'There may be no light for a very long time': Ukrainians face huge survival test this winter

‘There may be no light for a very long time’: Ukrainians face huge survival test this winter

People warm up near the fires 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 have remained – particularly in the south and east of the country – have already been stretched to the limits of their resilience.

Daily life has become a test of survival for many, with basic necessities such as water, food and medical supplies becoming scarce. Russia also continued to hammer the country’s energy infrastructure; Around 10 million people in Ukraine currently have no electricity following Russian strikes on energy facilities in recent weeks.

As winter sets in – with waning daylight hours and temperatures set to drop to -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) – officials are warning of widespread energy and heat shortages.

Electricity has become particularly scarce, with rationed power consumption and daily scheduled (and, lately, unscheduled) outages imposed in many parts of the country.

And these blackouts could last for months, according to the CEO of an energy company, who warned Monday evening that “there could be no light for a very long time”.

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

Residents of Kherson collect water at a water point in the city which 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 predictions of how this situation will develop, and they are entirely dependent on Russian attacks,” he said.

In the best case, there are no new attacks on the power grid. There would still be power outages, but only short-lived, allowing energy workers to get the grid back on its feet. However, in the worst case, according to Kovalenko, the network would be “severely damaged”.

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

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

State Emergency Service of Ukraine | via Reuters

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

“Think about the options that will help you survive a long outage. It’s better to do it now than to be unhappy and blame someone later. Specifically, we all know who’s really to blame,” he said. -he declares.

“Endangering life”

The World Health Organization has expressed concern about deteriorating living conditions in Ukraine, with the world health agency forecasting that up to three million more people could try to leave the country this winter in search 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 a statement, Kluge said the continued attacks on health and energy infrastructure mean that hundreds of hospitals and health facilities are no longer fully operational and lack fuel, water and electricity to respond to emergencies. basic needs.

The WHO said it had verified 703 attacks “on health” since the start of the war nine months ago, describing it as “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 emergency workers and volunteers carry an injured pregnant woman from a shell-damaged maternity ward in Mariupol, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 9, 2022.

Yevgeny Maloletka | PA

“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. Maternities have need incubators; blood banks need refrigerators; intensive care beds need ventilators; and all of them need energy,” Kluge said.

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

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


Ukrainian officials in parts of the country hardest hit by power cuts are warning residents of a harsh winter ahead. Civilians from recently liberated parts of Kherson in southern Ukraine are being urged to move to safer areas over winter, while Kyiv’s mayor has also reluctantly raised the possibility of evacuations.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy noted in his address on Monday evening that during the day, “energy workers had to apply not only stabilizing shutdowns, but also unscheduled shutdowns. This is due to a higher level of consumption than what the country can provide at this time”.

Residents chat with station staff while waiting to be evacuated from Kherson on November 21, 2022 in Kherson, Ukraine. The city of Kherson, recently deoccupied, suffers from severe shortages of electricity and water.

Chris McGrath | Getty Images News | Getty Images

“Of course energy workers, utility workers, rescuers and everyone involved are working to their fullest. But the systemic damage to our energy sphere from the Russian terrorist attacks is so great that all of our employees and companies should be very frugal and spread consumption according to the hours of the 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 regions of Vinnytsia, Sumy, Ternopil, Cherkasy, Odessa and some other cities and districts.

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