KYIV, Ukraine – As they struggle to maintain a power grid heavily damaged by Russian missiles, officials in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, say they have begun planning for a once unthinkable possibility: a blackout that would require the evacuation of the approximately three million remaining inhabitants.
The situation is already so dire, with 40% of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure damaged or destroyed, that city workers are setting up 1,000 heated shelters that can serve as bunkers while engineers attempt to repair bombed-out power plants without warning. necessary equipment.
To try to prevent the grid from completely failing, Ukraine’s national energy company said on Saturday it would continue to impose power cuts in seven regions.
The enormous strain on Ukraine’s ability to supply electricity is the result of widespread bombardment by Russian forces of critical energy infrastructure across the country, a tactic analysts say Russian President Vladimir V. Putin resorted as his troops suffered repeated setbacks on the battlefield.
The damage from the Russian strikes has caused further suffering to Ukrainian civilians and forced officials to consider the possibility that further damage could render them unable to provide basic services.
“We understand that if Russia continues such attacks, we could lose our entire electrical system,” Roman Tkachuk, director of security for the Kyiv municipal government, said in an interview, speaking from the city.
Capital officials were told they would likely have at least 12 hours’ notice that the network was about to go down. If it gets to that point, Mr Tkachuk said, “we’ll start telling people and asking them to leave.”
For now at least, the situation is manageable and there are no indications that large numbers of civilians are fleeing Kyiv, he said. But that would change quickly if services that depended on city electricity shut down.
“If there is no electricity, there will be no water or sewage,” he said. “That’s why the government and city administration are currently taking all possible measures to protect our power supply system.”
As winter approaches, the city is preparing 1,000 heated shelters which will also be able to protect civilians from Russian missiles. Most are inside school buildings, but authorities have asked that their precise locations not be flagged, lest they become easy targets.
In one school, the basement had been stocked with bottled water; makeshift classrooms had been set up; and a fire truck was parked just outside the auditorium. Across the hall, in front of a pile of disaster preparedness kits, was a stark reminder of the normality the school once enjoyed: a large Minnie Mouse poster.
When Russia launched its final barrage of more than 50 cruise missiles on Monday, most were shot down, Ukrainian officials said. But those that passed hit power plants and substations, immediately knocking out thousands of people of power.
On Friday, another Russian strike affected a facility run by the company that distributes electricity to homes. It was the 12th energy facility affected in the past month, the company said.
Across the city, engineers were working to repair damaged electrical infrastructure, though they had no easy way to obtain the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment they would need to fully restore the grid. To reduce damage from future attacks, they protected power stations with blast walls.
Ukraine’s electricity utility, Ukrenergo, on Saturday confirmed the need to continue power cuts, saying they were necessary to “reduce the load on the networks, ensure a sustainable balance of the electricity system and avoid repeated accidents after that the electricity grids were damaged by Russian missiles”. and drone attacks.
The cuts would affect Kyiv and its surroundings, as well as Chernihiv, Cherkasy, Kharkiv, Poltava, Sumy and Zhytomyr regions, the utility said.
Ukraine’s Western allies have stepped up their pledges to provide the country with more air defenses. But putting them in place has been difficult, and opposition to the aid effort is mounting in the West as many countries face their own economic headwinds.
But US and European leaders have so far remained adamant.
On Friday, President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said during a visit to Kyiv that Washington’s support for Ukraine remained strong and that aid would continue to flow after the midterm elections.
“I am confident that American support for Ukraine will be unwavering and unwavering,” Sullivan told reporters in a sandbag-covered conference room in the presidential office.
On Friday, the Defense Ministry announced it was setting up a new command to oversee how the United States and its allies train and equip Ukraine’s military.
He also announced a new $400 million security aid package, bringing to a total of $18.9 billion the military aid the United States has committed to Ukraine since the Russian invasion. February 24.
The Pentagon’s new commitments show that the United States expects Russia’s threat to Ukraine and its neighbors to persist for many years to come, current and former senior U.S. officials have said.
Also on Saturday, Iran’s foreign minister acknowledged for the first time that his country had sent armed drones to Russia, although he said they were delivered before Moscow invaded Ukraine.
Throughout the war, but especially in recent weeks, Russia has used Iranian-made drones to launch deadly strikes that have wreaked havoc on Ukrainian cities, according to Ukrainian and Western officials.
Iran has denied sending drones to Russia for use in Ukraine, and the Kremlin has denied using Iranian drones to attack civilians. But international calls for accountability have grown as Russia has carried out repeated deadly assaults.
The European Union and Britain have imposed new sanctions on Iran for attack drones, and the United States is considering its own sanctions in addition to those already in place for nuclear weapons issues.
According to Iranian state news mediaIranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Amirabdollahian on Saturday pushed back against accusations by Western countries that Iran supplied Russia with drones for use in Ukraine.
The deliveries in question took place months before the invasion, Mr Amirabdollahian said. He gave no details on the types or number of drones provided.
The statement appeared to be an effort to shield Iran from even greater sanctions from Western countries than have already deeply weakened its economy.
But that was unlikely to change the strong perception in Western capitals that Iran supported Russia’s war effort.
Current and former US officials have said Iran has sent trainers to Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine to help Russian fighters operate the drones. Such collaboration underscores how Iran’s ties with Russia have grown stronger as the Kremlin has sought to compensate for its international isolation.
Iran has said it will not supply military equipment to any of the parties to the conflict in Ukraine, but had previously confirmed that a drone deal with Russia was part of the deal. a pre-invasion military agreement from Ukraine.
Marc Santora reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Ben Hubbard from Istanbul. The report was provided by Dan Bilefsky to Montreal, Andrew E. Kramer in Kyiv, Cassandra Vinograd in London, Eric Schmitt and Helen Cooper in Washington and Edward Wong in Munster, Germany.
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