Ukraine seeks air defence boost to protect battered energy grid

The Ukrainian leader asks for help in repelling air attacks, warning Russia has destroyed half of Ukraine’s power production capacity.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy approaches the stage during the opening ceremony of the recovery conference in Berlin [Ebrahim Noroozi/AP]

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on allies to increase their air defence support to Ukraine to help protect his country’s energy infrastructure.

Speaking on Tuesday at a conference in Germany on the reconstruction of Ukraine, Zelenskyy said that Russia has destroyed half of his country’s electricity-generating capacity. Another seven Patriot missile systems, as well as other aerial defences, are needed to allow the military to shield Ukraine’s urban centres from the storm of missiles, he claimed.

The two-day Ukraine Recovery Conference in Berlin marks the start of a week of intense diplomacy for the Ukrainian president, which will also see him travel to the Group of Seven (G7) summit featuring his country’s leading Western allies, and a peace summit in Switzerland.

The German hosts say it is bringing together 2,000 people from national and local politics, business and other areas, arguing that the task of supporting Ukraine’s recovery is too big for governments alone.

Sustained Russian attacks on Ukraine’s power grid in recent weeks have forced energy companies to institute nationwide rolling blackouts.

Zelenskyy told the conference that, in the coming month, Ukraine needs equipment to repair heating and electricity plants that are currently out of action.

“This will allow us to respond to the situation here and now,” he said.

Overall, nine gigawatts of electricity generating capacity have been destroyed – including 80 percent of thermal power and one-third of hydroelectric power – while the peak consumption in Ukraine last winter was 18 gigawatts, Zelenskyy noted.

Energy, he said, continues to be “one of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s main targets”.

The Kremlin said on Tuesday that attacks on energy facilities are justified as they are partly aimed at disrupting electricity supplies to military facilities.

Amnesty International has called the attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure a war crime.

Helping reduce attacks

Adding his support to the call for increased air defence support, Ihor Terekhov, the mayor of Kharkiv, said on Tuesday that the ability of Ukrainian forces to launch air attacks inside Russia has helped reduce the number of attacks on his embattled city following weeks of heavy bombardment.

“This has helped,” Terekhov said in an interview with Reuters.

However, Russia launched three guided bombs at Kharkiv on Monday, damaging at least two houses, according to local officials, underlining the continuing threat.

The city and surrounding region have long been targeted by Russian attacks but they had become more intense in recent months, hitting civilian and energy infrastructure.

In recent months Moscow’s forces have made slow but steady gains along several parts of the sprawling eastern front and are attempting to push deeper into the northeastern Kharkiv region.

Source: News Agencies