Ukraine to set up ‘invincibility’ shelters as cold, snow set in

Ukraine’s government has promised to set up shelters to provide heat and water after relentless Russian air attacks that have left its power structure in tatters as temperatures drop and snow falls.

Special “invincibility centres” will be set up around the country to provide citizens with electricity, heat, water, internet, mobile phone connections and a pharmacy, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Tuesday. The centres will be free of charge and operate 24 hours a day.

Russian attacks have led to prolonged power cuts for as many as 10 million residents at a time. Ukraine has urged people to conserve energy, and the national power grid operator said on Tuesday that the damage had been colossal.

“If massive Russian strikes happen again and it’s clear power will not be restored for hours, the ‘invincibility centres’ will go into action with all key services,” Zelenskyy said.

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said this week that some 8,500 power generator sets were being imported into Ukraine every day.

Much of Ukraine saw its first snow of the winter over the past week.

Authorities have warned of power cuts that could affect millions of people until the end of March – the latest fallout from Russia’s nine-month invasion that has already killed tens of thousands, uprooted millions and pummelled the global economy.

Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian energy facilities follow a series of battlefield setbacks that have included a retreat of its forces from the southern city of Kherson.

A week after being retaken by Ukrainian forces, residents in Kherson were tearing down Russian propaganda billboards and replacing them with pro-Ukrainian signs.

“The moment our soldiers entered, these posters were printed and handed over to us. We found workers to install the posters, and we clean up the advertisement off as quickly as possible,” said Antonina Dobrozhenska, who works at the government’s communications department.

Two people walk in the dark because of power cuts on a snow covered Kyiv street
Russian attacks have led to prolonged power cuts for as many as 10 million residents at a time [Andrew Kravchenko/AP Photo]

Russian missiles hit a maternity hospital in the Zaporizhzhia region killing a baby, regional governor Oleksandr Starukh said on the Telegram messaging service early on Wednesday.

The Reuters news agency was not able to independently verify the report. Russia denies launching attacks on civilians.

Battles also continue to rage in the east, where Russia is pressing an offensive along a stretch of front line west of the city of Donetsk, which has been held by its proxies since 2014. The Donetsk region was the scene of fierce attacks and constant shelling over the past 24 hours, Zelenskyy said.

In Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, Russian air defences were activated and two drone attacks were repelled on Tuesday, including one launched on a power station near Sevastopol, the regional governor said. Sevastopol is the home port of Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

Russian-installed Governor Mikhail Razvozhaev called for calm and said no damage had been caused.

‘Stock up on warm clothes’

The World Health Organization warned this week that hundreds of Ukrainian hospitals and healthcare facilities lacked fuel, water and electricity, and that residents faced a life-threatening winter.

“Ukraine’s health system is facing its darkest days in the war so far. Having endured more than 700 attacks, it is now also a victim of the energy crisis,” Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO regional director for Europe, said in a statement after visiting Ukraine.

Sergey Kovalenko, the head of YASNO, which provides energy for Kyiv, advised citizens to “stock up on warm clothes, blankets … think about options that will help you get through a long outage.”

Russia’s attacks on energy infrastructure are a consequence of Kyiv being unwilling to negotiate, Russia’s state news agency TASS quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying last week.

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Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 claiming it was carrying out a “special military operation” to protect Russian-speaking communities.

Ukraine and its allies say Russia’s actions constitute an unprovoked, imperialist land grab in a neighbouring state that it dominated when the two countries were part of the former Soviet Union.

Western responses have included financial and military aid for Kyiv – it received 2.5 billion euros ($2.57bn) from the EU on Tuesday and is expecting $4.5bn in US aid in coming weeks – and waves of sanctions on Russia.