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Europe scrambles to help Ukraine keep the heat and the lights on

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KYIV, Ukraine — European officials are scrambling to help Ukraine stay warm and keep functioning through the harsh winter months, pledging on Friday to send more support that will ease Russian military efforts to turn off the heating and the lights.

Nine months after Russia invaded its neighbor, Kremlin forces have focused on Ukraine’s power grid and other critical civilian infrastructure in a bid to tighten the screws on Kyiv. Authorities estimate that around 50% of Ukraine’s energy facilities were damaged in the recent strikes.

France is sending 100 high-powered generators to Ukraine to help people get through the coming months, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said on Friday.

She said Russia is “weaponizing” the winter and plunging the Ukrainian civilian population into misery.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who arrived in Kyiv on Friday for an unannounced visit, said a pledged air defense package, which Britain valued at 50 million pounds ($60 million), would help the Ukraine to defend itself against Russian bombing.

“Words are not enough. Words won’t keep the lights on this winter. Words won’t defend against Russian missiles,” Cleverly said in a military aid tweet.

The package includes radar and other technology to counter Iranian-supplied explosive drones that Russia has used against Ukrainian targets, particularly the power grid. It comes on top of a delivery of more than 1,000 anti-aircraft missiles announced by Britain earlier this month.

“As winter sets in, Russia continues to try to shatter Ukrainian resolve through its brutal attacks on civilians, hospitals and energy infrastructure,” Cleverly said.

Russian officials claimed they were hitting legitimate targets. But the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday expressed shock at the scale of civilian suffering caused by the bombings, amid broader allegations of abuse.

“Millions of people are plunged into extreme hardship and appalling living conditions because of these strikes,” Volker Türk said in a statement on Friday. “Taken as a whole, this poses serious problems under international humanitarian law, which requires a concrete and direct military advantage for each object attacked.

The UN humanitarian office has also raised concerns. “Ukraine is getting colder and colder without electricity, regular water supply and heating,” Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the office, said on Friday.

He said the global body and its partners were sending hundreds of generators to Ukraine to help the government in its efforts to keep people warm and maintain essential services, such as healthcare. The World Health Organization said it was sending generators to hospitals.

Cleverly’s visit came a day after European officials launched a program called “Generators of Hope”, which calls on more than 200 towns across the continent to donate generators and power transformers.

The generators are intended to keep essential Ukrainian facilities running, supplying electricity to hospitals, schools and water pumping stations, among other infrastructure.

Generators may provide only a tiny fraction of the energy Ukraine will need during the cold, dark winter months.

But the comfort and relief they provide is already evident, as winter begins in earnest and power cuts occur regularly. The whine and rumble of generators is becoming commonplace, allowing stores that have them to stay open and Ukraine’s ubiquitous cafes to continue serving hot drinks that maintain a semblance of normality.

Despite strong winds, rain, sub-zero temperatures at night, frost and broken power lines, more than 70% of Ukraine’s electricity needs were met as of Friday morning, the power grid operator said. national Ukrenergo in a statement.

Electricity supply has been at least partially restored in all regions of Ukraine, and the country’s energy network has been reconnected to that of the European Union, the head of the state electricity network said on Friday. .

Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, CEO of Ukrenergo, added that despite this progress, about half of Ukrainian residents continue to experience disruption. He added that the three Ukrainian nuclear power plants located in areas controlled by Kyiv have resumed their activities.

“In one to two days, the nuclear power plants will reach their planned normal capacity, and we hope that it will be possible to transfer our consumers to a planned shutdown (regime) instead of an emergency (blackouts),” Kudrytskyi told Ukrainian television.

Ukrainian authorities are opening thousands of so-called “invincibility points” – heated and electrically powered spaces offering hot meals, electricity and internet connections. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy said late Thursday that nearly 4,400 such spaces had been opened across most of the country.

He mocked Moscow’s attempts to intimidate Ukrainian civilians, saying it was the Russian military’s only option after a series of battlefield setbacks. “Either energy terror, or artillery terror, or missile terror – that’s all Russia has reduced under its current rulers,” Zelenskyy said.

Elsewhere, Ukrainian officials and energy workers continued efforts to restore supply after a nationwide dam left tens of millions of people without power and water on Wednesday.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Friday morning that heating had been restored to a third of households in the capital, but half of its population still lacked electricity.

Writing on Telegram, Klitschko added that authorities hoped to provide electricity to all consumers in Kyiv for a three-hour period on Friday, according to a predefined schedule.

As of Friday morning in Kharkiv, all residents of Ukraine’s second-largest city had regained their electricity supply, but more than 100,000 residents of the outlying region continued to experience interruptions, the regional governor said.

In the south, authorities in the city of Mykolaiv said running water should start flowing again after the supply was cut off by Russian strikes on Thursday.

Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine at: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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