Generators are as important as armour in helping Ukraine survive Vladimir Putin’s energy terror this winter, Volodymyr Zelenskiy has told an emergency conference in Paris convened to coordinate infrastructure and humanitarian aid to the country over the next four months.
A total of €1.05bn (£900m) in financial and in-kind aid was pledged but the Ukrainian president said as well as surviving the winter the country needed an additional €1.5bn to restore the long-term damage to the energy grid.
The aim of the conference is to set up an international coordination mechanism to ensure Ukraine secures the right mix of generators, transformers, equipment for the restoration of high-voltage networks, and gas turbines.
“We will do everything to counter the blackout and the energy terror. Most of our power plants are damaged or destroyed by the bombings,” Zelenskiy said in an address to the conference by video link.
“Every day our engineers have to disconnect millions of Ukrainians for these repairs. Currently there are 12 million. And every day we expect new Russian strikes. That’s why the generators have become as important as armour to protect the population.”
Energy experts say the key task for Ukraine is not to avoid black-outs but to ensure that each day all neighbourhoods are receiving at least three hours of electricity, which requires a complicated distribution of the grid.
The French-inspired conference is designed to coordinate humanitarian aid to Ukraine and is being attended by more than 40 countries and 30 multilateral bodies.
Pledged aid included generators and power transformers plus assistance with food, water, health, transport and rebuilding. The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, announced funding for the purchase of 30m energy-saving lightbulbs that Ukraine had requested to reduce pressure on its power grid.
The meeting will also put in place a system to coordinate international aid for the winter so donors do not double-up. A web-based platform will enable Ukraine to list its civilian aid needs and allow donors to show what they will supply in response.
Russia has repeatedly targeted the Ukrainian power grid and other critical infrastructure in missile and drone attacks since early October as it has faced battlefield setbacks but the bombardment has not so far led to a second mass wave of refugees, according to the latest figures from the EU’s Frontex agency cited by the Warsaw University migration expert Maciej Duszczyk.
He said there had been only a slight net increase of 10,000 Ukrainians crossing the border in the past week, with 65% of them going to Poland.
“The next two months are crucial, but the exodus may be lower than in April because Ukraine’s morale about winning the war is higher,” he said. He added that although the temperature was projected to drop below freezing at night it was due to be about 5C by day, relatively mild for a Ukrainian winter.
Olena Zelenska, the president’s wife, addressed the conference in person and asked Europeans to imagine being under the Russian bombardment.
“How do you feel what this war is doing to our country and our people?” she asked. “How do you feel what more than 4,000 missiles that hit Ukrainian cities mean? What does 50,000 missiles launched in a single day against our country mean? What are 2,719 educational establishments affected or destroyed? How do you feel over 1,100 medical establishments destroyed or affected? Can you imagine half of France without electricity?”
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, said in a speech opening the conference that Moscow’s bombardments of civilian targets was a war crime. Often accused of trying to secure a premature peace, he said the 10-point peace plan proposed by Zelenskiy at the G20 in Bali “constitutes an excellent basis on which we will build together”, and “it is up to Ukraine, the victim of this aggression, to decide on the conditions for a just and lasting peace”.
The Kremlin on Tuesday rejected Ukrainian peace proposals that would involve a withdrawal of Russian troops, saying Kyiv needed to accept new territorial realities.
“The Ukrainian side needs to take into account the realities that have developed during this time,” said the spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. “And these realities indicate that new subjects have appeared in the Russian Federation. They appeared as a result of referendums that took place in these territories. Without taking these new realities into account, no kind of progress is possible.”
Ukraine and its western allies have dismissed as sham referendums the votes used by Russia as a pretext to illegally annex four Ukrainian regions, none of which it fully controls. Moscow has rejected charges that its talk of diplomacy is an attempt to buy time to allow its depleted forces to regroup after nearly 10 months of war and a series of defeats and retreats.
The UK Foreign Office, meanwhile, announced it was sanctioning 12 Russian commanders for their role in attacks on Ukrainian cities, including Maj Gen Robert Baranov, identified by the investigative website Bellingcat as the commander of programming and targeting Russian cruise missiles.
The Foreign Office views the dozen as the most senior officers involved directly in the assault on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, and the sanctioning makes them prime targets for possible future war crimes tribunals.
The UK said it was also sanctioning four Iranians, including the co-owner and managing director of Mado, an Iranian drone engine manufacturer.
The Foreign Office, citing UK defence intelligence reports, claimed “Russian armed forces are struggling to replenish their missile reserves, while they are increasingly forced to rely on second rate drones supplied by Iran to keep up their inhumane bombardments of the Ukrainian people”.
James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, said: “The Iranian regime is increasingly isolated in the face of deafening calls for change from its own people and is striking sordid deals with Putin in a desperate attempt to survive.”