Ukrainians face a dark, cold winter that is testing their resilience

People warm themselves by fire in front of the main train station in Lviv, Ukraine.

Dan Kitwood | News from Getty Images | Getty Images

Over 10 million Ukrainians have fled the country since the war began, but many of those left behind – particularly in the south and east of the country – have already reached the breaking point.

Daily life has become a test of survival for many as basic needs such as water, food and medical supplies become scarce. Russia has also continued to put pressure on the country’s energy infrastructure; Around 10 million people in Ukraine are currently without electricity due to Russian attacks on power plants in recent weeks.

As winter sets in — with daylight hours dwindling and temperatures expected to plummet to as low as -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) — officials are warning of widespread shortages of energy and warmth.

Electricity has become particularly scarce as energy use has been rationed and daily planned (and more recently unscheduled) power outages have been imposed in many parts of the country.

And those blackouts could last for months, according to an energy company CEO, who warned Monday night that “there may be no lights for a very long time.”

“I want everyone to understand: Ukrainians will most likely have to live in shutdown mode at least until the end of March,” said Serhiy Kovalenko, CEO of Ukrainian energy company Yasno. said Monday on Facebook.

Kherson residents collect water at a water point in the city, which has been without electricity or water since the Russian withdrawal November 16, 2022 in Kherson, Ukraine.

Paula Bronstein | News from Getty Images | Getty Images

“There are also different forecasts about the development of this situation, and they depend entirely on attacks from Russia,” he said.

In the best case, no new attacks on the power grid. There would still be power outages, but only short-term ones to allow energy workers to get the grid back on its feet. In the worst case, however, the network would be “seriously damaged,” according to Kovalenko.

“Then you have to activate not only hourly stabilization outages, but also emergency outages for which there may be no light for a very long time,” he added.

Firefighters work to put out a fire at energy infrastructure facilities damaged by a Russian missile attack as Russia’s assault on Ukraine continues November 15, 2022 in Kyiv region, Ukraine.

State Emergency Service of Ukraine | via Reuters

Ukraine should be prepared for various eventualities, especially the worst-case scenario, he said, advising people to stock up on warm clothes and blankets.

“Think about options to help you survive a long outage. It’s better to do it now than to feel unhappy and blame someone later. More importantly, we all know who is really to blame,” he said.

“Life Threatening”

The World Health Organization has raised concerns about deteriorating living conditions in Ukraine, with the global health agency predicting up to three million more people could try to leave the country this winter in search of warmth and safety.

dr Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, warned on Monday that “this winter will be a matter of survival” and “life-threatening for millions of people in Ukraine”.

in an opinion, Kluge said the ongoing attacks on health and energy infrastructure left hundreds of hospitals and health facilities non-functioning and lacking fuel, water and electricity to meet basic needs.

The WHO said it had verified 703 attacks “on health” since the war began nine months ago, describing it as “a violation of international humanitarian law and the rules of war”. Russia has long denied attacking civilian infrastructure, despite cases and evidence to the contrary.

Ukrainian rescue workers and volunteers carry an injured pregnant woman from a maternity hospital damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 9, 2022.

Evgeny Maloletka | AP

“Ongoing attacks on healthcare and energy infrastructure mean hundreds of hospitals and healthcare facilities are no longer fully operational – lacking fuel, water and electricity to meet basic needs. Maternity wards need incubators; blood banks need refrigerators; ICU beds need ventilators; and everyone needs energy,” said Kluge.

The “devastating” energy crisis, along with a deepening mental health emergency, restrictions on humanitarian access and the risk of viral infections will make this winter a formidable test for Ukraine, Kluge added, as well as the world’s commitment to support the country put the test .

“Many will be forced to turn to alternative heating methods such as burning charcoal or wood or using generators powered by diesel or electric heaters. These pose health risks, including exposure to toxic substances harmful to children, the elderly and those with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, as well as accidental burns and injuries,” he said.

evacuations

Ukrainian officials in parts of the country hardest hit by power outages are warning residents of a harsh winter ahead. Civilians in recently liberated parts of Kherson in southern Ukraine are being told to head to safer regions over the winter, while the mayor of Kyiv has also reluctantly raised the possibility of an evacuation.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy noted in his Monday night address that “Energy workers had to perform not only stabilizing but also unscheduled shutdowns during the day. This is caused by higher consumption than the country can provide at this time.”

Residents talk to railway station workers as they wait to be evacuated from Kherson November 21, 2022 in Kherson, Ukraine. The recently withdrawn city of Cherson is acutely experiencing power and water shortages.

Chris McGrath | News from Getty Images | Getty Images

“Of course energy workers, utility workers, rescuers and everyone involved are working at their maximum. But the systemic damage to our energy sphere from Russian terrorist attacks is so significant that all our people and businesses should be very frugal and expand consumption hours a day,” he said.

On Monday evening, Zelenskyy said the situation was particularly difficult in the capital Kyiv and the surrounding region, as well as in the Vinnytsia, Sumy, Ternopil, Cherkasy, Odessa and some other cities and districts.

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