An uneasy calm hung over Kyiv on Tuesday as residents of the Ukrainian capital did what they could to prepare for anticipated Russian missile attacks aiming to take out more energy infrastructure as winter sets in.
To ease that burden, Nato allies made plans to boost provisions of blankets, generators and other basic necessities to ensure Ukraine’s 43 million people can maintain their resolve in the 10th month of fighting against Russia’s invasion.
Ukraine’s first lady implored the West to show the same kind of steadfastness that Ukrainians have shown against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military campaign.
“Ukrainians are very tired of this war, but we have no choice in the matter,” Olena Zelenska, the wife of President Volodymyr Zelensky, said in a BBC interview during a visit to Britain.
“We do hope that the approaching season of Christmas doesn’t make you forget about our tragedy and get used to our suffering,” she said.
A two-day meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Bucharest, Romania, is likely to see the 30-nation alliance make fresh pledges of non-lethal support to Ukraine – fuel, generators, medical supplies and winter equipment, on top of new military support.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to announce substantial aid for Ukraine’s energy grid, officials said.
Targeted Russian strikes have battered Ukraine’s power infrastructure since early October in what Western officials have described as a Russian attempt campaign to weaponise the coming winter cold.
Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the outset of the Bucharest meeting that Russia “is willing to use extreme brutality and leave Ukraine cold and dark this winter. So we must stay the course and help Ukraine prevail as a sovereign nation.”
About a third of Ukraine’s residents face power supply disruptions, Ukraine’s state grid operator said, both because of increased demand due to colder temperatures and the emergency shutdown of power units at several plants since Monday morning.
“The overall deficit in the energy system is a consequence of seven waves of Russian missile attacks on the country’s energy infrastructure,” electricity system operator Ukrenergo said.
Kyiv has seen continued interruptions to its electricity, heat and water supply, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Tuesday, leading authorities to “consider the option of partial evacuation of the capital’s residents to the suburbs”.
The Ukrainian government is putting up defences – both for troops and for civilians.
The government rolled out hundreds of help stations, christened Points of Invincibility, where residents facing the loss of power, heating and water can warm up, charge their phones, enjoy snacks and hot drinks, and even be entertained.
“I had no electricity for two days. Now there’s only some electricity, and no gas,” said Vanda Bronyslavavina, who went to one such help centre in Kyiv’s Obolon neighbourhood.
The 71-year-old lamented the uncertainty about whether Russia will simply resume its strikes after infrastructure gets fixed, a frustrating cycle of destruction and repair that has made wartime life even more uncertain.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office, said Russian forces fired on seven regions in Ukraine’s south and east overnight, employing missiles, drones and heavy artillery. At least one civilian was killed and two others wounded.
Mr Tymoshenko said that, as of Tuesday, power had been restored to 24% of residents in the hard-hit southern city of Kherson.
On the battlefields in eastern Ukraine’s Russia-annexed Luhansk region, Ukrainian forces were continuing a slow advance, pushing toward Russian defence lines set up between two key cities, Governor Serhiy Haidai said.
He acknowledged in televised remarks that the onset of winter is compounding a “difficult” military situation.
The prospect of any peace remains remote.
The Kremlin reaffirmed on Tuesday that negotiations could only be possible if Ukraine meets Russian demands.
Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “It’s impossible to hold any talks now because the Ukrainian side strongly rejects them.”
He noted that “political will and readiness to discuss the Russian demands” are needed to conduct negotiations.
Russia has demanded that Ukraine recognise Crimea as part of Russia and acknowledge other Russian gains.
It also has repeated its earlier demands for “demilitarisation” and “denazification”, albeit with less vigour than in the past.