U.S. Struggles to Get Ukraine Ready for Winter

Kyiv has not been its usual self for weeks. For half the day, the Ukrainian capital, known for its restaurants, bustling nightlife and crowded cocktail dens, is shrouded in darkness, largely invisible, even through an epidemic and more than eight months of full-scale Russian occupation. Millions of tiny candlelights.

Repeatedly beaten on the battlefield, Russia has turned to knocking down Ukrainian power and warmth before winter. Russian missile strikes and drone strikes have shut down nearly 40 percent of the country’s power plants.

The first shock is economic. The Ukrainian government fears that the economy will shrink by a third. “Some businesses in Kyiv are panicking like crazy,” said Tymofiy Mylovanov, an adviser to the Zelenskyi administration. “Those who were in Kyiv, who stayed in Kiev, who have thousands of employees, are worried that one more attack will mean a week without electricity.”

Kyiv has not been its usual self for weeks. For half the day, the Ukrainian capital, known for its cafes, bustling nightlife and crowded cocktail dens, is shrouded in darkness, largely invisible, even through a pandemic and more than eight months of full-scale Russian occupation. Millions of tiny candlelights.

Repeatedly beaten on the battlefield, Russia has turned to knocking down Ukrainian power and warmth before winter. Russian missile strikes and drone strikes have shut down nearly 40 percent of the country’s power plants.

The first shock is economic. The Ukrainian government fears that the economy will shrink by a third. “Some businesses in Kyiv are panicking like crazy,” said Tymofiy Mylovanov, an adviser to the Zelenskyi administration. “Those who were in Kyiv, who stayed in Kiev, who have thousands of employees, are worried that one more attack will mean a week without electricity.”

The Kyiv School of Economics, of which Milovanov, a former Ukrainian economy minister, is president, has set up temporary housing in what officials call “warming centers,” small rooms prepared for emergency heating. But the temporary effort is not enough to get the city of 3 million people through the winter. “We’re talking about, you know, 20 people, 50 people, a hundred people,” he said. “We’re not talking about thousands of people.” And blackout doesn’t just mean Ukrainians reading by candlelight. They have left millions of people, including children and the elderly, without water, sewage and hot food.

Kyiv nights in November are already at or below freezing. Russia’s missile strikes against Ukraine’s power grid have knocked out power to major cities, including the massive Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which has been offline for months. The increasingly dire situation has sparked a frenzy in western capitals to avoid another humanitarian crisis in the freezing cold.

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Ukraine still has the capacity to generate enough electricity to meet its population’s needs, as demand has dropped dramatically since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February. But Russia’s strike campaign has destroyed Ukraine’s ability to switch high-voltage power that travels through power lines to lower voltages that can be used by consumers. It has also limited the ability to import energy from other regions to meet the problem.

On Capitol Hill, current and former Ukrainian officials tell anyone who will listen that they desperately need transformers, the massive electromagnetic devices that transfer power between circuits in power plants and railroads. “Mostly what’s needed are high-power transformers,” said Viktoria Voitsytska, a former Ukrainian parliamentarian who led the lobbying effort. “And in Ukraine, unfortunately, we have only one manufacturer that can produce a maximum of three transformers every six months. We need tons of them already at this stage after two major attacks on our critical infrastructure.

But there is no quick fix for transformers, leaving US and Ukrainian officials working overtime to prevent a mass exodus, like the convoy of cars that left Kiev before Russia’s full-scale invasion. “The blackout will last a long time until we get new transformers,” Voytsitska added. Also on the demand list are mobile and secondary substations and power switches.

Ukraine also needs spare parts, boilers and stoves, and Ukrainian officials are trying to find space heaters that can heat the destroyed rooms, homes and school gymnasiums where internally displaced people have been forced to hide from Russian bombings. Up to more temporary heating stations. The effort is expanding to major Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro and Zhytomyr. In Washington, Ukrainian allies are trying to push the message to the Swiss and British governments as well.

It is unclear how far the requests, which have gone to both the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), have progressed. Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters on Tuesday that the Biden administration is discussing providing generators, water treatment systems, heaters and other refrigeration aid. USAID has pushed About $271 million in refrigeration aid has been given to Ukraine so far, with about a fifth earmarked specifically for Kiev.

But the difficulty of getting aid has spoken to the Biden administration’s problems storing in-kind aid to Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of the country in February, which has led to growing frustration in Kiev and Washington. , although the United States has sent massive military aid to Ukraine since the beginning of the summer.

“They were caught a little flat-footed on this,” said a senior congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to speak candidly about ongoing policy discussions. “To be fair, attacks on energy infrastructure have escalated recently, so the need is intensifying very quickly, but the previous energy grid was largely intact.” Months into the war, State Department reports showed the U.S. government’s plans are heavily focused on reforming the Ukrainian energy sector, offering few details of U.S. efforts to prepare for winter.

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Current and former Ukrainian officials believe plans to attack Ukraine’s energy grid come directly from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle in the Kremlin. They have implicated Sergey Kiriyenko, Putin’s deputy chief of staff and once the head of Russia’s state-run nuclear energy corporation Rosatom, as having been involved in the attacks.

A failure on the part of the United States to stockpile humanitarian aid, including food, to help Ukrainians survive the winter has also caused problems, as Kyiv has retaken vast swaths of territory once held by Russian forces in the eastern Kharkiv region and south. And THe has also proved a challenge for the Biden administration and NGOs, which are largely used to handling appeals for help in hot spots. “They need raw materials,” the senior congressional aide added. “They need generators, they need fuel, they need supplies to keep them warm this winter. So there is a bit of a scramble to deliver it.”

Ukrainian officials said the main need was not money but goods. They have pressed U.S. officials and lawmakers to use money authorized by a new Lend-Lease bill passed in Congress earlier this year for emergency extra money to get equipment as in-kind aid to Ukraine. Voytsitska is pushing for at least 15 new transformers to ease the strain Russia has placed on Ukraine’s grid. Ukrainian officials are also requesting shunt reactors and circuit breakers used for high voltage absorption. But some still worry the plan won’t work.

“Getting those transformers is a big problem,” said Volodymyr Omelyan, Ukraine’s former infrastructure minister. Worse, he said, the remaining Ukrainian transformers are not well protected, even with simple earthworks to protect against explosions. And missile defenses are in short supply. The United States has so far provided only two nationally advanced surface-to-air missile systems, jointly produced with Norway, to protect energy infrastructure throughout the country.

Ukrainian officials said they were willing and ready to help, although aid was not coming fast enough. But while Ukraine has a multinational hotline for military aid in the form of a recreated classroom at a US base in Stuttgart, Germany, and security meetings of 30 nations held on a near-monthly basis, there is no such 411. For essential economic and energy assistance. Voytsitska and Ukrainian officials have proposed the creation of a special task force at the Ukrainian government level that would gather information about the damage caused by Russian strikes 24 hours a day and provide them to USAID, the State Department and European governments.

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“Their military officers know what the sense of urgency is,” said Mylovanov, a Ukrainian officer and academic. “As for the rest, the answer is, ‘Oh, you know, we’re on a different schedule.'”

It has also presented a funding challenge to the Biden administration, which is trying to negotiate a new $50 billion aid package for Ukraine that could be finalized in the so-called lame-duck session of Congress that follows this week’s midterm elections. The $12 billion Ukraine aid package passed by Congress in September as part of a deal to avert a US government shutdown covers only direct budget aid and military aid to Kiev. But already temperatures are plummeting across Ukraine, demand is increasing with periodic outages, including in Kiev, and the US has withdrawn economic aid funds it had used for energy.

“There is concern about additional budget support and Congress doesn’t really want to do more,” said Melinda Haring, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. “It’s pensions, salaries for teachers and doctors. It is money to run the railways and keep the state alive. that’s all.”

The Biden Administration”[hasn’t] It communicated the severity of the crisis and why Americans should donate,” Harrin added.

European governments have also tried to outfit Kiev with proper winter gear for the fight. Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur, who was on a visit to Washington last month, told reporters that Ukraine’s refrigeration needs had topped the list of foreign aid requests. “[It’s] Not just weapons, but in winter, do they have clothes, do they have tents, do they have generators, heaters to stay on the battlefield, ready to go,” Pevkur said. And the Swiss government is also expected to give permission for a winter package soon.

But Ukrainians worry that everything is too little, too late. The country is haunted by bitter memories of the siege of the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv in February, when many froze to death without heat or electricity.

“We have received reports from the state that everything is under control and everything is ready for any kind of disaster or grid outage,” Omelian said. “But of course, I am an ex-officer and I know it is my job to say that everything is under control and everything is ready to face every challenge. Of course, I don’t think it’s enough. “

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