December 4, 2022

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Ukraine is struggling to regain power in the war's first winter

Ukraine is struggling to regain power in the war’s first winter

  • The grid operator says only half of Ukraine’s energy demand is being met
  • President Zelensky says: “We are an unbreakable people”
  • More than 15,000 people are missing in the war, an official says

Kyiv (Reuters) – Much of Ukraine was left without heat or electricity on Thursday after Russia’s most devastating air strikes on the power grid yet, and residents in Kyiv were warned to prepare for more attacks and stock up on water and food. And warm clothes.

Okrengo, which oversees Ukraine’s national power grid, said 50 percent of demand in Ukraine had not been met as of 7 p.m. Kyiv time (1700 GMT) after major power facilities were bombed and could not say when everything would be fully restored.

Mayor Vitali Klitschko said that in the capital, Kyiv, with a population of three million, 60 percent of the population was without power amid temperatures well below freezing.

“We understand that such missile strikes could happen again. We have to be prepared for any developments,” the Kyiv city council said.

Oknergo said electricity would first be reconnected to critical infrastructure sites – the gas distribution network, water supply networks, sewage systems and hospitals. It added that domestic consumers will be gradually reconnected.

Satellite images published by NASA, viewed from space, showed that it has become a dark spot on the globe at night, after repeated attacks by Russian missiles in recent weeks.

Ukrainian authorities have set up “invincibility centres,” sometimes in tents, where people can charge phones, keep warm, and get hot drinks.

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“This is the second day that we lack electricity and food,” said a woman in one such center in Kyiv. “More than 60 children are waiting for food and we cannot prepare anything unless the electricity is fixed.”

Russia’s latest missile barrage killed 10 people and shut down all of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants for the first time in 40 years.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview with the Financial Times that this week’s strike had created a situation not seen in 80 or 90 years – “a country on the European continent where there is no light at all”.

By early evening, officials said a reactor at one of the nuclear reactors, Khmelnytskyi, had been reconnected to the grid.

Ukraine’s nuclear power company Energoatom said the massive Zaporizhia plant in Russian-controlled territory was reconnected on Thursday.

Since early October, Russia has attacked energy targets across Ukraine about once a week, each time firing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of missiles to destroy the power grid.

Moscow admits to attacking essential infrastructure, saying its goal is to limit Ukraine’s ability to fight and push it to negotiate. Kyiv says such attacks are clearly intended to harm civilians, making them a war crime.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was Kyiv’s fault that the Ukrainians were suffering because they refused to comply with Moscow’s unauthorized demands. Ukraine says it will not stop fighting until all Russian forces are gone.

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Nuclear officials say blackouts could disrupt cooling systems and cause a nuclear disaster.

“There is a real danger of a nuclear and radiological catastrophe as a result of the firing of cruise and ballistic missiles over the entire territory of Ukraine,” said Petro Kotin, head of the Ukrainian nuclear energy company Energoatom.

Russia must be held accountable for this shameful crime.”

Thousands missing

More than 15,000 people went missing during the war in Ukraine, an official with The Hague-based International Committee for Missing Persons said Thursday.

It opened an office in Kyiv in July to help Ukraine document and trace missing persons. ICMP Europe program director Matthew Holliday said it was unclear how many people had been forcibly transferred, detained in Russia, alive and separated from family members, or dead and buried in makeshift graves.

In Kyiv, members of the Kyiv National Academic Operetta Theater bid farewell to 26-year-old ballerina Vadym Khlopyants, who was killed fighting Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow has turned to the tactic of striking at Ukraine’s infrastructure even as Kyiv has inflicted battlefield defeats on Russian forces since September. Russia also announced the annexation of the lands it occupies and called up hundreds of thousands of reservists.

The first winter of the war will now test whether Ukraine can press ahead with its campaign to reclaim territory, or whether Russian leaders can keep the invasion forces supplied and find a way to stem Kyiv’s momentum.

Having withdrawn, Russia had a much shorter line of defense to hold the captured lands, with more than a third of the front now closed off by the Dnipro River.

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Mark Hertling, the former commander of US ground forces in Europe, said on Twitter: “Ukraine’s capabilities will slowly grow, but continued maneuvering east of the Dnipro River and in the Russian-occupied Donbass region will prove to be tougher battles.”

“Ukrainian morale will be tested as Russian attacks against civilian infrastructure continue…but Ukraine will persevere.”

Russia has launched its own offensive along the front line west of the city of Donetsk, which has been held by Moscow’s proxies since 2014. Ukraine said Russian forces had again tried to advance on their main targets, Bakhmut and Avdiivka, with limited success.

To the south, Russian forces have been digging in on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, shelling areas across it including the city of Kherson, which Ukrainian forces regained control this month.

Reuters could not immediately verify accounts of the battlefield.

Moscow says it is carrying out a “special military operation” to protect Russian speakers in what Putin calls an artificial state carved out of Russia. Ukraine and the West describe the invasion as an unprovoked war of aggression.

Additional reporting by Stefania Bern and the Reuters Bureau, Writing by Peter Graff, Alexandra Hudson and Philippa Fletcher, Editing by William McLean

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