Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Residents of the bombed but fearless Ukrainian capital clutched empty bottles in search of water and crowded into cafes Thursday to find electricity and heat the country in the dark.
In scenes hard to believe in a sophisticated city of 3 million, some Kiev residents resorted to collecting rainwater from drains while repair teams worked to reconnect the supply.
Friends and family members exchanged messages to find out who had power and water back. Some had one, some didn’t. The previous day’s airstrike on Ukraine’s power grid left many with neither.
Cafes in Kyiv, which, thanks to a small miracle, quickly became oases of coziness on Thursday.
Oleksiy Rashchupkin, a 39-year-old investment banker, awoke to find his third-floor apartment had the water connected but no electricity. His freezer thawed during the power outage, leaving a puddle on its floor.
So he got into a taxi and crossed the Dnieper from the left bank to the right bank to a cafe that he had noticed had stayed open after previous Russian strikes. Sure enough it was open serving hot drinks, hot food and with music and wifi.
“I’m here because there’s heating, coffee and light,” he said. “Here is life.”
Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko said about 70% of the Ukrainian capital was still without power as of Thursday morning.
With cold rain and the remnants of a previous snowfall on the roads, the mood was somber but steely. The winter promises to be long. But Ukrainians say if Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to break them, then he should reconsider.
“No one will compromise their will and principles just for electricity,” said Alina Dubeiko, 34. She, too, sought the comfort of another, equally crowded, warm and lit cafe. With no electricity, heating or water at home, she was determined to keep going at work. Adapting to life bereft of its usual comforts, Dubeiko says she uses two glasses of water to wash, then ties her hair in a ponytail and is ready for her workday.
She said she would rather live without electricity than with the Russian invasion, which passed the nine-month mark on Thursday.
“Without light or you? Without you,” she said, echoing statements made by President Volodymyr Zelenskky when Russia unleashed the first in a series of airstrikes on key Ukrainian infrastructure on October 10.
Western leaders denounced the bombing campaign. “Strikes against civilian infrastructure are war crimes,” French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tried on Thursday to shift the blame for civilian hardships on the Ukrainian government.
“The leadership of Ukraine has every opportunity to return the situation to normal, has every opportunity to resolve the situation in such a way that it meets the demands of the Russian side and, accordingly, ends all possible suffering of the civilian population,” Peskov said.
In Kyiv, people queued up at public water points to fill plastic bottles. In what was for her a strange new wartime, 31-year-old health worker Kateryna Luchkina first resorted to collecting rainwater from a drainpipe so she could at least wash her hands at work where there was no water. She filled two plastic bottles and waited patiently in the rain until they were filled to the brim with water. A colleague followed her and did the same.
“We Ukrainians are so imaginative, we will come up with something. We don’t lose our spirit,” Luchkina said. “We work, live as much as possible in the rhythm of survival or something. We don’t lose hope that everything will be fine.”
The mayor said on Telegram that power engineers are “doing their best” to restore power. Water repair teams also made progress. In the early afternoon, Klitschko announced that water supplies had been restored across the capital, with the caveat that “some consumers may still be suffering from low water pressure”.
Elsewhere, too, electricity, heat and water gradually came back. In the south-eastern Ukrainian region of Dnipropetrovsk, the governor announced that 3,000 miners stuck underground due to power outages have been rescued. Regional authorities have posted messages on social media updating people on the progress of repairs but also saying they need time.
Faced with the difficulties – now and throughout the winter – authorities are opening up thousands of so-called “points of invincibility” – heated and powered rooms offering hot meals, electricity and internet connections. More than 3,700 were open across the country as of Thursday morning, said Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a senior official in the presidential office.
In the southern city of Kherson, retaken by Ukrainian forces two weeks ago, hospitals’ struggle with power and water cuts is compounded by intensified Russian strikes.
Olena Zhura carried bread to her neighbors on Thursday when a strike that destroyed half of their home in Kherson injured her husband Victor. Paramedics took Victor away as he was writhing in pain.
“I was shocked,” she said, bursting into tears. “Then I heard (him) call out, ‘Save me, save me'”
AP journalist Sam Mednick from Kherson, Ukraine contributed.
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