As temperatures drop into the 30s Fahrenheit and winter closes in, Ukraine is grappling with energy supply problems caused by Moscow’s relentless bombardment of the country’s infrastructure, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine says.
Nearly half of Ukraine’s energy grid has been knocked out by recent Russian missile strikes.
Faced with recent battlefield setbacks and winter weather that will make offensives harder to carry out, Russia appears to be to be aiming to make the cold months as intolerable as possible not just for Ukrainian troops, but also for civilians far from the front lines, in a bid to erode morale.
Mr. Zelensky said in an address to the nation late Friday that 17 regions faced a “difficult situation with energy supply,” but that energy utility workers were working to restore power. He also said there were fewer emergency shutdowns that day.
Russia’s aerial attacks on the energy grid come as Moscow’s forces have been pulling back to the east side of the Dnipro River, across from the city of Kherson, on the southern front and digging in for the winter, according to Britain’s defense intelligence agency. Russian forces have left a trail of destruction in their wake, with water, power and food in short supply.
Mr. Zelensky said officials had set up centers for people in Kherson to charge their phones and warm up.
“We know that it is very difficult for people, because the occupiers destroyed everything before fleeing,” he said. “But we will connect everything, restore everything.”
Ukraine’s prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, noted on Friday that on Tuesday alone Russia had fired 100 missiles at Ukrainian cities, hitting vulnerable points in the grid, like power plants and substations.
“Almost half of our energy systems has been taken out of service,” he said at a news conference with a visiting European Commission official. He described Russia’s strategy as “fighting against the civilian population and depriving them of light, water supply, heat and communications during the winter.”
The United Nations has said that the Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy system could cause a humanitarian disaster.
Mr. Shmyhal said Ukraine needed more support from its European allies to help its energy sector get through the winter, including money for the purchase of gas and additional equipment.
His estimate that nearly half of the grid has been disabled was higher than an assessment given by Mr. Zelensky on Nov. 1, when the president said that 30 to 40 percent of the country’s critical energy infrastructure had been damaged in waves of drone and missile strikes. Since then, Russia has carried out further attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure.
Utility workers have been in a race against time, trying to repair the system as supplies run low and as Moscow continues to hammer it with strikes.