KYIV, Ukraine, November 23 ------ Ukraine’s government promised to create shelters to provide heat and water and encouraged citizens to conserve energy as a harsh winter loomed amid relentless Russian strikes that have left its power structure in tatters.
Special “invincibility centers” will be set up around Ukraine to provide electricity, heat, water, internet, mobile phone connections and a pharmacy, free of charge and around the clock, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly video address. Russian attacks have knocked out power for long periods for up to 10 million consumers at a time. Ukraine’s national power grid operator said the damage had been colossal. “If massive Russian strikes happen again and its clear power will not be restored for hours, the ‘invincibility centers’ will go into action with all key services,” Zelensky said.
Authorities have warned of power cuts that could affect millions of people to the end of March – the latest impact from Russia’s nine-month invasion that has already killed tens of thousands, uprooted millions and pummeled the global economy. Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian energy facilities follow a series of battlefield setbacks that have included a retreat of its forces from the southern city of Kherson to the east bank of the Dnipro River that bisects the country.
Battles continue to rage in the east, where Russia is pressing an offensive along a stretch of frontline west of the city of Donetsk, which has been held by its proxies since 2014. The Donetsk region was the scene of fierce attacks and constant shelling over the last 24 hours, Zelensky said. In Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, Russian air defenses were activated and two drone attacks were repelled, including one targeting a power station near Sevastopol, the regional governor said. Sevastopol is the home port of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. Russian-installed Governor Mikhail Razvozhaev called for calm and said no damage had been caused.
The World Health Organization warned this week that hundreds of Ukrainian hospitals and healthcare facilities lacked 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,” Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, said in a statement after visiting Ukraine. Sergey Kovalenko, the head of YASNO, which provides energy for Kyiv, advised citizens to “stock up on warm clothes, blankets… think about options that will help you get through a long outage.”
Russia’s strikes on energy infrastructure are a consequence of Kyiv being unwilling to negotiate, Russia’s state news agency TASS quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying last week. Western responses have included financial and military aid for Kyiv – most recently, it received 2.5 billion euros ($2.57 billion) from the EU and is expecting $4.5 billion in US aid in coming weeks – and waves of sanctions on Russia. The West has also sought to cap Russian energy export prices, with the aim of reducing the petroleum revenues that fund Moscow’s war machine while maintaining flows of oil to global markets to prevent price spikes.
The Group of Seven nations are set to soon announce the price cap and will probably adjust the level a few times a year, a senior US Treasury official said.