In a rare public spat involving Ukrainian leaders, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy criticised the mayor of Kyiv for doing what he said was a poor job setting up emergency shelters to help those without power and heat after Russian attacks.
In the wake of crushing Russian missile strikes against the power-generating system, Ukraine has established thousands of so-called “invincibility centres” where people can access heat, water, internet and mobile phone links.
In an evening address, Zelenskyy indicated that Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko and his officials had not done enough to help.
“Unfortunately, local authorities have not performed well in all cities. In particular, there are a lot of complaints in Kyiv … To put it mildly, more work is needed,” he said, adding the level of services available in many Kyiv centres was not good enough.
“Please pay attention – the people of Kyiv need more support … a lot of [them] have been without power for 20 or even 30 hours. We expect quality work from the mayor’s office.”
Zelenskyy also criticised those who he said had lied in their official reports, but did not give details. More than 4,000 centres have been set up so far.
The remarks were unusual since Zelenskyy has sought to cultivate an image of national unity during the war and usually showers officials with praise.
Early on Saturday, the Kyiv municipal administration said water connections had been restored throughout the city, but about 130,000 residents remain without electricity.
All power, water, heating and communication services would be restored within 24 hours, city authorities said.
Klitschko, a 51-year-old former professional boxer, was elected mayor of Kyiv in 2014.
He said earlier on Friday more than 400 “heating points” were set up in the Ukrainian capital, enabling residents to recharge electronic devices, drink hot tea, and find out practical information key to navigating life in the blacked-out city.
Writing on Telegram, Klitschko said the stations are located in schools and other public institutions, and will be open daily.
Klitschko has yet to respond to Zelenskyy’s criticism. Pressure on the boxing legend is heavier now than ever.
“If I tried to explain to you all the challenges that I have, we [would] need weeks,” Klitschko said recently. “It’s terror, they [left] us freezing – without electricity, without heating, without water.”
Power still comes on – sometimes – but it can no longer be relied on. In a city with ubiquitous WiFi and where most anything could be done online, rolling hours-long electricity cuts are the horrid new norm for many.
Zelenskyy said Russian strikes have damaged about half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
In blacked-out Kyiv restaurants, diners feel their way through meals in near-darkness, served by waiters carrying candles. Residents wake in the dead of night — if that is when it is their turn to get a few hours of power again — to shower and do laundry.
“Huge challenge,” Klitschko said.
Fewer missiles and drones appear to be getting through the capital’s air defences, because they have been beefed up with Western-supplied systems to shoot down projectiles.
“It’s much better than before. Definitely,” Klitschko said. “But it’s not enough … We need more to protect other cities.”