Military assistance and energy equipment key for Ukraine this winter

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Moveable wood stoves for the Ukrainian Army are tested post production in preparation for winter, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, 18 November 2022 amid Russia's military invasion. [EPA-EFE/SERGEY KOZLOV]

Against the onslaught of Russian attacks, a much more sustainable solution is needed for Ukraine, which, arguably, falls across two key pillars: military assistance and sufficient energy equipment, writes Victoria Voytsitska.

Victoria Voytsitska is an International Centre for Ukrainian Victory (ICUV) Board member, former Member of the Parliament of Ukraine and Secretary of the Parliamentary Committee on Fuel-Energy, Nuclear Policies and Security.

The morning of November 17 started not with a cup of coffee, but with a three-hour air raid alarm across Ukraine, as Russia launched a new wave of missile and drone strikes on the country’s critical infrastructure.

Throughout October and November, Russia deployed hundreds of missiles and Iranian drones, in an effort to destabilise Ukraine’s critical energy systems. This has inflicted considerable damage to the country’s electricity supply, with almost 10 million Ukrainians now facing daily outages.

The situation is worsening as Russia extends its attacks toward Ukraine’s natural gas infrastructure. Their ambition, ostensibly, is to deprive Ukraine of its ability to extract natural gas in the east of the country, where over 90% of production is concentrated.

Ukraine produces enough gas to provide 80% of its national demand, which means that, if Russia succeeds in destroying or causing damage to enough wells and critical systems, there is a real risk that Ukrainians will freeze in their own homes this winter.

It’s therefore vital that Ukraine receives further military assistance and energy equipment to get through the coming months.

All of this comes against the backdrop of Ukrainian battlefield success, which, last week, saw forces reclaim the port city of Kherson. The Russian military, in response, is now seeking to inflict pain on everyday Ukrainians by leaving them without basic utilities.

The Kremlin wants to create a humanitarian catastrophe, which will push the Ukrainian leadership into premature peace negotiations.

Ukrainians are calling this plan ‘Holodomor’ – meaning ‘killing by freezing’ – a strategy that resembles the Soviet-made famine of Holodomor, in 1932-33, which claimed up to 10 million lives.

Nevertheless, despite a deteriorating picture, vis-à-vis energy supplies, 86% of Ukrainians are convinced that their country should continue to resist Russia.

This is quite something, given the terror of these attacks. A friend of a colleague was poisoned during a blackout in Kyiv by carbon monoxide due to a wrongly-installed power generator. Another blackout in Lviv left a friend stuck in the elevator, where she was forced to spend three hours in darkness with her terrified two-year-old.

An acquaintance in Cherkasy, who was in the hospital for a c-section, was separated from her child in the hospital for three days due to electrical system failures between the floors of the building following a Russian attack.

These attacks are causing misery for millions of Ukrainians across the country. Blackouts are affecting the work of water sanitation and sewage centres. In major cities, multi-story apartments are deprived of electricity, leaving residents unable to use their stoves for cooking. And, critically, hospital intensive care units, which rely on steady supplies of energy to function are facing periodic shutdowns. There simply aren’t enough generators to meet demand.

Ukrainian energy companies are trying to address the situation, working around the clock to restore supply. However, against the onslaught of Russian attacks, a much more sustainable solution is needed, which, arguably, falls across two key pillars: military assistance and sufficient energy equipment.

Whilst we, Ukrainians, are extremely grateful for the assistance from our European allies, more will be needed to liberate the occupied territories and wrestle back their key infrastructure. To achieve this, we need more conventional military equipment, such as tanks and armoured vehicles. We also need air and missile defence assistance, too, to protect supplies. Ukraine has already deployed German Iris-T and the US-Norwegian NASAMS.

But, given news of Russia’s purchase of ballistic missiles from Iran, further support from our Western allies is needed to protect Ukrainian cities and maintain our battlefield momentum. A quick, short-term solution, which we are appealing for, is for the delivery of more tactical defence systems, which do not require lengthy crew training, like the German Gepard and US C-RAMs systems.

To keep our energy infrastructure working, we will need transformers, modular heating systems, mobile radiators, and generators, which, collectively and at scale, would provide cover for substations and other damaged facilities. Here, the support of Germany, Canada, Switzerland, and South Korea, who produce such equipment, could be instrumental.

It is fast becoming clear that, in an effort to exact revenge for his army’s collapse in the east of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin is now seeking to punish Ukrainians through targeted assaults on our day-to-day infrastructure. He is seeking to further destroy our economy. And he is hoping, by doing so, that he can push tens of millions of refugees into Europe. We cannot let this happen.

There is another way, which is why we are calling on our European allies to help Ukraine at this critical juncture, and ensure we can push Russia out of our country once and for all.

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