Any damage to Ukraine’s power and heating systems will severely exacerbate living conditions this winter, especially for some 6.9 million internally displaced people, the United Nations migration agency said on Tuesday.
In response to a Ukrainian counter-offensive in the east and south of the country in recent days, Russia has stepped up shelling of power plants and other infrastructure, causing blackouts in the city of Kharkiv and elsewhere.
“Any attempt to damage those facilities will have a terrible impact on the ability to heat those cities,” Antonio Vitorino, director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told a group of reporters in kyiv.
“We are doing everything possible to help the population prepare for winter, but we need electricity and that depends on state services to (restore) a working electrical system,” said Vitorino, who met Monday with the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky.
Moscow denies targeting civilians during what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine that began on February 24.
IOM’s top priority this winter in Ukraine is to ensure IDPs’ access to heating, warm clothing and food, Vitorino said.
Nearly eight million people, mostly women and children, have fled Ukraine in the last six months. Some of those people have since returned to Ukraine, which before the war had a population of about 44 million.
“It was the fastest growing displacement crisis in the last 20 years, because we hit the peak of eight million in a couple of months,” he said.
Vitorino said United Nations surveys of Ukrainian refugees outside the country showed an “overwhelming majority” were willing to return when the security situation improved.
Asked about the plight of Ukrainians who kyiv says have been forcibly deported to Russia, Vitorino said he could not comment because Moscow had not allowed UN agencies access to them. Russia denies forcibly deporting Ukrainian refugees to its territory.