Ukrainians face a dark and cold winter that tests their resilience

People warm up to fires outside the main railway terminal in Lviv, Ukraine.

Dan Kitwood | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Over 10 million Ukrainians have fled the country since the start of the war, but many of those who have remained, particularly in the south and east of the country, have already been pushed to the limits of their resilience.

Daily life has become a test of survival for many, with basic necessities such as water, food and medicines becoming scarce. Russia has also continued to hammer the country’s energy infrastructure; some 10 million people in Ukraine currently have no electricity due to Russian attacks on energy facilities in recent weeks.

As winter approaches – with daylight hours dwindling and temperatures set to plummet to -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) – officials are warning of a widespread shortage of energy and heat.

Electricity has become particularly scarce, with energy consumption rationed and daily scheduled (and, latterly, unscheduled) blackouts imposed in many parts of the country.

And those blackouts could last for months, according to an energy company chief executive, who warned on Monday night that “there may be no light for a long time.”

“I want everyone to understand: Ukrainians will most likely have to live in a shutdown mode at least until the end of March,” Serhiy Kovalenko, CEO of Ukrainian energy supplier Yasno, said on Facebook on Monday.

Kherson residents collect water at a city water point that has had no electricity or water since the November 16, 2022 Russian retreat in Kherson, Ukraine.

Paula Bronstein | Getty Images News | Getty Images

“There are also different predictions about how this situation will develop, and it completely depends on Russia’s attacks,” he said.

The best case scenario is no new attacks on the electricity grid. There would still be power outages, but only in the short term, allowing energy workers to get the grid back on its feet. However, a worst-case scenario, according to Kovalenko, would see the network “severely damaged”.

“After which it will be necessary to activate not only the stabilization hourly interruptions, but also the emergency ones, for which there could be no light for a very long time”, he added.

Firefighters work to put out a fire at energy infrastructure facilities, damaged by the Russian missile attack, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv region, Ukraine, November 15, 2022.

State Emergency Service of Ukraine | via Reuters

Ukraine should be prepared for several eventualities, especially the worst-case scenario, he said, advising people to stock up on warm clothes and blankets.

“Think about options that will help you get through a long break. It’s better to do it now than to be unhappy and blame someone later. More to the point, we all know who’s really to blame,” she said.


The World Health Organization has expressed concern over deteriorating living conditions in Ukraine, with the global health agency predicting up to three million more people could try to leave the country this winter in search of warmth and safety .

Dr Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, warned on Monday that “this winter will be about survival” and “life threatening for millions of people in Ukraine”.

In a statement, Kluge said ongoing attacks on health and energy infrastructure mean hundreds of hospitals and health facilities are no longer fully operational and lack fuel, water and electricity to meet basic needs.

WHO said it had verified 703 “health” attacks since the start of the war nine months ago, describing it as “a violation of international humanitarian law and the rules of warfare”. Russia has long denied targeting civilian infrastructure, despite cases and evidence to the contrary.

Ukrainian emergency workers and volunteers carry an injured pregnant woman from a maternity hospital which was damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine on Wednesday, March 9, 2022.

Yevgeny Maloletka | ap

“Continuous attacks on health and energy infrastructure mean that hundreds of hospitals and health facilities are no longer fully operational – they lack fuel, water and electricity to meet basic needs. Maternity wards need incubators; blood banks need refrigerators; intensive care beds need fans; and they all require energy,” Kluge said.

The “devastating” energy crisis, as well as the worsening mental health emergency, constraints on humanitarian access and the risk of viral infections will make this winter a formidable testing ground for Ukraine, Kluge added, as well as test the world’s commitment to supporting the country.

“Many will be forced to resort to alternative heating methods such as burning coal or wood or using diesel-powered generators or electric heaters. These pose health risks, including exposure to toxic substances harmful to children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems and cardiovascular conditions, as well as burns and accidental wounds,” he said.


Ukrainian officials in the parts of the country hardest hit by the electricity shortage are warning residents of a harsh winter ahead. Civilians in recently liberated parts of Kherson in southern Ukraine are being told to leave for safer regions during the winter, while the mayor of Kyiv has also reluctantly floated the possibility of evacuations.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy noted in his speech on Monday evening that during the day “energy workers had to apply not only stabilizing shutdowns, but also unscheduled ones. This is caused by a higher level of consumption than the country can deliver right now.”

Residents talk to train station staff as they wait to be evacuated from Kherson on November 21, 2022 in Kherson, Ukraine. The city of Kherson, recently unemployed, is strongly affected by the shortage of electricity and water.

Chris McGrath | Getty Images News | Getty Images

“Of course, energy workers, utility workers, rescuers and everyone involved are working their hardest. But the systemic damage to our energy sphere caused by the attacks of Russian terrorists is so significant that all our people and our businesses should be very frugal and spread consumption by hours of the day,” he said.

As of Monday evening, Zelenskyy said the situation is particularly difficult in the capital Kiev and the surrounding region, as well as Vinnytsia, Sumy, Ternopil, Cherkasy, Odessa regions and some other cities and districts.


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