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Europe is rushing to help Ukraine keep the fire and lights on

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KYIV, Ukraine — European officials are rushing to help Ukraine stay warm and function through the bitter winter months, promising to send more aid on Friday that will ease efforts by the Russian military to turn off the heating and lights.

Nine months after Russia invaded its neighbour, Kremlin forces have targeted Ukraine’s power grid and other critical civilian infrastructure in an attempt to tighten the screw on Kiev. Officials estimate that about 50% of Ukraine’s energy facilities have been damaged by the recent strikes.

France is sending 100 powerful generators to Ukraine to help people get through the coming months, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said Friday.

She said that Russia is “arming” the winter and throwing the civilian population of Ukraine into trouble.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who arrived in Kiev on Friday for an unannounced visit, said a promised air defense package, valued by Britain at £50 million ($60 million), would help Ukraine defend against Russian bombing .

“Words are not enough. Words won’t keep the light on this winter. Words fail against Russian missiles,” Cleverly said in a tweet about the military aid.

The package includes radar and other technology to counter the Iran-supplied exploding drones that Russia has used against Ukrainian targets, particularly the power grid. It comes on top of a delivery of more than 1,000 anti-aircraft missiles Britain announced earlier this month.

“As winter sets in, Russia continues to try to break Ukrainian resolve through brutal attacks on civilians, hospitals and energy infrastructure,” Cleverly said.

Russian officials have claimed they hit legitimate targets. But the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday expressed dismay at the depth of civilian suffering caused by the bombings, amid wider allegations of abuse.

“Millions are being plunged into extreme hardship and appalling living conditions as a result of these strikes,” Volker Türk said in a statement Friday. “Overall, this poses serious problems under international humanitarian law, which requires a concrete and direct military advantage for any object attacked.”

The UN Humanitarian Office also agreed with his concerns. “Ukraine is getting colder with no power, no constant water supply and no heating,” Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the office, said on Friday.

He said the global body and its partners were sending hundreds of generators to Ukraine to help the government there in its efforts to keep people warm and maintain essential services, such as health care. The World Health Organization said it is sending generators to hospitals.

Cleverly’s visit came a day after European officials launched a plan called “Generators of Hope,” calling on more than 200 cities across the continent to donate power generators and electricity transformers.

The generators are intended to keep essential Ukrainian facilities running, including to power hospitals, schools and water pumping stations.

Generators may provide only a small fraction of the energy Ukraine needs during the cold and dark winter months.

But the comfort and relief they provide is already apparent as winter sets in in earnest and power goes out frequently. The whine and rumble of generators is becoming commonplace, allowing stores that have them to stay open and Ukraine’s ubiquitous coffee shops to continue serving hot drinks that maintain a semblance of normalcy.

Despite strong winds, rain, sub-zero temperatures at night, ice buildup and broken power lines, more than 70% of Ukraine’s electricity needs were met Friday morning, national power grid operator Ukrenergo said in a statement.

Electricity supplies have been at least partially restored in all regions of Ukraine and the country’s energy grid has been reconnected to that of the European Union, the head of the state electricity grid said on Friday.

Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, CEO of Ukrenergo, added that despite that progress, about half of Ukrainian residents are still affected. He added that all three of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants in Kiev-controlled areas are operational again.

“Within one to two days, nuclear power plants will reach their normal planned capacity and we expect that it will be possible to switch our consumers to a planned shutdown (regime) instead of an emergency (blackouts),” Kudrytskyi said at the Ukrainian TV.

Ukrainian authorities are opening thousands of so-called “points of invincibility” – heated and powered areas with hot meals, electricity and internet connections. Ukrainian President Zelensky said late on Thursday that nearly 4,400 such spaces have been opened in most of the country.

He scoffed at Moscow’s attempts to intimidate Ukrainian citizens, saying it was the only option for the Russian military after a series of battlefield setbacks. “Either energy terror, or artillery terror, or missile terror — that’s all Russia has shrunk to under its current leadership,” Zelenskyy said.

Elsewhere, Ukrainian officials and energy workers continued efforts to restore supplies after a nationwide barrage on Wednesday left tens of millions without power and water.

Kiev mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Friday morning that one-third of the capital’s households have heating again, but half of the population still lacks electricity.

Writing on Telegram, Klitschko added that authorities hoped to provide all consumers in Kiev with electricity for a three-hour period on Friday, according to a predetermined schedule.

By Friday morning, all residents of Ukraine’s second-largest city had restored their electricity supply in Kharkiv, but more than 100,000 in the remote region continued to see interruptions, the regional governor said.

In the south, authorities in the city of Mykolayiv said running water would return after supplies were cut off by Russian attacks on Thursday.

Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine at: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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