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Ukrainian Resiliency Will Once Again Be Tested This Winter

By Emily Prosser

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February of last year, the story of the Ukrainian people has been one of resiliency in the face of horrific circumstances. Over this past year, there have been countless examples of profound bravery and resolve shown by the Ukrainians. Civilians learned first-aid; a man delivered fresh drinking water to rural Ukrainian villages; civilians stood up to Russian soldiers who pointed guns in their faces; and doctors and nurses kept hospitals and nursing homes running despite ongoing missile attacks. Their resiliency will once again be tested this winter, as the Russian military continues to attack infrastructure critical to the country’s power grid. Since October, Russia has launched wave after wave of devastating attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. Russian missiles launched on October 31st immediately caused power outages that impacted heating and access to running water in Kyiv, the country’s capital city. After that attack, Kyiv’s residents were forced to collect water from wells in order to carry out everyday activities. With temperatures already recorded as low as negative six degrees, a lack of heat is increasingly concerning and spells a potential for casualties.

Ukrainian officials believe Russian leaders with knowledge of the Ukrainian power plants dating back to the Soviet era are intentionally targeting transformers and other vital machinery with airstrikes. These airstrikes have taken all of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants offline, causing virtually fifty percent of the country’s energy capabilities to disappear. After another wave of airstrikes on December 16th, Ukraine’s state energy company Ukrenergo announced that energy consumption was down by fifty percent. Ukrainian officials believe the intentional attacks on the power grid are the work of the Kremlin, in the face of major military setbacks, doing whatever it can to disrupt Ukrainian life and shake their resolve.

In an address to the nation in November, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that “more is coming” and told the Ukrainian people to “brace for a long, hard winter.” He also said to be prepared for prolonged blackouts. He reported that a staggering four and half million Ukrainians were without power. In response, Ukrainian villages, towns, and cities began setting up “resiliency centers” that have temporary heating, have the ability to charge electronic devices, and are a place to receive critical information in the case of a blackout. After additional Russian airstrikes on Ukrainian energy capabilities in Kyiv on November 23rd, three people were killed and nine were wounded when artillery struck a building. In the same attacks, four people were killed and thirty four were wounded in the region surrounding Kyiv. This serves as another harsh reminder that Russia’s attacks on infrastructure do not just impact energy capabilities but have very real and fatal consequences for Ukrainian civilians, even beyond the lives lost from lack of power. President Zelensky stated that he views these attacks on civilian infrastructure as “acts of terror” and requested an urgent United Nations Security Council meeting.

The United States has pledged an additional $50 million toward helping Ukraine’s energy crisis; however, this is an incredibly costly problem as just one transformer can cost upwards of $100 million dollars. The sheer cost of restoring the power grid ensures that the crisis is far from over. After the December 16th attack, John Kirby, the U.S. National Security Council spokesperson, said, “[Russia] is putting fear into the hearts of the Ukrainian people and to make it that much harder on them as winter is now upon them.” He asserted that there would be another defense package from the U.S. that would include air defense systems. At the December 21st meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Zelensky, President Biden reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine and announced $2 billion dollars in security assistance. In addition to U.S. aid, French President Emmanuel Macron promised President Zelensky that France would “help Ukraine get through the winter.” In November, the European Commission proposed an 18 billion euro aid package for Ukraine. This reiterates a commitment by the U.S. and Europe to continue to support Ukraine, especially as the energy crisis rages on through the winter.

The persistent attacks on civilian infrastructure are yet another example of how far Russian President Vladimir Putin is willing to go in this war, no matter the civilian toll. According to Human Rights Watch, there have been pervasive war crimes documented in the Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv regions. Hugh Williamson, the Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, says, “the cases we documented amount to unspeakable, deliberate cruelty and violence against Ukrainian civilians.” President Zelensky also claims Russian soldiers in the Kherson region carried out more than four hundred documented war crimes. Ukraine’s prosecutor general is even mounting a case for genocide with thirty four thousand documented war crimes. Erik Mose, the head of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry in Ukraine, also confirmed that there is substantial evidence proving that Russian soldiers committed war crimes in Ukraine. The commission’s report details examples of sexual violence carried out on children, brutal executions of civilians, and torture at the hands of Russian soldiers. After the release of the report in late September, the U.N. Human Rights Council called on Russia to respond, yet their seats were empty at the council meeting. Russia denies the deliberate attacks on civilians, but the evidence of war crimes is clear and unequivocal. All of this is to say that the Russian strategy in Ukraine has been one of absolute brutality and disregard for human life. It should come as no surprise that the Kremlin would authorize attacks on a power grid that civilians need to survive the harsh winter months.

While the situation is dire, Ukrainains have shown an impressive ability to adapt in harrowing circumstances and have proven that they will do whatever they can to resume normal life as much as possible. Through pre-existing stockpiles and foreign allies sending generators, Ukrainians have been able to power their apartments, restaurants, and businesses. New York Times journalists in Kyiv reported stories of restaurants having different menus for when they have power and when they do not, providing yet another example of the adaptability of the Ukrainian spirit. Surgeons have been forced to operate on children with headlamps in the absence of electricity. One surgeon powerfully stated, “Russia, look what you’re making us do,” reminding everyone that there is a human cost to Russia’s malice. Mainstays of Ukrainian cultural life have also been undeterred by a lack of power. Though they have been forced to perform by candlelight, the National Philharmonic has continued to stay open, too. Their commitment to not letting the music cease is perhaps indicative of the Ukrainian spirit at large: a refusal to give up no matter what they have to endure.


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