The Ukrainian people have suffered some of the worst power and water outages yet during the 40th week of Russia’s war, as Kyiv’s troops held back raging daily offensives in the east of the country.
On November 23, air defences shot down 51 of 70 Russian cruise missiles targeting energy infrastructure, but the ones that got through did extensive damage.
Residents of the capital, Kyiv, huddled in cafes that used generators to offer light, heat and WiFi in sub-zero temperatures, and collected rainwater from drainpipes or melted snow.
“People shiver in dark, cold homes. They cook on camping stoves in candlelit kitchens. They put on all their clothes to sleep and cover themselves with every blanket they own,” wrote Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands.
Tymofiy Mylovanov, a professor at the Kyiv School of Economics, wrote about his personal experience on the third day of the Kyiv blackout on social media on November 25.
“Electricity came back at 1:30am. I was asleep, exhausted. But our building has some electrical equipment with a nasty alarm that goes on when the electricity switches on or off. It used to annoy me because it is quite disturbing. Now, I love it. It woke me up,” he said.
“I quickly plugged in power banks, phones, computers to charge. I switched on our electric heater. My wife was half asleep but she managed to tell me what I can quickly cook … electricity did not last long. But we did have warm food in the morning and [a] hot shower.”
The head of Ukraine’s state grid operator said most big thermal power stations had been hit.
A barrage of missiles and drones has targeted electric plants and power lines since October 8, when a truck exploded on the Kerch bridge linking Crimea to mainland Russia.
Until then, Russia had fired missiles into population centres and has been accused of intentionally targeting civilians since the beginning of the war.
The Kremlin denies targeting civilians.
Good morning. Day 3 of Kyiv Blackout. I woke up cold. The heating and electricity are off, again. Water is there. But it might not last. Another attack or just too much pressure on the system. So, yesterday, after the water came back, we filled every bottle and bucket. 1/
— Tymofiy Mylovanov (@Mylovanov) November 25, 2022
Ukrainian defence minister Oleksii Reznikov said Russia has fired more than 16,000 missiles at Ukraine since the start of the war, claiming 97 percent landed on civilians. Only 500 dropped on purely military targets, he said.
Approximately 220 had landed on energy infrastructure, but those relative few had the greatest effect on daily life.
In a symbolic vote, the European Parliament designated Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism”, with 494 votes in favour, 58 against and 44 abstentions.
The “against” vote came mostly from far-right parties such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and France’s National Rally – but also included some left-wing MEPs.
Seven foreign ministers from the Baltic region visited Kyiv on November 28 in a show of solidarity. “Despite Russia’s bomb rains and barbaric brutality, Ukraine will win!” they said.
We, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs from 🇪🇪🇫🇮🇮🇸🇱🇻🇱🇹🇳🇴🇸🇪, are in Kyiv today in full solidarity with Ukraine. Despite Russia's bomb rains and barbaric brutality Ukraine will win! pic.twitter.com/6FpGT3aENM
— Gabrielius Landsbergis🇱🇹 (@GLandsbergis) November 28, 2022
Arms production a key issue
Meanwhile, more than nine months into the war, arms production is emerging as a key challenge for both sides.
Russia has turned to Iran and, according to Washington, North Korea for drones and ordnance, respectively. Pyongyang denies the claim.
And NATO allies have not ramped up production capacity to replace weapons they have been donating to Ukraine from their arsenals.
Ukraine’s military intelligence said Russia was using front companies to circumvent sanctions and buy Western-made microchips that are essential for its missiles and drones, as well as for its GLONASS global positioning system that guides these weapons to their coordinates.
It named companies in the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Belgium and the United Kingdom.
Those chips are used in the Iranian Shahed-136 drones that have devastated Ukraine’s electric infrastructure, as well as Russia’s Iskander and Kalibr cruise missiles.
Military intelligence called on Western manufacturers to simply stop producing GLONASS-enabled chips altogether.
Reuters reported that the Pentagon was considering buying small, cheap precision-guided bombs as a way to keep Ukraine supplied, amid dwindling supplies of ready-to-use hardware in the US arsenal.
The Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs (GLSDB) could be in production by spring, assembled from readily available GBU-39 bombs and M26 rocket motors at a cost of about $40,000 each.
The bomb would be GPS-enabled and could hit targets within one metre of accuracy at a range of 150km.
Six contractors, including Boeing and Saab, would have to be involved in its production.
Lockheed Martin is, meanwhile, trying to double production capacity of 96 HIMARS launchers a year to face mounting orders.
Deadlock on the ground
Throughout the week, Russian forces kept up a barrage against Bakhmut, Avdiivka and other towns in the Donetsk region, which Moscow has been prioritising since withdrawing from Kyiv a month into the war.
Ukrainian defenders had established underground bunkers and were successfully holding the line, in what increasingly resembles the static tactics of the western front in World War I.
After surrendering the west bank of the Dnieper river in early November, Russia, too, appears to be digging in.
Russian forces have continued to expand defensive positions in Kherson Oblast this month, radar-based satellite imagery shows. These positions in southern Ukraine are about 20 kilometers from the front line. pic.twitter.com/sWa8G0osgY
— Brady Africk (@bradyafr) November 28, 2022
Around Svatove, in northern Luhansk province, photographs posted on social media showed newly dug Russian ditches, anti-tank concrete triangles known as dragons’ teeth, and personnel trenches.
The idea, according to military analysts, was to slow tanks down with the ditches and dragons’ teeth so that soldiers could fire anti-tank missiles at them from the trenches.
Military reporters also posted satellite images of Russian defensive lines being built in the southern Kherson region, 20km (12.4 miles) from the front line. Ukraine’s military intelligence said Russian forces were preparing two main zones of defence.
“They are creating a defensive strip both on the left bank of the Dnipro in the Kherson region and on the administrative border with Crimea, in the north of the peninsula. In particular, two strategic areas are being built in the northern part of Dzhankoi district,” said Andriy Chernyak, a representative of military intelligence.
Despite the lack of progress on the ground, battles were still being fought and Ukraine said Russian casualties were especially heavy in Luhansk.
“The number of civilian hospitals used by the enemy to treat exclusively Russian military personnel increased,” said Ukraine’s general staff on November 26.
“For the civilian population of the region, medical services are becoming less and less accessible. The hospitals of Krasnyi Luch, Antratsyt and Lutugine settlements are full of wounded occupiers, and morgues are filled.”
Pressure for peace
The danger of a static battlefield is that Western allies will likely press Ukraine to conclude a premature and unsatisfactory peace, argued Hamza Karčić, who teaches political science at the University of Sarajevo, in a column for Al Jazeera.
“If Zelenskyy were forced to allow autonomy in the east, he would risk overseeing the establishment of a Republika Srpska-type entity,” he said, referring to the Serbian element of the Bosnian federation that emerged from the Dayton Accords in December 1995.
“This would effectively give pro-Russian rebels a say in the governance of Ukraine, likely through veto powers akin to those of Republika Srpska, which would render the country dysfunctional like Bosnia has been. This would not only upend the development of the country but also block its integration into the EU and NATO,” Karčić wrote, concluding, “Ukraine needs to step up its efforts to change facts on the ground.”
But the Ukrainian people, as well as Zelenskyy, are far from interested in negotiating with Russia, which refuses to hand back large swaths of land.
“No one I know is ready to have negotiations with Russia because of these strikes,” Alyona, a Kyiv resident, told our reporter Rory Challands. “It just makes us hate them more.”