Millions of people in Ukraine are facing a life-threatening winter this year, The World Health Organization has warnedas Russia continues to pound the country’s energy infrastructure while temperatures plummet.
In recent weeks, Russia has targeted energy infrastructure with missile strikes, including electricity and water stations, leaving homes across the country without power as winter approaches, further exacerbating the health crisis.
“Half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure is damaged or destroyed. This is already having an impact on the health system and on people’s health,” said Hans Henri P Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe.
“This winter will be about survival,” he warned at a news conference in Kyiv, adding that 10 million Ukrainians are currently without power.
Up to three million Ukrainians could leave their homes in search of warmth and safety, the WHO predicted.
Temperatures are forecast to drop to -20 degrees Celsius (-4F) in certain parts of the country.
“The devastating energy crisis, the deepening mental health emergency, humanitarian access restrictions and the risk of viral infections will make this winter a formidable test for the Ukrainian health system and the Ukrainian people,” he said.
“They will face unique health challenges, including respiratory infections such as Covid-19, pneumonia, influenza, and the serious risk of diphtheria and measles in [an] undervaccinated population,” he added.
The WHO documented more than 700 attacks on health infrastructure since the invasion of Russia began in late February.
Last week, Russia attacked more energy facilities in one of its most intense aerial bombardments since it began its war against Ukraine.
This has been a recent Russian tactic after battlefield setbacks, and the effect is felt more acutely as temperatures drop.
Earlier this week, there was new shelling at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which no longer produces power. Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for the attacks on the plant, which used to generate more than a quarter of the country’s power.
‘Dark days’ for the health system
Ukraine’s healthcare system is “facing its darkest days in the war so far” and, due to the attacks, hundreds of hospitals and healthcare facilities “are no longer fully operational and lack fuel, water and electricity.” to meet basic needs,” Kluge said.
Maternity wards need incubators, blood banks need refrigerators and intensive care beds need fans, he explained, adding that “they all require power.”
Kluge expressed concern for the 17,000 HIV patients in Donetsk, “who could soon run out of critical antiretroviral drugs to help them stay alive.”
Much of Donetsk is under Russian control, and he called for the creation of a “humanitarian health corridor in all newly recaptured and occupied areas.”
FinallyKluge said, anything short of stopping the war is a Band-Aid. He called for the invasion to end “before the health system and the health of the Ukrainian nation are further compromised.”