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Uneasy calm grips Ukraine as West prepares winter aid

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The Ukrainian flag flatters at half mast near the Ukrainian Motherland monument in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022.
The Ukrainian flag flatters at half mast near the Ukrainian Motherland monument in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) Photo Gallery

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — An uneasy calm hung over Kyiv on Tuesday as residents of the Ukrainian capital prepared for Russian missile attacks aiming to take out more energy infrastructure as winter sets in.

To ease the hardships and ensure Ukraine’s 43 million people can maintain their resolve in the 10th month of fighting against Russia’s invasion, NATO allies planned to boost provisions of blankets, generators and other basic necessities.

Ukraine’s first lady implored the West to retain the steadfastness that Ukrainians had shown against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military campaign.

“Ukrainians are very tired of this war, but we have no choice in the matter,” Olena Zelenska, the wife of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said in a BBC interview during a visit to Britain.

“We do hope that the approaching season of Christmas doesn’t make you forget about our tragedy and get used to our suffering,” she said.

A two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Bucharest, Romania, was likely to see the 30-nation alliance make fresh pledges of nonlethal support to Ukraine: fuel, generators, medical supplies and winter equipment, on top of new military support.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was to announce substantial U.S. aid for Ukraine’s energy grid, U.S. officials said. Targeted Russian strikes have battered Ukraine’s power, water and heating infrastructure since Oct. 10 in what Western officials have described as a Russian attempt to weaponize the coming winter cold.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the outset of the Bucharest meeting that Russia “is willing to use extreme brutality and leave Ukraine cold and dark this winter. So we must stay the course and help Ukraine prevail as a sovereign nation.”

About a third of Ukraine’s residents faced power supply disruptions, Ukraine’s state grid operator said, both because of increased demand due to colder temperatures and the emergency shutdown of power units.

“The overall deficit in the energy system is a consequence of seven waves of Russian missile attacks on the country’s energy infrastructure,” electricity system operator Ukrenergo said.

Kyiv saw continued interruptions to its electricity, heat and water supply, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Tuesday, leading authorities to consider relocating some residents to suburbs of the capital.

Blinken noted it was not the first time Russia had targeted civilians during the war and insisted only strong support of Ukraine would impact the Kremlin.

He said the military buildup the U.S. and NATO implemented earlier in the conflict after Russia’s Black Sea fleet bombarded Ukrainian cities and towns and bottled up vital grain shipments for the rest of the world in Ukrainian ports would intensify in light of the ongoing onslaught.

“We’re not going to be deterred,” Blinken told reporters, in one of his more forceful statements of the day. “We’re going to be reinforcing NATO’s presence from the Black to the Baltic seas.”

Bogdan Aurescu, foreign minister of Romania, another Black Sea nation, said his country would push NATO to further increase its military presence.

The Ukrainian government was putting up defenses, too — both for troops and civilians. The government rolled out hundreds of help stations, christened “Points of Invincibility,” where residents facing the loss of power, heating and water can warm up, charge their phones, enjoy snacks and hot drinks, and even be entertained.

“I had no electricity for two days. Now there’s only some electricity, and no gas,” said Vanda Bronyslavavina, who took a breather inside one such help center in Kyiv’s Obolon neighborhood.

The 71-year-old lamented the uncertainty about whether Russia will resume its strikes after infrastructure is fixed, a frustrating cycle of destruction and repair that has made wartime life even more difficult.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office, said Russian forces overnight fired on seven regions in Ukraine’s south and east, employing missiles, drones and heavy artillery.

Tymoshenko said that as of Tuesday, power had been restored to 24% of residents in the recently liberated southern city of Kherson.

On the battlefields in eastern Ukraine’s Russia-annexed Luhansk region, Ukrainian forces were continuing a slow advance, pushing toward Russian defense lines set up between two key cities, Gov. Serhiy Haidai said.

He acknowledged in televised remarks that the onset of winter was compounding a “difficult” military situation.

One civilian was killed and three were injured in a Russian rocket attack on residential neighborhoods in Lyman, an eastern city in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, Tymoshenko reported. A hospital in Kherson also came under fire from Russian forces stationed across the Dnieper River, without causing casualties or serious damage, he said.

Some 75 kilometers (47 miles) upstream from the city, Kremlin-installed authorities said shelling killed two civilians and injured two others Tuesday in Nova Kakhovka, another Kherson region city. Because of such attacks, the Moscow-backed officials have encouraged residents to evacuate deeper into Russian-held territory.

The prospect of peace remained remote. The Kremlin reaffirmed Tuesday that negotiations would be possible if Ukraine meets Russian demands. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, “It’s impossible to hold any talks now because the Ukrainian side strongly rejects them.”

He noted that “political will and readiness to discuss the Russian demands” are needed to conduct negotiations.

Russia has demanded that Ukraine recognize Crimea as part of Russia and acknowledge other Russian gains. It also has repeated its earlier demands for “demilitarization” and “denazification,” albeit with less vigor than in the past.

Ukraine wants Russia to withdraw from Crimea and all other annexed territory, to face prosecution for war crimes, to pay for rebuilding Ukraine and to meet other demands.

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