An uneasy calm reigns in Ukraine as West prepares winter relief

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — An uneasy calm hung over Kiev Tuesday as residents of the Ukrainian capital did what they could to prepare for expected Russian missile strikes aimed at knocking out more energy infrastructure as winter sets in.

To ease that pain, NATO allies made plans to increase supplies, from blankets to generators, to ensure the 43 million Ukrainians can maintain their resolve in the 10th month of fighting the Russian invasion.

The first lady of Ukraine implored the West to show the same firmness that the Ukrainians had shown against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military campaign.

“Ukrainians are very tired of this war, but we have no choice,” Olena Zelenska, the wife of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said in a BBC interview during a visit to Britain.

“We really hope that the approaching Christmas season will not make you forget our tragedy and get used to our suffering,” she said.

At a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Bucharest, Romania, the 30-nation alliance was likely to make new pledges of non-lethal support to Ukraine: fuel, generators, medical supplies and winter equipment, on top of new military aid. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to announce substantial US support for Ukraine’s energy grid, US officials said

Ukraine’s net has been battered across the country by targeted Russian attacks since early October, in what Western officials call a Russian campaign to weaponize the coming winter cold.

Ukrainians build defenses – both for troops and civilians. The government has rolled out hundreds of aid stations, dubbed Points of Invincibility, where residents experiencing power, heating and water outages can warm up, charge their phones, enjoy snacks and hot drinks and even be entertained.

“I had no electricity for two days. Now there is only some electricity and no gas,” said Vanda Bronyslavavina, taking a breather at one such relief center in Kiev’s Obolon district.

The 71-year-old lamented the uncertainty of whether Russia will simply resume its attacks after infrastructure is restored, in a frustrating cycle of destruction and repair.

It underlined how the war continues to dent every aspect of life, even though there are currently relatively few civilian casualties.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the presidential office, said Russian troops fired on seven regions in southern and eastern Ukraine overnight using rockets, drones and heavy artillery. At least one civilian was killed and two wounded.

Tymoshenko said as of Tuesday power had been restored to 24% of residents in the hard-hit southern city of Kherson.

On the battlefields in the eastern Luhansk region, the regional governor said Ukrainian forces were slowly advancing towards Russian defense lines between two key cities. However, Serhiy Haidai acknowledged in televised remarks that the onset of winter exacerbated a “difficult” situation on the battlefield.

The prospect of any peace remained distant. The Kremlin reaffirmed on Tuesday that negotiations are possible only if Ukraine meets Russian demands. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “it is impossible to hold talks now because the Ukrainian side strongly rejects them”.

He noted that “political will and willingness to discuss Russian demands” are needed to conduct negotiations.

Russia has demanded that Ukraine recognize Crimea as part of Russia and recognize other Russian achievements. It has also repeated its previous demands for “demilitarization” and “denazification”, albeit with less force than in the past.

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Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

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