for the blast.

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

Sevastopol is the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Aid and Raid

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

In Washington, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the U.S. would start providing $4.5 billion in aid to Ukraine in the coming weeks to bolster its economic stability.

Ukraine’s SBU security services and police raided a 1,000-year-old Orthodox monastery in Kyiv earlier Tuesday as part of an operation to crack down on alleged “subversive activities by Russian special forces”, the SBU said.

The sprawling Kyiv Pechersk Lavra complex – or cave monastery – is a Ukrainian cultural treasure and the headquarters of the Russian-backed branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate.

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

Reporting by Oleksandr Kozhukhar and Maria Starkova in Kyiv, Lidia Kelly in Melbourne and Ronald Popeski in Winnipeg; Writing by Shri Navaratnam and Gareth Jones; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Alex Richardson and Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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