KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainians could face rolling blackouts from now through March amid frigid, snowy weather because Russian airstrikes have caused "colossal" damage to Ukraine's power grid, officials said. To cope, authorities are urging people to stock up on supplies and evacuate hard-hit areas.
Sergey Kovalenko, the CEO of private energy provider DTEK Yasno, said the company is under instructions from Ukraine's state grid operator to resume emergency blackouts in the areas it covers, including the capital Kyiv and the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region.
"Although there are fewer blackouts now, I want everyone to understand: Most likely, Ukrainians will have to live with blackouts until at least the end of March," Kovalenko warned on Facebook.
"We need to be prepared for different options, even the worst ones. Stock up on warm clothes and blankets. Think about what will help you wait out a long shutdown," he told Ukrainian residents.
Russia has launched six massive aerial attacks against Ukraine's power grid and other infrastructure since Oct. 10, as the war approaches its nine-month milestone. That targeted onslaught has caused widespread blackouts and deprived millions of Ukrainians of electricity, heat and water.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russian missile strikes have damaged more than half of the country's energy facilities.
Temperatures commonly stay below freezing in Ukraine in the winter, and snow has already fallen in many areas, including Kyiv. Ukrainian authorities have started evacuating civilians from recently liberated sections of the southern Kherson and Mykolaiv regions out of fear that the winter will be too hard to survive.
Heeding the call, women and children — including a little red-headed boy whose shirt read in English "Made with Love" — carried their limited belongings, along with dogs and cats, onto trains departing from the newly liberated city of Kherson.
"We are leaving now because it's scary to sleep at night," departing resident Tetyana Stadnik said on a cramped night sleeper train Monday as a dog wandered around. "Shells are flying over our heads and exploding. It's too much. We will wait until the situation gets better. And then we will come back home."
Another resident said leaving was the right thing to do to help the country.
"No one wants to leave their homes. But they're even advising (to leave). They'd have to warm us up, when it's needed for other people. If we have an opportunity to leave, we can at least help Ukraine with something," Alexandra Barzenkova said as she sat on a train bunk bed.
More hardship was in store for those remaining.
Kovalenko said even if no more Russian airstrikes occur — a highly unlikely situation — scheduled outages will be needed to ensure that power is evenly distributed.
The repeated Russian attacks — with the most severe on Nov. 15 involving 100 heavy rockets — have damaged practically every thermal and hydroelectric power plant in the country, and "the scale of destruction is colossal," Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, the CEO of Ukrenergo, the state-owned power grid operator, said Tuesday. In addition, electric substations have been damaged, while nuclear power plants have largely been spared, he said.
Kyiv regional authorities said Tuesday that more than 150 settlements were enduring emergency blackouts due snowfall and high winds.
The battle for terrain, while slowed due to the weather, has continued, with Ukrainian forces pressing a counteroffensive and Moscow's troops keeping up artillery shelling and missile strikes.
In a key battlefield development, Natalia Humeniuk of the Ukrainian army's Operational Command South said on Ukrainian television that Kyiv's forces are attacking Russian positions on the Kinburn Spit, a gateway to the Black Sea basin, as well as parts of the southern Kherson region still under Russian control.
The Kinburn Spit is Russia's last outpost in Ukraine's southern Mykolayiv region, directly west of Kherson. Ukrainian forces recently liberated other parts of the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions. Moscow has used the Kinburn Spit as a staging ground for missile and artillery strikes on Ukrainian positions in the Mykolaiv province, and elsewhere along the Ukrainian-controlled Black Sea coast.
Recapturing the Kinburn Spit could help Ukrainian forces push into territory that Russia still holds in the Kherson region "under significantly less Russian artillery fire" than if they directly crossed the Dnieper River, a Washington-based think tank said. The Institute for the Study of War added that control of the area would help Kyiv alleviate Russian strikes on Ukraine's southern seaports and allow it to increase its naval activity in the Black Sea.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced the disbursement of $4.5 billion in funds to help "Ukraine defend against Russia's illegal war by bolstering economic stability and supporting core government services." The package will help fund wages for hospital workers, government employees and teachers, as well as social assistance for the elderly and vulnerable.
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