Fri. Dec 2nd, 2022

Ukraine’s government has pledged to create shelters for heating and water and urged citizens to conserve energy as a harsh winter approaches amid relentless Russian attacks that have left its power structure in tatters.

Special “invincibility centers” will be set up across Ukraine to provide electricity, heating, water, internet, mobile phone connections and a pharmacy, free of charge and 24 hours a day, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an overnight video address on Tuesday.

The Russian attacks cut off electricity for a long time for up to 10 million consumers at once. Ukraine’s national electricity grid operator said on Tuesday that the damage was colossal.

“If massive Russian attacks are repeated and it is clear that power will not be restored for several hours, the ‘invincibility centers’ will go into action with all key services,” Zelenskyy said.

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Ukraine braces for cold winter as Russian attacks cripple energy capacity

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Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said this week that about 8,500 electric generators are imported into Ukraine every day.

The first winter snow fell in most of the country during the past week.

Authorities have warned of blackouts that could affect millions of people by the end of March – the latest fallout from Russia’s nine-month invasion that has already killed tens of thousands, displaced millions and devastated the global economy.

Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian energy facilities follow a series of battlefield setbacks that have included the withdrawal of its forces from the southern city of Kherson to the east bank of the Dnieper river that cuts through the country.

Click to play video: 'Ukraine and Russia blame each other for nuclear power plant shelling'

Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of shelling the nuclear power plant

A week after Ukrainian forces recaptured it, residents of Kherson were tearing down Russian propaganda billboards and replacing them with pro-Ukrainian signs.

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“The moment our soldiers entered, those posters were printed and handed over to us. We found the workers who put up the posters, and we cleaned up the advertisement as quickly as possible,” said Antonina Dobrozhenska, who works in the government’s communications department.

Russian missiles hit a maternity hospital in the Zaporizhzhia region, killing a baby, regional governor Oleksandr Starukh said on the Telegram messaging service.

Reuters could not independently verify the report. Russia denies that it targeted civilians.

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Battles raged in the east, where Russia is waging an offensive along the front line west of the city of Donetsk, held by its proxies since 2014. The Donetsk region has been the scene of fierce attacks and constant shelling for the past 24 hours, Zelensky said.

In Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, Russian air defenses were activated and two drone strikes were repelled on Tuesday, including one targeting a power plant near Sevastopol, the regional governor said. Sevastopol is the home port of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Governor Mikhail Razvozhaev, appointed by Russia, called for peace and said no damage had been done.

“Equip yourself with warm clothes”

The World Health Organization warned this week that hundreds of Ukrainian hospitals and health facilities are without fuel, water and electricity.

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“The Ukrainian healthcare system is facing the darkest days of the war so far. After suffering more than 700 attacks, it is now also a victim of the energy crisis,” said Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, in a statement after his visit to Ukraine.

Click to play video: 'Ukrainian infrastructure bombarded by new round of Russian missiles'

Ukrainian infrastructure bombarded with a new round of Russian missiles

Sergey Kovalenko, head of YASNO, which provides energy to Kyiv, advised citizens to “equip themselves with warm clothes, blankets… think about options that will help you get through the long outage.”

Russian strikes on energy infrastructure are a consequence of Kiev’s unwillingness to negotiate, Russian state news agency TASS quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying last week.

Russia says it is conducting a “special military operation” to liberate Ukraine from nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities.

Ukraine and the West describe Russia’s actions as an unprovoked, imperialist land grab in a neighboring state it once dominated within the former Soviet Union.

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‘Significant progress’ by allies amid Ukraine ‘darkness’ break: Deputy PM

Western responses have included financial and military aid to Kiev — it received 2.5 billion euros ($2.57 billion) from the EU on Tuesday and expects $4.5 billion in U.S. aid in the coming weeks — and waves of sanctions against Russia.

The West has also sought to limit Russia’s energy export prices, aiming to reduce oil revenues that fund Moscow’s war machine, while keeping oil flowing to global markets to prevent a spike in prices.

The Group of Seven countries are expected to announce a price cap soon and are likely to adjust the level several times a year, a senior US Treasury official said on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Oleksandr Kozhukhar and Maria Starkova in Kyiv, Ronald Popeski in Winnipeg, Lidia Kelley in Sydney; Writing by Rosalba O’Brien and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Robert Birsel)