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Zelenskyy says Russia using cold as 'weapon of mass destruction'

Ukraine and the WHO have expressed fears that a lack of heat, power and water due to Russian shelling will make living conditions too difficult this winter.

Image: PA

Updated Nov 22nd 2022, 10:30 PM

UKRAINE PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR Zelenskyy has said that Russia is trying to use the cold this winter as a “weapon of mass destruction” by striking energy infrastructure.

“The Kremlin wants to transform the cold this winter into a weapon of mass destruction,” Zelenskyy told a meeting of French mayors in a video message.

“To survive this winter and to prevent Russia transforming the cold into an instrument of terror and submission, we need a lot of things,” he added.

He urged the Association of French Mayors to send generators, support for de-mining operations and equipment for Ukraine’s emergency services and medics.

“I call on you to be very concrete with your help and to support out towns and communities against terrorism,” he added.

It comes after Ukrainian authorities began evacuating civilians from recently liberated sections of the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions, fearing a lack of heat, power and water due to Russian shelling will make living conditions too difficult this winter.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) concurred – saying millions face a “life-threatening” winter in Ukraine.

Moscow has been deliberately targeting energy infrastructure, leaving millions of homes across the country without electricity as temperatures plunge.

“This winter will be about survival,” WHO regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, told reporters on Monday, adding it would be “life-threatening for millions of people in Ukraine”.

Authorities urged residents of the two southern regions, which Russian forces have been shelling for months, to move to safer areas in the central and and western parts of the country.

Ukrainian deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the government will provide transport, accommodation and medical care for them, with priority for women with children, the sick and elderly.

To conserve power, Vereshchuk last month asked citizens now living abroad not to return to Ukraine for the winter.

Other officials have suggested residents in Kyiv or elsewhere who have the resources to leave Ukraine for a few months should do so to save power for hospitals and other key facilities.

politics-ukraine Source: Press Association Images

The WHO delivered a chilling warning yesterday about the energy crisis’s human impact on Ukraine.

“This winter will be life-threatening for millions of people in Ukraine,” said regional director for Europe, Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge.

“Attacks on health and energy infrastructure mean hundreds of hospitals and healthcare facilities are no longer fully operational, lacking fuel, water and electricity.”

He warned of health risks such as respiratory and cardiovascular problems from people trying to warm themselves by burning charcoal or wood and using diesel generators and electric heaters.

The evacuations are taking place over a week after Ukraine recaptured the city of Kherson, on the western bank of the Dnieper River, and surrounding areas in a major battlefield gain.

Since then, heading into the winter, residents and authorities alike are realising how much power and other infrastructure the Russians damaged or destroyed before retreating.

russia-ukraine-war Kherson residents collect water from the Dnipro river Source: Bernat Armangue/PA

Ukraine is known for its brutal winter weather and snow has already covered Kyiv, the capital, and other parts of the country.

Russian forces are fortifying their defence lines along Dnieper River’s eastern bank, fearing Ukrainian forces will push deeper into the region.

In the weeks before Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive, Russian-installed authorities relocated tens of thousands of Kherson city residents to Russian-held areas.

Yesterday, Russian-installed authorities urged other residents to evacuate an area on the river’s eastern bank which Moscow now controls, citing intense fighting in Kherson’s Kakhovskiy district.

Russia has been pounding Ukraine’s power grid and other infrastructure from the air for weeks, causing widespread blackouts and leaving millions of Ukrainians without electricity, heat and water.

To cope, four-hour or longer power outages were scheduled on Monday in 15 of Ukraine’s 27 regions, according to Volodymyr Kudrytsky, head of Ukraine’s state grid operator Ukrenergo.

Ukrenergo plans more outages today.

Zelenskyy said Russian missile strikes have damaged more than 50% of the country’s energy facilities.

The Ukrainian president has repeated his calls for Nato nations and other allies to recognise Russia as a terrorist state, saying its shelling of energy facilities was tantamount “to the use of a weapon of mass destruction”.

He also again urged stricter sanctions against Russia and appealed for more air defence aid.

“The terrorist state needs to see that they do not stand a chance,” he told Nato’s 68th Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Madrid in a video address, after which he said the body approved the terrorist designation.

Zelenskyy and his wife made a rare joint public appearance yesterday to observe a moment of silence and place candles at a Kyiv memorial for those killed in Ukraine’s pro-European Union mass protests in 2014.

president-zelenskyy-marks-the-day-of-dignity-and-freedom-kyiv Source: ABACA/PA Images

As bells rang in a memorial tribute, Ukraine’s first couple walked under a grey sky on streets dusted with snow and ice up to a wall of stone plaques bearing the names of fallen protesters.

Their visit coincided with fresh reminders on Monday of more death and destruction on Ukrainian soil.

At least four civilians were killed and eight more wounded in Ukraine over the past 24 hours, the deputy head of the country’s presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said on Monday.

A Russian missile strike in the north-east Kharkiv region on Sunday night killed one person and wounded two as it hit a residential building in the village of Shevchenkove, according to the region’s governor.

One person was hurt in the Dnipropetrovsk region, where Russian forces shelled the city of Nikopol and surrounding areas, governor Valentyn Reznichenko said.

Nikopol lies across the river from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station.

In the eastern Donetsk region, which Moscow partially controls, Russian forces shelled 14 towns and villages, the region’s Ukrainian governor said.

Heavy fighting was taking place near the Ukrainian-held city of Bakhmut, where a school was damaged.

In Makiivka, which is under Russian control, an oil depot was hit and caught fire.

Russian-installed authorities said more than 105,000 people in the province’s capital, Donetsk, were left without electricity on Monday after Ukrainian shelling damaged power lines.

One person was killed, officials said, and 59 miners were trapped underground after power was cut to four coal mines.

In the neighbouring Luhansk region, most of which is under Russian control, the Ukrainian army is advancing towards the key cities of Kreminna and Svatove, where the Russians have set up a defence line, according to Luhansk’s Ukrainian governor Serhiy Haidai.

“There are successes and the Ukrainian army is moving very slowly, but it will be much more difficult for Russians to defend themselves after Svatove and Kreminna [are retaken],” Haidai told Ukrainian television.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence said retaining control of Svatove should be a political priority for Russia but “both Russian defensive and offensive capability continues to be hampered by severe shortages of munitions and skilled personnel”.

In another development, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said its inspectors have reported that weekend shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, had not damaged key equipment and they had identified no nuclear safety concerns.

The six reactors, which are all shut down, are stable, and the integrity of spent and fresh fuel, along with stored radioactive waste, was confirmed, the IAEA said, adding that staff are repairing damage to other equipment.

As they have for months, Kyiv and Moscow blamed each other for the shelling of the Russian-occupied power station, and again the IAEA did not comment on who was responsible.

© AFP 2022

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