KYIV (Reuters) -- President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to Ukrainians to conserve energy amid relentless Russian strikes that have halved the country’s power capacity, as the United Nations health body warned of a humanitarian disaster in Ukraine this winter.
Authorities said millions of Ukrainians, including in the capital Kyiv, could face power cuts at least until the end of March due to the missile attacks, which Ukraine’s national grid operator Ukrenergo said had wreaked “colossal” damage.
Temperatures have been unseasonably mild in Ukraine this autumn, but are starting to dip below zero and are expected to drop to -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) or even lower in some areas during the winter months.
Russia’s targeting of Ukrainian energy facilities follows a series of battlefield setbacks that have included a pullout of Russian forces from the southern city of Kherson to the east bank of the mighty Dnipro River that bisects the country.
Ukrenergo’s chief Volodymyr Kudrytskyi said on Tuesday that practically no thermal or hydroelectric stations had been left unscathed, though he dismissed the need to evacuate civilians.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said hundreds of Ukrainian hospitals and healthcare facilities lacked fuel, water and electricity to meet people’s basic needs.
Workers are racing to repair damaged power infrastructure, according to Sergey Kovalenko, the head of YASNO, which provides energy for Kyiv.
“Stock up on warm clothes, blankets, think about options that will help you get through a long outage,” Kovalenko said. “It’s better to do it now than to be miserable.”
In a Telegram message for Kherson residents - especially the elderly, women with children and those who are ill or disabled - Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk posted a number of ways residents can express interest in leaving.
“You can be evacuated for the winter period to safer regions of the country,” she wrote.
Russia’s strikes on energy infrastructure are a consequence of Kyiv being unwilling to negotiate, the state news agency TASS quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying last week.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Russia was bombarding Kherson from across the Dnipro River now that its troops had fled. “There is no military logic: they just want to take revenge on the locals,” he tweeted late on Monday.
Ukraine’s Suspilne news agency reported fresh explosions in Kherson city on Tuesday.