Russian President Putin has decided that one way to make Ukraine pay a stiff price for its resistance is to hit Kyiv’s energy grid – and hit it hard. That means this winter, millions of people in Ukraine will suffer without heat and much more. How will the West and NATO help? What is Putin’s ultimate endgame?
Russian attacks have crippled half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, a top World Health Organization official said, warning that the upcoming winter “will be about survival” for Ukrainians.
“This winter will be life-threatening for millions of people in Ukraine,” Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, said at a Monday press conference in Kyiv. “The devastating energy crisis, the deepening mental health emergency, constraints on humanitarian access, and the risk of viral infections will make this winter a formidable test for the [Ukrainian] health system.”
“The country is facing a therma-crisis on top of a perma-crisis, brought on by the war and the [COVID-19] pandemic. Half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure is either damaged or destroyed,” he continued. “This is already having knock-on effects on the health system and on the people’s health. Put simply, this winter will be about survival.”
Kluge said the WHO has verified over 700 attacks on health infrastructure since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. Continued attacks on health and energy infrastructure, he said, means healthcare facilities like hospitals can no longer be operational because they lack electricity, fuel, and water.
For weeks, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces have used explosive suicide drones and missiles to target Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, including the country’s energy systems. Attacks have left millions of Ukrainians across the country without power and water, which has left Kyiv feeling uneasy as the weather gets colder and winter quickly approaches.
US and Western officials have echoed these warnings from the WHO. During a press conference last week, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said Russian strikes — rendering some hospitals only partially operational — have made it difficult for Ukraine to care for its sick and elderly populations.
“The deliberate targeting of the civilian power grid, causing excessive collateral damage and unnecessary suffering on the civilian population, is a war crime,” Milley said. “With the onset of winter, families will be without power, and more importantly, without heat. Basic human survival and subsistence is going to be severely impacted and human suffering for the Ukrainian population is going to increase.”
In the newly liberated southern city of Kherson, which had been under Russian occupation since the early days of the war, Ukrainian officials are even orchestrating voluntary evacuations for civilians because they fear that the city’s battered power infrastructure will pull deadly freezes in the coming months.
With Ukraine’s first snowfall of the season last week and temperatures dropping, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy encouraged people this week to limit their energy consumption in places where the system appears to feel the most strain.
“The systemic damage to our energy sphere by the attacks of Russian terrorists is so significant that all our people and businesses should be very frugal and spread consumption by hours of the day,” he said Monday.
Jake Epstein is a Junior Breaking News Reporter on the Speed Desk, based in Boston. He focuses on military, defense, and security issues. Prior, he worked at The Times of Israel, freelanced in the Boston area, and interned at CBS Boston. He graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in journalism and international relations in May 2020. At Lehigh, he was the editor in chief of the independent student newspaper The Brown and White. This first appeared in Insider.