Ukraine promises shelters for its people as harsh winter approaches

Ukraine’s government has vowed to create shelters to provide heat and water and encouraged citizens to save energy as a harsh winter loomed amid relentless Russian attacks that have left its power structure in tatters.

Special “invincibility centers” will be set up in Ukraine to provide electricity, heating, water, internet, mobile phone connections and a pharmacy, free of charge and around the clock, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his late-night video speech on Tuesday.

Russian attacks have left up to 10 million consumers without power for long periods at a time. Ukraine’s national power grid operator said on Tuesday the damage had been colossal.

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“If massive Russian attacks happen again and it’s clear power won’t be restored for hours, ‘invincibility centers’ will spring into action with all key services,” Zelenskiy said.

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said this week that some 8,500 generator sets are imported into Ukraine daily.

The first snow of winter has fallen across much of the country over the past week.

Authorities have warned of power outages that could affect millions of people through the end of March, the latest shock from the nine-month-old Russian invasion that has already killed tens of thousands, uprooted millions and battered the global economy.

Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s energy facilities follow a series of battlefield setbacks that included withdrawing its forces from the southern city of Kherson to the east bank of the Dnipro river that divides the country.

Within a week of being retaken by Ukrainian forces, Kherson residents were tearing down Russian billboards and replacing them with pro-Ukrainian banners.

“The moment our soldiers came in, they printed these banners and handed them over to us. We found workers to install the banners and we cleaned up the banner as quickly as possible,” said Antonina Dobrozhenska, who works in the government’s communications department.

The battles have erupted in the east, where Russia is pushing an offensive along a stretch of the front west of the city of Donetsk, which has been in the hands of its proxies since 2014. The Donetsk region was the scene of fierce attacks and constant bombardments in the past. 24 hours, Zelenskiy said.

In Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, Russian air defenses were activated and two drone strikes were repelled on Tuesday, including one targeting a power plant near Sevastopol, the regional governor said. Sevastopol is the home port of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Russian-installed Governor Mikhail Razvozhaev called for calm and said no damage had been done.

‘Stock up on warm clothes’

The World Health Organization warned this week that hundreds of Ukrainian hospitals and health centers were without fuel, water and electricity.

“Ukraine’s health system is facing its darkest days in the war so far. Having endured 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 after visiting Ukraine.

Sergey Kovalenko, director of YASNO, which provides power to Kyiv, advised citizens to “stock up on warm clothes, blankets… think about options that will help you get through a prolonged blackout.”

Russia’s attacks on energy infrastructure are a consequence of Kyiv’s unwillingness to negotiate, Russian state news agency TASS said last week, citing Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Russia says it is carrying out a “special military operation” to rid Ukraine of nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities.

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

Western responses have included financial and military aid for Kyiv: it received 2.5 billion euros ($2.57 billion) from the EU on Tuesday and expects $4.5 billion in US aid in the coming weeks, and waves of sanctions against Russia.

The West has also sought to limit Russia’s energy export prices, with the aim of reducing oil revenues that finance Moscow’s war machine while keeping oil flows to global markets to avoid price spikes.

The Group of Seven nations should soon announce the price cap and will likely adjust the level several times a year, a senior US Treasury official said on Tuesday.

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