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Cold and dark: Kiev gears up for ‘worst winter of our lives’


KYIV, Ukraine — When the power goes out, as it so often does, the high-rise apartment overlooking Ukraine’s war-torn capital feels like a death trap. No light, no water, no way to cook food. And no elevator to escape from the 21st floor should a Russian missile strike. Even when the electricity is back on, it’s never on for long.

“Russian attacks are plunging Ukraine into the Stone Age,” says Anastasia Pyrozhenko. In a recent 24-hour period, her 26-story high-rise had power for only half an hour. She says the “military living conditions” drove her and her husband out of their apartment.

“Our building is the tallest in the area and is a great target for Russian missiles, so we moved out of our apartment to our parents’ house and are preparing for the worst winter of our lives,” said the 25-year-old.

The situation in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, and other major cities has deteriorated dramatically after the largest rocket attack on the country’s power grid on Tuesday. Ukrainian state-owned grid operator Ukrenergo reported that 40% of Ukrainians were experiencing difficulties due to damage to at least 15 major energy hubs across the country.

The network warned that blackouts could last from several hours to several days, saying “we need resilience and courage this winter”.

Kiev mayor Vitali Klitschko also stressed the need to be prepared and resilient in the event of a possible blackout: “Worst case scenario. Actually, I don’t like to talk about that, but I have to be prepared if we have (no) electricity, blackout, no water, no heating, no services and no communication,” Klitschko told the AP on Friday.

Ukrenergo said in a statement that “thousands of kilometers of major power lines are down,” affecting the entire country.

It published a photo of a transformer substation destroyed by a Russian missile, leaving about 400,000 people without power. According to the report, “there are now dozens of such transformers in the power system. This equipment cannot be replaced quickly.”

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said after last week’s strikes that more than 10 million Ukrainians were without electricity; by Sunday he said improvements had been made in some areas.

“Restoring networks and technical supply capabilities, demining power lines, repairs – everything is going on around the clock,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly speech.

Blackouts were planned for Sunday night in 15 regions and the city of Kiev, he said. Ukrenergo said there would be planned outages in every region on Monday.

A sharp cold snap and the first snow significantly complicated the situation in Kiev. Due to the cold, people have to turn on their heating, which drastically increases the load on the grid and extends the duration of power outages. In the face of falling temperatures, Kiev authorities announced that they would set up communal heating points.

In the city of 3 million inhabitants, 528 emergency points have been identified. Here residents can keep warm, drink tea, charge their phones and get all the help they need. The heating points will be equipped with autonomous power sources, as well as special boiler rooms.

Mayor Klitschko also spoke about measures taken to prepare for power outages with the onset of colder temperatures: “We made preparations and we requested electrical generators (from) our partners, which they sent to us. For this case we have a reserve of diesel, (of) oil. We have a lot of warm stuff. We have medicines.”

Many Kiev residents have started leaving boxes of food, flashlights and power banks in elevators, just in case someone gets stuck in them for a long time. Due to the lack of electricity, public transport has been disrupted, many small shops cannot function and some medical institutions can only operate to a limited extent.

Dentist Viktor Turakevich said he was forced to postpone his patients’ appointments “indefinitely” because his central Kiev clinic cannot function even during the day without electricity and the generator will not arrive for a few weeks.

“We cannot accept patients even with acute toothache. People have to suffer and wait a long time, but the light is only on for a few hours a day,” Turakevich said. “Generator prices have skyrocketed, but even with money they are not easy to find.”

Most hospitals in Kiev have already received generators and there are no power cuts yet. The Oleksandrivska Hospital, the largest and oldest in central Kiev, reported that it had not canceled elective surgeries because the hospital received electrical generators from France. Generators have also been supplied to educational institutions and social services.

“Such facilities are a priority for us, and most of them are equipped with autonomous energy sources,” said Ukrenergo head Volodymyr Kudrytskyi on Friday. However, many schools in Kiev have experienced significant learning disruption, with a lack of electricity meaning internet outages making distance learning almost impossible.

Yaroslav, aged 8, stopped attending his school in the Vynohradar district of Kiev after a rocket attack blew out all the school’s windows and damaged a shelter there.

“Most of the children have studied remotely, but now it is no longer possible to do this,” Yaroslav’s mother, Olena, who asked for her last name to be kept secret for security reasons, said in a telephone interview. “We try to protect children from the horrors of war, but the cold and lack of power greatly hinder this.”

Analysts say Russian missile attacks on the energy industry have no impact on the successful advance of the Ukrainian army in the south and the situation on the battlefield in general.

“The Russians cannot win on the battlefield, so they are using cold and darkness as a weapon against the civilian population, trying to sow panic and depression and demoralize Ukrainians,” Volodymyr Fesenko, an analyst at the Penta Center think tank in Kiev, said. the AP.

“Suffering military defeats and in dire need of a military pause, Putin is forcing Zelenskyy into negotiations in such a wild way.”

The analyst believes the Kremlin is also trying to pressure Western support for Ukraine as the EU and US will be forced to extend aid packages to a frigid Kiev amid growing domestic problems.

“Putin is trying to make the price of aid to Ukraine too high – this applies to both money and a possible new wave of refugees to Europe from an icy country,” Fesenko said.

Pyrozhenko, who had left her high-rise, moved in with her mother in a small apartment in Kiev, where five people now live. The family owns a wooden house in a village near Kiev and has already prepared firewood in case of a forced evacuation.

“We understand that winter can be long, cold and dark, but we are ready to endure it,” said Pyrozhenko. “We are ready to live without light, but not with the Russians.”

Karmanau reported from Tallinn, Estonia.

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