Ukraine prepares for ‘worst winter’ as Zelensky says country will prevail

A Ukrainian serviceman lights a candle at a memorial in Kyiv (AP)
A Ukrainian serviceman lights a candle at a memorial in Kyiv (AP)

President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed Ukraine will prevail in the war against Russia as he marked the annual Day of Dignity and Freedom.

Praising the resilience and contributions of ordinary citizens to the war effort, the Ukrainian leader said his country would continue to stand firm.

“We can be left without money. Without gasoline. Without hot water. Without light. But not without freedom,” Mr Zelensky said in a video address.

His words came as Ukrainians prepared for the “worst winter” of their lives, according to residents affected by power cuts as Russia continues to concentrate its attacks on Kyiv’s energy infrastructure.

“Russian strikes are plunging Ukraine into the Stone Age,” said Anastasia Pyrozhenko. In a recent 24-hour spell, her 26-story high-rise only had power for half an hour.

She said the “military living conditions” have driven her and her husband from their apartment. “Our building is the highest in the area and is a great target for Russian missiles, so we left our apartment for our parents’ place and are preparing for the worst winter of our lives,” said the 25-year-old.

The situation in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and other major cities has deteriorated drastically following the largest missile attack on the country’s power grid last week. Ukrainian state-owned grid operator Ukrenergo reported that 40 per cent of Ukrainians were experiencing difficulties, due to damage to at least 15 major energy hubs across the country.

Warning that electricity outages could last anywhere from several hours to several days, the network said that “resilience and courage are what we need this winter”.

Ukrenergo said in a statement that “thousands of kilometres of key high-voltage lines are not working”, affecting the entire country.

On Monday, the authorities started evacuating civilians from the recently-liberated areas of the Kherson region and the neighbouring province of Mykolaiv, fearing that damage to the infrastructure is too severe for people to endure the upcoming winter.

Residents of the two southern regions, regularly shelled in the past months by Russian forces, have been advised to move to safer areas in the central and western parts of the country, said Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk. She said the government will provide “transportation, accommodation, medical care”.

Last week President Zelensky said more than 10 million Ukrainians were without electricity.

Blackouts were scheduled Sunday night in 15 regions and the city of Kyiv and Ukrenergo said there would be scheduled outages in every region on Monday.

A sharp cold snap and the first snow have significantly complicated the situation in Kyiv, where temperatures are often below freezing in winter months.

Most hospitals in Kyiv have already received generators and no power outages have been reported yet.

Analysts have said that Russian rocket attacks on the energy industry do not affect the successful advance of the Ukrainian army in the south and the situation on the battlefield in general.

“The Russians cannot win on the battlefield, and therefore they use cold and darkness as a weapon against the civilian population, trying to sow panic, depression and demoralise Ukrainians,” Volodymyr Fesenko, an analyst at the Penta Center think tank in Kyiv, told AP.