Ukrainian public services threatened by Russia in the new phase of the war

When a missile hit a power station less than a mile from his apartment on the outskirts of Kyiv, Oleksander Maystrenko did not panic, run for a bomb shelter or consider d to evacuate, even though he lives near what has suddenly become Russia’s main military center. target in war: anything involving Ukraine’s vital infrastructure.

Its neighbors also didn’t budge, despite the fact that Tuesday’s attack – marked by a loud explosion – killed three people, severely damaged two facilities inside the factory compound and temporarily cut off electricity for around 50,000 homes, according to Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko.

“We are not afraid because we are not only logistically prepared; we are morally prepared,” Maystrenko said outside his building, where he and two neighbors sat on a bench and smoked just hours after the attack.

This is what the latest phase of Russia’s nearly 8-month-long war in Ukraine looks like. Moscow has openly declared its intention to hit power plants, aqueducts and other key infrastructure more and more. A Ukrainian energy official said Wednesday that 40% of the country’s electricity system had been severely damaged, and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces had destroyed 30% of Ukraine’s power plants since October 10.

But Maystrenko and his neighbors say they are ready.

If the Russians cut the power, there are stocks of flashlights and candles, he said. If there is no gas for the stoves, he plans to build a rudimentary stove in front of the entrance to the building and use the collected firewood to heat it. Water was bottled and jars of pickled vegetables and preserves were safely stored.

Everyone knows to have enough blankets and warm clothes for the winter, he added.

“It’s never a secret that this power plant is a target, but we’ve been preparing since the start of this war,” Maystrenko said. The preparations have created a sense of community as well as a united front between neighbors, who once knew each other only passing through and face a common enemy, he said.

The attacks came at a critical time as winter approached. Klitschko said Thursday marks the start of the heating season for Kyiv, which, like most urban centers in Ukraine and even Russia, uses a city-controlled Soviet-era central system that provides heat. to apartment buildings and businesses.

Following a meeting between Zelenskyy, government ministers, members of energy companies and local officials, presidential adviser Kyrylo Tymoshenko said there would be power supply restrictions across Ukraine from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. starting Thursday, as well as the use of street lighting being limited in some cities.

“Please take this seriously,” Tymoshenko said on his Telegram channel. “This applies to residents of ALL parts of the country. … These are forced steps. Therefore, we are all working together on our front!

One area where electricity and water were reportedly cut off by shelling was Enerhodar, the southern city next to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, one of the war’s most worrying hotspots. Missiles also severely damaged an energy facility near Zelenskyy’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih in south-central Ukraine, knocking out power to villages, towns and a city district, the report said. regional governor.

Weaponizing energy is not a new tactic for the Kremlin, especially when it comes to Ukraine.

“Energy has always been a sacred cow for the Russians, and they claim that by controlling energy they can control the country,” said Hanna Shelest, director of security programs at the Foreign Policy Council Ukrainian Prism, based in Kyiv.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has declared martial law in four illegally annexed regions of Ukraine, has used his ability to cut off gas running through the vast Soviet-era pipeline as leverage. His tactic has been used not only against the Kyiv government, but also against energy-dependent nations in Europe, which have built pipelines through the Baltic Sea for Russian gas.

Under its new strategy, the Russian military hopes to destroy enough Ukrainian infrastructure to make life so intolerable that residents will blame their own government, Shelest said.

Putin called Ukraine a failed state and a historical part of Russia. By trying to make Ukrainians suffer, he hopes they will believe him, she says.

“What we’re seeing now is that it’s definitely not working out so well,” Shelest said, adding that Ukrainians are increasingly directing their anger at Putin.

Zelenskyy’s admission that Russia had destroyed nearly a third of Ukraine’s power plants was remarkable, said Mason Clark, an analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.

“If the Russians can sustain this damage and the Ukrainians can’t fix it, it might actually start to have an effect,” he said.

Clark said he did not believe Russia would be able to channel the overwhelming support of the Ukrainian population for its military to retake territory seized by Moscow.

Recent attacks by what Kyiv describes as Iranian-supplied drones and missiles against civilian accommodation and other non-military targets “appear to be simple terrorist attacks, basically to try to intimidate the Ukrainian population”, he said. he declared.

Russia used such scare tactics throughout the war out of a “misguided belief that it will be able to force the Ukrainians to surrender and force negotiations”, Clark said.

From a military perspective, Russia’s use of Iranian-supplied drones and Kalibr and Iskander cruise missiles against Ukrainian infrastructure is a “very poor use of limited precision munitions,” Clark said.

The Russians are grappling with dwindling stockpiles of these high-end weapons, he said, adding that a more strategic decision would be to save them for the battlefield as Ukrainian air defenses have successfully intercepted and shoot down many drones.

“It’s a waste by the Russians of very expensive and limited systems for the purpose of probably achieving a terrorist effect that will not influence the government or the people of Ukraine,” Clark said.

Infrastructure repair is often the responsibility of local governments. The port city of Odessa in southern Ukraine has assigned crews to help the nearby town of Mykolaiv, which has been under Russian bombardment for weeks.

In the Kharkiv region, government official Roman Semenukha said on Sunday that while repairs to heating systems were underway around the recently liberated city of Kupiansk, it was a slow process that must first restore electricity, gas and water.

“I would like to point out that private households will be connected to the gas supply, but the situation with high-rise buildings is a bit more complicated, for various reasons,” said Andrii Besedin, adviser to the head of administration. Kharkiv military.

Kharkiv regional authorities are also assessing firewood needs, Besedin said, adding that heated shelters will be installed and authorities will offer to evacuate those wishing to leave for the winter.

“Those who wish (will move) to safe areas, where there are all communications. We will work every day to restore the critical infrastructure of these networks,” he said.

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Christi C. Elwood