Refugees who fled in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should stay abroad this winter due to blackouts created by Moscow’s bombardment of critical energy infrastructure, a Ukrainian minister has said.
In an interview broadcast on Ukrainian national television on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told Ukrainians currently sheltering abroad that they should wait until spring before returning to Ukraine.
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“I wanted to ask [them] not to return. We need to survive the winter,” she said.
Russia has launched waves of missile and drone strikes targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, causing blackouts and disrupting water supplies, after an explosion damaged the bridge linking occupied Crimea to Russia on October 8.
Kyiv says the Russian attacks have damaged up to 40 percent of the power system. A local official in Kyiv, the capital, warned last week that residents needed to be prepared for possible disconnections lasting days or even weeks.
The strikes on Ukraine’s infrastructure come against a backdrop of soaring energy, food and other prices in Europe, where most of the millions of refugees who fled Ukraine following Russia’s February 24 invasion sought shelter.
This poses a problem for refugees, many of whom have struggled to find well-paid, permanent jobs in their new countries of residence.
Vereshchuk said the grid “won’t survive” the return of refugees from abroad, and that the situation would “only get worse”.
“To return now is to risk yourself and your children, your vulnerable relatives,” she said.
More than a million households in Ukraine have been left without electricity following Russian attacks across the country.
Earlier this week, state grid operator Ukrenergo said the attacks targeted transmission infrastructure in western Ukraine, but that power supply restrictions were being put in place in 10 regions across the country, including in Kyiv.
The city council has urged residents to stock up on water in case of cuts.
Russia and Ukraine have also accused each other of planning to blow up a huge dam in the Kherson region.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said authorities were preparing “for all possible scenarios with a view to winter”.
The warning comes as intense fighting continues in the eastern regions of Luhansk, Donetsk and the southern region of Kherson, where Russia has been struggling to stop renewed Ukrainian advances.