A family seeks shelter in Kyiv underground (C: Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0) https://bit.ly/3grEkhI)

Ukraine tells civilians in liberated areas to flee – after refugees abroad were told not to return home

Authorities in Ukraine have urged residents of recently liberated regions in the south to flee to safer parts of the country amid fears that a lack of power, water and heat caused by Russian shelling will make living conditions unbearable this winter.

On Monday, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereschcuk said that the government will provide accommodation, medical care, and transportation for those in such regions, prioritising women and children, the elderly and the sick. 

Last month, the Ukrainian Government told citizens living in Ireland and elsewhere not to return home until Spring, to conserve increasingly scarce power, warning that the country’s damaged networks “will not cope” with demand this winter. Now, civilians living in Kherson and Mykolaiv have been encouraged to relocate to areas in central and western Ukraine. 

Officials have also advised residents of Kyiv or elsewhere who have the resources to do so to leave Ukraine for several months to conserve power for hospitals and other key facilities. 

Kyiv has warned that this winter may see the worst fighting of the war, and fears over whether the county’s damaged energy infrastructure can cope with demand are mounting.

Speaking at the end of October, Vereschcuk warned that: “The networks will not cope”. Last month, Ukraine said that 30% of its power plants were compromised by Russian missile and drone attacks. The caution from the deputy prime minister comes as polling suggests more Ukrainian refugees have expressed a desire to go home.

Russia has been attacking Ukraine’s power grid and other infrastructure from the air for weeks, resulting in widespread blackouts, and leaving millions without electricity, heat and water. An estimated 40% of the country’s entire energy system has been knocked out, according to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.

On Monday, the World Health Organisation warned that the energy crisis will have a devastating impact on the country.

“This winter will be life-threatening for millions of people in Ukraine,” said Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe.

 “Attacks on health and energy infrastructure mean hundreds of hospitals and healthcare facilities are no longer fully operational, lacking fuel, water and electricity,” he said.

Approximately 7.8 million Ukrainians have fled the war in Ukraine, with an estimated 4.7 million of them seeking refuge in the European Union. 

At present, the Irish government is currently covering housing and meals for a total of 44,000 Ukrainian refugees, however an acute housing shortage is among factors fuelling tension and difficulties. An estimated 200 displaced Ukrainians continue to arrive here each week – not including migrants and asylum seekers from other countries. 

Vereshchuk added that while she would like to see nationals return home in the coming spring, it is important not to go home yet, imploring: “the situation will only get worse. If it is possible, stay abroad for the time being”. 

By the end of this year, the government has estimated it will be 15,000 beds short, with many Irish hotels nearing the end of their contracts for housing refugees. In a statement to the Irish Examiner this week, the Department of Integration said it anticipates that the number of Ukrainians coming to Ireland will exceed 70,000 by the end of this year. 

Secretary General of the Irish Red Cross, Liam O’Dwyer, said the increase can be attributed to the level of attacks on Ukraine along with freezing temperatures there during the winter months.

As temperatures in Ukraine begin to fall below freezing, the race is on to repair damaged power infrastructure, according to Sergey Kovalenko, the head of energy provider for Kyiv, YASNO. He told people to “stock up on warm clothes, blankets, think about options that will help you get through a long outage”.

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