The New York Times: Russia-Ukraine War Briefing

Humanitarian fears for winter in Ukraine.

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By Carole Landry

Editor/Writer, Briefings Team

Welcome to the Russia-Ukraine War Briefing, your guide to the latest news and analysis about the conflict.

Snow and cold in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin this week. David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

Humanitarian fears for winter

Millions of Ukrainians are bracing for a winter of worsening hardship. Russian airstrikes have knocked out power and other utilities, depriving households of electricity, heating and water. The attacks are raising fears about a collapse of Ukraine’s energy grid, which would push many vulnerable Ukrainians to the brink.

For more insight on the crisis, I spoke to Denise Brown, the U.N.’s resident coordinator in Ukraine, who is responsible for overseeing the international humanitarian response. Denise took up her position in August and has since been traveling around the country to see how people are coping. Our conversation has been condensed and edited.

Denise, let’s start with your recent travels. Where have you been, and what is the situation there?

In the past two weeks, I’ve been to Kherson twice, Mykolaiv and the Sumy region.

In Kherson, two weeks ago, I saw empty grocery stores, there was nothing, not a crumb. Supply chains were disrupted. Many older people were still there and were very happy to see us. You could sense their relief.

When I was back there this past Sunday, it was different. First of all, it was much colder. They are re-establishing the power lines, but because of the mines, progress is slow. Electricity is linked to water, which is linked to heating, so it was cold.

There were three grocery stores open. And the one that was empty two weeks ago was full, and there were 500 people waiting to get into the grocery store. I felt that after the hope and relief two weeks earlier, people were worried, extremely worried.

During a power blackout in Kyiv this week.David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

What is the biggest humanitarian concern heading into winter?

What I worry about is the damage to the energy infrastructure. We knew that winter was coming. In our humanitarian response plan, there’s a very specific component dedicated to winter. We planned for that. But it’s the damage to the energy infrastructure which is the new dimension, which is overwhelming and which gives all of us cause to worry. The humanitarian community has been reaching 13 million people since the war started. As the energy infrastructure damage grows, if, at some point it all disappears, what then? That’s the question.

The generators are super, super important. How many generators can we bring in to run the hospitals, to run the heating centers, to run everything? How many can everybody bring in? From our humanitarian community, we believe we can bring in 2,000. And the spare parts that have been requested that have to come from outside the country to keep the system up and running. It’s an absolute primary objective: To keep people safe, you need electricity, water and heating. That’s the biggest worry, everybody’s biggest worry.

Where are the most vulnerable?

I think right now it is the Kherson, Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia regions. The data that we have suggests that, which is why I spend most of my time going back and forth to these areas. When we go to these areas, we see a lot of elderly people, who didn’t have the means to move or didn’t want to leave their homes behind. We also worry about women alone with children. We worry a lot about people with disabilities who may be on their own. We tend to focus a lot on those groups, to provide them with support not just materially, but also psychologically.

People have been living in communities under temporary Russian control. On the faces of people, I see stress and anxiety. I’ve been greeted by screams and cries in some places.

Moving forward, there will be huge gaps if the energy structure collapses. The worst-case scenario from my point of view is people left on their own: the elderly, women with children, people with disabilities. We need to make sure we know where they are. If we don’t, that’s a big problem. The linkage to local organizations is key. Because they are present in those areas.

Loaves of bread to be distributed to civilians in Bakhmut yesterday.Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Are you seeing any signs of a possible exodus, a new wave of refugees?

We haven’t noticed any movement across the borders. I don’t think Ukrainians want to leave. I think they want to stay. They have been through a lot already. I think they want to see this through.

How long do you think the war will last? Are you planning for a long war?

I’m only thinking about humanitarian assistance and ensuring that we are meeting the needs created by this war.


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Thanks for reading. Adam Pasick will be here on Monday. — Carole

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