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    Hold bombs, fix, repeat: Ukraine's grim efforts to restore power


    December 4, 2022 - CE Noticias Financieras

     

      KIEV, Ukraine - Russian gunfire slammed into the power grid in the newly liberated Ukrainian city of Kherson, officials said Thursday, cutting off electricity to desperate residents and illustrating the challenge facing the entire country:

      As teams scramble to restore basic services, new attacks threaten to undo their work.

      "The Ukrainian energy system is under constant Russian fire," said Andriy Herus, head of the national energy and housing committee.

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

      But on Thursday, as Ukrainian authorities warned that Russia was preparing to launch another wave of missile strikes against infrastructure, the Russian foreign minister insisted that the power grid was nothing less than a legitimate military target.

      Hours after Ukrainian authorities announced that 6 million people across the country were still without electricity because of air strikes, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed that Russia was using high-precision weapons against energy facilities that support combat operations and are used "to supply Ukraine with Western weapons to kill Russians."

      The Ukrainian military has said that its forces have their own autonomous energy supply and that the attacks did not affect their combat capability.

      And it is civilians who have borne the brunt of the Russian tactic of trying to turn cold and darkness into weapons of war, although its effectiveness may depend on the severity of the winter ahead.

      Ukraine typically suffers from frigid winters.

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

      On Thursday, as daytime temperatures in the capital, Kiev, hovered around freezing, the city's mayor suggested that residents consider a temporary evacuation.

      "I appeal to Kiev residents who can - who have relatives, acquaintances in the suburbs, in private homes where they can live temporarily - to consider those options," Mayor Vitali Klitschko told a security forum.

      It was the latest sign that Ukrainian authorities are growing increasingly worried as winter begins to bite.

      They have appealed to the United States and Europe for help and are preparing centers where civilians can find warmth, light and Internet access.

      In a speech this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sought to rally the population.

      "We will overcome also this challenge of war, this winter, this Russian attempt to use 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 put into practice a military doctrine adopted in recent years known as Strategic Operation for the Destruction of Critically Important Targets, or SODCIT.

      "Russia conceived of SODCIT as the use of long-range missiles to attack an enemy state's critical national infrastructure, rather than its military forces, to demoralize the population and ultimately force the state's leadership to capitulate," the British Ministry of Defense said.

      In this case, according to British officials, the tactic might be less effective because it was employed only half a year into the war, when Russian missile stocks have been depleted and the Ukrainian population has been able to prepare.

      Still, in Kherson, the battered city where the new attacks on infrastructure took place, the attacks are a source of frustration.

      Just weeks ago, Ukraine recaptured Kherson, forcing Russian troops to retreat to the eastern bank of the Dnieper River after a months-long counteroffensive.

      Since then, Russian forces have fired hundreds of shells across the river into the city.

      As in Kiev, authorities have encouraged 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 attacks to reverse the situation.

      On Thursday, Russian forces fired 34 shells 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 support from the European Union and the United States, which have begun delivering heavy transformers and generators, it will take six months to restore the damaged infrastructure, according to Herus.

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

      This week, Deputy Interior Minister Yevhen Yenin said on Ukrainian television that a total of 520 cities, towns and villages had power supply problems because of the attacks.

      On Thursday, Brigadier General Oleksii Hromov, a member of the Ukrainian General Staff, warned of the threat of further missile attacks on infrastructure.

      "The enemy's goal is to cause panic among the population," he said.

      Shortly after he spoke, anti-aircraft alarms sounded throughout the country, although they were followed by a stand-off order.

      In Moscow, Lavrov dismissed as "laughable" insinuations that Moscow might be trying to engage in cease-fire negotiations with Kiev to buy time and replenish its forces amid battlefield setbacks.

      "We have never asked for any negotiations," Lavrov said.

      "But we have always said that if someone is interested in finding a negotiated solution, we are ready to listen."

      On Thursday, President Joe Biden told a White House news conference after a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron that he would talk to President Vladimir Putin if the Russian leader expressed a desire to end his invasion of Ukraine.

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

      c.2022 The New York Times Company

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