People warm themselves by a fire outside the main railway terminal in Lviv, Ukraine.
Dan Kitwood | Getty Images News | Getty Images
More than 10 million Ukrainians have fled the country since the start of the war, but many of those who remain – especially in the south and east of the country – have already been pushed to the limit of their endurance.
Daily life has become a test of survival for many, with basic necessities such as water, food and medical equipment becoming increasingly scarce. Russia also continued to pound the country’s energy infrastructure; about 10 million people in Ukraine are currently without power due to Russian strikes on energy facilities in recent weeks.
As winter approaches – with dwindling daylight and temperatures set to reach -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) – officials are warning of widespread power and heat shortages.
Energy has become especially scarce because in many parts of the country daily energy use has been rationed and planned (and more recently, unplanned).
And those outages could last for months, according to one power company CEO, who warned Monday night that “there can be no light for a very long time.”
“I want everyone to understand: Ukrainians will most likely have to live in blackout mode at least until the end of March,” Serhiy Kovalenko, CEO of Ukrainian electricity supplier Yasno, he said on Facebook on Monday.
Residents of Kherson collect water at a water point in the city that has had no electricity or water since the Russian retreat on November 16, 2022 in Kherson, Ukraine.
Paula Bronstein | Getty Images News | Getty Images
“There are also different forecasts of the development of this situation and it completely depends on the attacks on Russia,” he said.
The best case scenario is no new attacks on the power grid. There would still be power outages, but only short ones, allowing power workers to get the grid back on its feet. However, the worst-case scenario would be “severe damage to the network,” according to Kovalenko.
“Then you will have to activate not only hourly stabilization shutdowns, but also emergency shutdowns, for which the light may not be on for a very long time,” he added.
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire at energy infrastructure facilities that were damaged by a Russian missile strike as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in the Kiev region of Ukraine on November 15, 2022.
State Emergency Service of Ukraine | via Reuters
Ukraine should be prepared for various possibilities, especially the worst-case scenario, he said, advising people to stock up on warm clothes and blankets.
“Think about options to help you weather a long outage. It’s better to do it now than to be unhappy and blame someone else later. More to the point, we all know who’s really to blame,” he said.
The World Health Organization has expressed concern over worsening living conditions in Ukraine, with the global health agency predicting that up to three million more people could try to leave the country in search of warmth and safety this winter.
Dr. Hans Kluge, the WHO regional director for Europe, warned on Monday that “this winter will be about survival” and “life-threatening for millions of people in Ukraine”.
in the statement Kluge said continued attacks on health and energy infrastructure meant hundreds of hospitals and health facilities were no longer fully functional and lacked fuel, water and electricity to cover basic needs.
The WHO said it had verified 703 attacks “on health” since the start of the war nine months ago, calling it a “violation of international humanitarian law and the rules of war”. Russia has long denied targeting 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.
Yevgenij Maloletka | AP
“Continued attacks on health and energy infrastructure mean that hundreds of hospitals and health facilities are no longer fully operational – lacking fuel, water and electricity to meet basic needs. Maternity wards need incubators, blood banks need refrigerators, intensive care beds need ventilators; and all they require energy,” Kluge said.
A “devastating” energy crisis, as well as a deepening mental health emergency, restrictions on access to humanitarian aid and the risk of viral infections will make this winter a formidable test for Ukraine, Kluge added, as well as a test of the world’s resolve to support the country. .
“Many will be forced to switch to alternative methods of heating, such as burning charcoal or wood, or using diesel-powered generators or electric heaters. This brings health risks, including exposure to toxic substances that are harmful to children, the elderly and those with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions disease.” conditions as well as accidental burns and injuries,” he said.
Ukrainian officials in the parts of the country most affected by the lack of electricity are warning residents of a severe winter. Civilians in the recently liberated parts of Kherson in southern Ukraine are being told to leave for safer areas over the winter, while the mayor of Kyiv has also reluctantly raised the possibility of evacuation.
In his speech on Monday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy noted that during the day, “energy workers had to apply not only stabilization shutdowns, but also unplanned ones. This is due to a higher level of consumption than the country is able to provide at the moment.”
Residents talk with train station staff as they wait to be evacuated from Kherson on November 21, 2022 in Kherson, Ukraine. The recently occupied city of Kherson is acutely experiencing a lack of energy and water.
Chris McGrath | Getty Images News | Getty Images
“Obviously, energy workers, utility workers, first responders and everyone involved are working to the best of their ability. But the systemic damage to our energy sphere from Russian terrorist attacks is so significant that all of our people and businesses should be very frugal and expand consumption according to the hours of the day.” he said.
On Monday evening, Zelenskyy said that the situation is particularly difficult in the capital Kyiv and the surrounding region, as well as in the regions of Vinnytsia, Sumy, Ternopil, Cherkasy, Odesa and some other cities and districts.