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Prepare for Bombs, Fix and Repeat: Ukraine’s Sinister Efforts to Restore Power

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian shells crashed into the power grid in the newly liberated Ukrainian city of Kherson, officials said Thursday, knocking out power to desperate residents and illustrating the challenge facing the whole country: so Even as crews rush to restore basic utilities, new attacks threaten to undo their jobs.

“The Ukrainian energy system is constantly under fire from the Russians,” said Andriy Herus, head of a national energy and housing committee.

Moscow’s concerted assault on factories and equipment Ukrainians rely on for heat and light as winter approaches has drawn condemnation from world leaders, with some suggesting it could be a a war crime.

But on Thursday, as Ukrainian officials warned that Russia was preparing to launch a new wave of missile strikes targeting infrastructure, Russia’s foreign minister insisted the power grid was nothing less than a legitimate military target.

Hours after Ukrainian officials announced that six million people across the country were still without electricity due to airstrikes, Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov claimed that Russia was using high-precision weapons against energy installations that support combat operations and are used “to pump”. Ukraine with Western weapons to kill Russians.

Ukraine’s military said its forces had their own self-contained energy supply and the strikes had no effect on their combat capability.

And it is civilians who have borne the brunt of Russia’s tactic of turning cold and darkness into weapons of war, though its effectiveness may depend on the harshness of the looming winter.

Ukraine generally experiences freezing winters. Average temperatures between December and March range from 23 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 5 degrees Celsius) to 36 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), according to the World Bank Group, although it can get much colder.

As the daytime temperature in the capital, Kyiv, hovered around zero on Thursday, the city’s mayor suggested residents consider a temporary evacuation.

“I call on Kyiv residents who can — who have relatives, acquaintances in the suburbs, in private homes where you can live temporarily — to consider such options,” Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a forum on Security.

It was the latest sign that Ukrainian officials were growing increasingly worried as winter began to bite. They have appealed for help from the United States and Europe and are preparing centers where civilians can find heat, light and Internet access.

In a speech delivered this week, President Volodymyr Zelensky tried to rally the population. “We will also meet this challenge of war – this winter, this Russian attempt to use the cold against people,” he said.

On Thursday, British defense intelligence officials said the attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure appeared to be the first time Moscow had implemented a military doctrine adopted in recent years, known as the Strategic Operation for the Destruction of Military Targets. Critical Importance, or SODCIT.

“Russia envisioned SODCIT as using long-range missiles to strike an enemy state’s critical national infrastructure, rather than its military forces, to demoralize the population and ultimately force the state’s leaders to capitulate,” the UK Ministry of Defense said.

In this case, British officials said, the tactic could be less effective because it was only used six months after the start of the war, when Russian missile stocks ran out and the Ukrainian population was able to to prepare.

Yet in Kherson, the battered city where the new infrastructure strikes have taken place, the attacks are a source of frustration.

Just weeks ago, Ukraine recaptured Kherson, forcing Russian troops to retreat to the east bank of the Dnipro after a months-long counteroffensive. Since then, Russian forces have fired hundreds of shells into the city.

As in Kyiv, the authorities are encouraging residents to leave Kherson, given the lack of electricity and water in the city. On Wednesday, authorities said they had restored power to 20% of customers, only for more strikes to reverse the situation.

Russian forces fired 34 shells on Thursday that hit five settlements in the wider region, killing one person and wounding two others, said Yaroslav Yanushevych, head of the regional military administration.

Despite the efforts of Ukrainian engineers and the support of the European Union and the United States, which have started delivering both transformers and heavy generators, it will take six months to restore the damaged infrastructure, according to Mr. Herus, the energy manager.

“During this winter, it is impossible to restore all the damaged installations of the energy infrastructure,” he said on Ukrainian television channel Espresso.

This week, Deputy Interior Minister Yevhen Yenin told Ukrainian television that a total of 520 towns and villages were facing power supply problems due to the attacks.

Thursday, Brig. General Oleksii Hromov, a member of the Ukrainian General Staff, warned of the threat of new missile strikes on infrastructure. “The enemy’s goal is to sow panic in the population,” he said.

Shortly after he spoke, air raid alarms sounded across the country, although they were followed by a green light.

In Moscow, Lavrov called “laughable” suggestions that Moscow might try to engage Kyiv in ceasefire negotiations in order to buy time and rebuild its forces amid setbacks on the field. battle.

“We never asked for negotiations,” Lavrov said. “But we have always said that if anyone is interested in finding a negotiated solution, we are ready to listen.”

On Thursday, President Biden said at a White House press conference after meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron that he would speak with President Vladimir V. Putin if the Russian leader expressed a desire to end to his invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Biden said he would only do so in consultation with NATO allies, however.

Marc Santora reported from Kyiv, Ukraine; Matthew Mpoke Bigg from London; and Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia.

nytimes Gt

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