Ukraine war: Winter shelter plans and UK sends first helicopter

November 23, 2022

KYIV — Ukraine has promised to provide free shelter to evacuating citizens ahead of a harsh winter and amid relentless Russian strikes.

Special “invincibility centers” will be set up across the country to provide electricity, water, internet, and a pharmacy, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly video address on Tuesday.

Russia has been targeting Ukrainian power facilities in recent weeks, leaving millions of citizens without power.

The Ukrainian government has begun relocating citizens from recently recaptured cities to areas where heating and security problems are less acute.

The head of national grid operator Ukrenergo has described the damage to Ukraine’s infrastructure was “colossal”.

“If massive Russian strikes happen again and its clear power will not be restored for hours, the ‘invincibility centers’ will go into action with all key services,” Zelensky said.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said this week that around 8,500 power generator sets are being imported to Ukraine each day.

Authorities have warned of power cuts that could affect millions of people until the end of March and have urged citizens to stock up on “warm clothes and blankets”.

Temperatures commonly stay below freezing in Ukraine in the winter, and snow has already fallen in many areas, including Kyiv.

The Kremlin has stated that strikes on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure are a consequence of Kyiv being unwilling to negotiate.

Meanwhile, a newborn baby was killed after an overnight rocket attack struck a hospital maternity ward in southern Ukraine, authorities said Wednesday.

The strike — which Kyiv has blamed on Russia — hit the two-story building in the town of Vilniansk, near Zaporizhzhia. Russia has always denied targeting civilians.

The baby’s mother and a doctor were reportedly pulled alive from the rubble.

“At night, Russian monsters launched huge rockets at the small maternity ward of the hospital in Vilniansk,” regional governor Oleksandr Starukh wrote on Telegram.

“Grief overwhelms our hearts — a baby was killed who had just seen the light of day. Rescuers are working at the site.”

The State Emergency Service initially said that the baby, new mother, and doctor were the only people in the hospital ward at the time.

Zaporizhzhia is one of four Ukrainian regions that Russia illegally annexed in September after internationally condemned sham referendums.

“The terrorist state continues to wage war on civilians,” President Zelensky said on Telegram, adding that Russia would be held accountable for the strike on Vilniansk.

“The enemy has once again decided to try to accomplish through terror and murder what it has not been able to accomplish in nine months”.

In the northeastern region of Kharkiv, another Russian rocket on Wednesday reportedly killed two people. Regional governor Oleg Synegoubov said the victims were a 55-year-old woman and a 68-year-old man.

One person was hospitalized and another received first aid at the scene, he said, adding that the bombing hit a residential building and a hospital.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has so far recorded more than 700 attacks on Ukrainian health facilities since the Russian invasion began.

The United Kingdom, meanwhile, has shipped its first helicopter to Ukraine since Russia launched the invasion on Feb. 24.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said London planned to send two more aircraft in the coming months, as well as an additional 10,000 rounds of artillery.

“Our support for Ukraine is unwavering. These additional artillery rounds will help Ukraine to secure the land it has reclaimed from Russia in recent weeks,” Wallace said in a ministry statement.

“The first shipment of Sea King helicopters is coming to Ukraine to provide critical search and rescue capabilities,” he added.

The UK has been one of Kyiv’s strongest donors of military aid, sending air defense systems and drones, but the delivery of a Sea King helicopter is the first time that the UK has sent manned aircraft to Ukraine.

According to the statement, the British Army has trained 10 Ukrainian army teams and engineers to operate the helicopters.

The announcement comes after UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visited Kyiv on Saturday and announced €57.4 million in military aid and €18.3 million in humanitarian aid.

The military aid is said to include ”125 anti-aircraft guns and technology” to counter drones that were supplied to Russia by Iran.

The ministry also claimed that Russia has nearly exhausted its current stock of Iran-made weapons and will seek resupply.

In another development, Moldova’s government has stated that it will pay for natural gas that has been supplied by Russia but is allegedly being blocked in Ukraine.

Gazprom has accused Kyiv of siphoning off 52.5 million cubic meters of gas destined for Moldova and threatened to start cutting deliveries from Monday.

The Russian state energy giant has already cut its gas exports to Chisinau by half.

“To be clear, all gas delivered to Moldova ends up in our country,” Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spinu said on Wednesday.

“The volumes of gas Gazprom refers to that remain in Ukraine are our reserves and they are stored in warehouses in Ukraine,” he added.

“Our country has always paid for these quantities and will continue to pay for them in full.”

European countries regularly accuse Moscow of energy blackmail over their support for Ukraine.

“This is not the first time that Russia resorts to using gas as a tool of political pressure,” said Olha Belkova of the Gas Transmission System Operator of Ukraine.

“This is a gross manipulation of facts in order to justify the decision to further limit the volume of gas supplies to European countries.”

Heading into winter when natural gas is needed to heat homes as well as generate electricity and power factories, any reductions in supplies could mean higher prices, fueling inflation.

Natural gas prices have fallen since August peaks and European nations have been able to fill their storage capacity for winter, but the crunch could worsen if the weather turns out to be colder than normal.

Moldova relied heavily on Russian energy before the war and its Soviet-era energy systems remain interconnected with Ukraine.

A recent international aid conference in Paris raised more than €100 million euros to support Moldova through its energy crisis. Earlier this month, the European Union also pledged the country €250 million euros in aid. — Euronews

November 23, 2022
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