As Russia attacks power plants, Ukrainians prepare for winter

By JUSTIN SPIKE, Associated Press

KIVSHARIVKA, Ukraine (AP) — Nine-year-old Artem Panchenko helps his grandmother start a smoldering fire in a makeshift outdoor kitchen next to their nearly abandoned apartment building. The light is falling fast and they need to eat before the setting sun plunges their home into cold and dark.

The bite of winter is coming. They can feel it in their bones when temperatures drop below freezing. And like hundreds of thousands of other Ukrainians, they face a season that promises to be brutal.

Artem and his grandmother have lived without gas, water or electricity for about three weeks, since Russian missile strikes cut off public services in their town in the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine. For them and the few other residents who remain in the Kivsharivka complex, huddle at night and cook outside is the only way to survive.

“It’s cold and there’s shelling,” Artem said on Sunday as he helped his grandmother cook. ” It is really cold. I sleep fully clothed in our apartment.

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Adding to the foreboding of winter to come, Russian strikes on Monday and Tuesday in Kyiv, the capital, and several other Ukrainian cities by drones and missiles targeted power plants. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a tweet on Tuesday that over the past week Russian attacks have destroyed 30% of his country’s power plants, causing “massive blackouts across the country.”

As the frost sets in, those who haven’t fled the heavy fighting, regular shelling and months of Russian occupation in eastern Ukraine are desperately trying to figure out how to shelter in the cold months.

In the nearby village of Kurylivka, Viktor Palyanitsa pushes a wheelbarrow full of freshly cut logs along the road to his house. It passes a destroyed tank, the remains of damaged buildings and the site of a 300-year-old wooden church that was razed as Ukrainian forces fought to liberate the area from Russian occupiers.

Palyanitsa, 37, said he collected enough wood to last through the winter. Yet he planned to start sleeping next to a wood-burning stove in a rickety outbuilding and not at home, since all the windows in his house were blown out by shrapnel.

“It’s not comfortable. We spend a lot of time collecting firewood. You can see the situation we live in,” Palyanitsa said, quietly underestimating the dire outlook for the next few months.

Authorities are working to gradually restore electricity to the region in the coming days, and repairs to water and gas infrastructure will come next, according to Roman Semenukha, a deputy from the Kharkiv regional government.

“Only after that can we start to restore the heating,” he said.

Authorities were working to provide residents with firewood, he added, but had no timetable for restoring public services.

Standing next to his pile of split wood, Palyanitsa did not expect help from the government. He said he doesn’t expect the heating to be restored anytime soon, but feels ready to fend for himself even once winter sets in.

“I have arms and legs. So I’m not afraid of the cold, because I can find wood and heat the stove,” he says.

Authorities in Ukrainian-held areas of neighboring hotly contested Donetsk region have urged all remaining residents to evacuate and warned that gas and water services in many areas are unlikely to be restored by ‘winter. As in the Kharkiv region, ordinary Ukrainians still live in thousands of homes that were destroyed by Russian strikes, with leaking or damaged roofs and blown windows unable to provide protection from the cold or damp. .

The threat of a winter without heating has even spread to other regions of Ukraine far from the front lines.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, angered and embarrassed by a Ukrainian strike on a key bridge to annexed Crimea, has stepped up Russia’s bombing campaign, targeting civilian energy infrastructure around Ukraine and leaving many towns and villages without electricity. Monday’s strikes hit Kyiv, Sumy in the northeast and Vinnytsia in western Ukraine.

In the center of Kurylivka, a group of men used a chainsaw to chop down a tree near a bus stop. As they worked, they alerted an Associated Press reporter to Russian landmines still hidden in the surrounding grass.

With so many towns in the region destroyed and modern comforts all but gone, the will to survive outweighs any concern about preserving what came before. Without utilities, the houses have become like rudimentary shelters from a medieval era where people live by candlelight, draw water from wells and bundle up to protect themselves from the cold.

Artem’s grandmother, Iryna Panchenko, said she and her grandson had been sleeping in an abandoned apartment next door since all of their windows were blown out by a Russian strike.

“After the first wave of explosions, we lost a window and two were damaged. After the second explosion, all the other windows were destroyed,” she said. ” It’s very cold here. It’s hard to cook, it’s hard to run between the apartment and the place where you cook. My legs hurt.”

Makeshift lean-to structures dot the overgrown courtyards of their apartment complex where residents gather to cook over fires. A woman picked up pieces of wood from a ground-floor apartment that collapsed in a Russian rocket strike. Another resident joked that his house had become a five-room apartment after one of its exterior walls collapsed.

Anton Sevrukov, 47, toasted bread and heated a kettle of water over a fire to bring tea to his disabled mother.

“No electricity, no water, no gas. We are cold,” he said. little.”

In the darkness of her cramped, moldy apartment, Sevrukov’s mother sat under a blanket on a sofa full of plates of spoiled food. Zoya Sevrukova said she had been bedridden for seven years and spent most of her time sitting, playing solitaire with a threadbare deck of cards.

“It is really cold now. If it wasn’t for my son, I would freeze,” she said.

Sevrukov said he had asked a friend in Kharkiv, the regional capital, to buy him an electric heater, just in case power was restored. It’s almost too much to think of the hardships that could await us.

“Hopefully we will have electricity soon, so we can get through this winter somehow,” he said.

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