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Ukraine braces for harsh winter as Russia attacks power facilities

People with full bottles of water near the Dnieper river following the Russian military withdrawal from Kherson, Ukraine, November 21, 2022. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
People with full bottles of water near the Dnieper river following the Russian military withdrawal from Kherson, Ukraine, November 21, 2022. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

By Pavel Polityuk

kyiv, Nov 22 (Reuters) – Ukraine’s population is bracing for a winter with little or no power generation in several areas, including the capital, where temperatures have already dipped below zero as relentless Russian attacks have crippled power capacity from the country.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the population to conserve energy, especially in the most affected areas, such as kyiv, Vinnytsia in the southwest, Sumy in the north and Odessa on the Black Sea.

Moscow’s response to military setbacks in recent weeks has included a barrage of missile attacks on Ukraine’s power facilities, with Zelensky saying half of the country’s power capacity has been wiped out by Russian rockets.

“The systematic damage to our energy system from the attacks by Russian terrorists is so considerable that all of our people and businesses need to be aware and redistribute their consumption throughout the day,” Zelensky said in his evening video address. “Try to limit your personal electricity consumption.”

Millions of Ukrainians are most likely to live with blackouts — which occur daily across the country — at least until the end of March, Sergey Kovalenko, director of YASNO, which supplies power to kyiv, said on Monday.

He said workers are rushing to complete the repairs before the winter cold hits.

“Stock up on warm clothes, blankets, think about options that will help you wait out a long blackout,” Kovalenko said. “It’s better to do it now than to struggle.”

Citizens of the recently liberated southern city of Kherson, where kyiv says Russian troops destroyed critical infrastructure before leaving earlier this month, can apply to be relocated to areas where security and heating problems are less severe.

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

“They can be evacuated during the winter period to safer regions of the country,” he wrote, referring to both security and infrastructure problems.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said Russia’s blackouts and attacks on energy infrastructure were the result of kyiv’s unwillingness to negotiate, state news agency TASS reported late last week.

On Monday night, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mikhailo Podoliak said Russia was shelling Kherson from across the Dnieper River now that its troops had fled.

“There is no military logic: they just want revenge on the locals,” he tweeted.

Moscow denies intentionally targeting civilians in what it calls a “special military operation” to rid Ukraine of alleged nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities.

kyiv and the West describe Russia’s actions as an unprovoked war of aggression.

BOMBING OF THE NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

Fighting continues in the east following movements of Russian soldiers into the Donbass industrial region from the southern outskirts of Kherson.

Moscow has been reinforcing areas it still holds and pressing an offensive of its own along a stretch of the front line west of the city of Donetsk that its proxies have controlled since 2014.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Tuesday that its troops repelled numerous attacks by the Russian army in various areas of the Donetsk region.

“The enemy does not stop shelling our troop positions and settlements near the line of contact,” he said.

“Attacks continue to damage critical infrastructure and civilian homes.”

Russia and Ukraine claimed blame Monday for at least a dozen explosions at Ukraine’s Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, which has been under Russian control since shortly after it invaded the country on February 24 but is across the Dnieper River from areas controlled by kyiv.

Ukraine narrowly escaped disaster during weekend fighting that rocked the plant, Europe’s largest, with a hail of shells.

Zelensky urged NATO members to ensure protection against “Russian sabotage” at nuclear facilities.

IAEA experts toured the facility on Monday, and the agency said they found widespread damage but nothing that compromised the plant’s essential systems.

The reactors are shut down, but there is a risk that the nuclear fuel will overheat if power to the cooling systems is interrupted. Shelling has repeatedly cut power lines.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Ukraine fired on power lines supplying the plant.

The Ukrainian nuclear power company Energoatom said the Russian military bombed the plant, accusing them of nuclear blackmail and actions that were “endangering the whole world.”

Reuters could not immediately verify which party was responsible.

The repeated bombardments of the plant during the war have raised fears of a serious disaster in the country that in 1986 suffered the worst nuclear accident in the world, in Chernobyl.

(Reporting by Oleksandr Kozhukhar and Maria Starkova in kyiv, Lidia Kelly in Melbourne, and Ronald Popeski in Winnipeg; Writing by Costas Pitas and Shri Navaratnam; Editing in Spanish by Flora Gómez)

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