Donors meet in Paris to get Ukraine through winter, bombing

PARIS (AP) — Dozens of countries and international organizations threw their weight and more than 1 billion euros (dollars) in aid pledges behind an urgent new push Tuesday to keep Ukrainians powered, fed, warmed and moving as winter approaches.

An international donor conference in Paris quickly racked up substantial promises of financial and in-kind supporta defiant response to sustained Russian aerial bombardment of critical infrastructure that has plunged millions of Ukrainian civilians into deepening cold and dark.

Ukraine’s president made an impassioned argument that such aid could pressure Russia into pursuing peace, and conference donors strongly condemned the Kremlin’s savaging of power stations, water facilities and other essential services in Ukraine.

French President Emmanuel Macron, the conference host, denounced the bombings as war crimes, asserting that Moscow had resorted to pounding civilian infrastructure because its troops suffered setbacks on the battlefields and Russia’s “military weaknesses have been exposed to all.”

Russia “has chosen a cynical strategy, aiming to destroy civilian infrastructure in order to put Ukraine on its knees,” Macron said. “The objective is clear: Respond to military defeats by spreading terror among civilians, try to break the back as it can’t maintain the front.”

As temperatures plunge and snow falls, Ukraine’s needs are huge and pressing. Since Russia began hitting the Ukrainian power grid and other critical infrastructure in early October, successive waves of cruise missiles and exploding drones have destroyed about half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, the Kyiv government has said.

Ukraine’s prime minister has alleged that Russia is trying to pressure Europe by creating a mass exodus of Ukrainian refugees like the one early in the war. Russia says its military aim in destroying infrastructure is weakening Ukraine’s ability to defend itself and disrupting flows of Western weapons to the country it attacked in February.

The full-scale invasion has left many tens of thousands of people dead or injured and forced an estimated 6.5 million Ukrainians from their homes.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyywho addressed the Paris conference by video, said some 12 million Ukrainians — roughly one-quarter of the country’s pre-invasion population — are living with power outages.

Zelenskyy argued that a concerted international effort to keep Ukraine’s utility systems working could help dissuade Moscow from further attacks and potentially force it to the negotiating table, as well as prevent more Ukrainians from fleeing.

The Kremlin showed no signs of backing down. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday rejected an appeal Zelenskyy made the day before for Russia to start a pullback from Ukraine at Christmas, saying “there can’t be any talk about it” until the Kyiv government recognizes the Kremlin’s territorial claims.

“Without taking those realities into account, any forward movement is impossible,” Peskov said.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine needs electric generators as urgently as armored vehicles and armored vests for its troops.

Donors offered an array of help — from light bulbs, generators and power transformers to assistance with food, water, health, transport and rebuilding. France’s Foreign Ministry said 1.05 billion euros — the equivalent of $1.1 billion — in financial and in-kind aid was pledged, all of it expected to reach Ukraine over the toughest winter months.

The European Union’s chief executive, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, announced funding for 30 million energy-saving light bulbs that Ukraine requested to reduce pressure on its power grid.

Without reliable power and other essential services, life for many is becoming a battle for survival.

“We need everything,” said Yevhen Kaplin, who heads Proliska, a Ukrainian humanitarian group providing cooking stoves, blankets and other aid.

With “the shelling, the missile strikes and strikes on the infrastructure, we can’t say whether there will be gas tomorrow. We can’t predict whether to buy gas stoves,” he said. “Every day the picture changes.”

Ukrainians offered a glimpse into their hardships on Tuesday. Although Russian troops retreated from the Kyiv region months ago, many people still cannot return home because of Russian missile damage.

“We live like homeless here,” Hanna Reznikova, 63, said as she stood in Borodyanka, a town northwest of the capital where the Russian invasion turned apartment buildings into charred, bombed-out hulks.

Wrapped in a thin black coat, she said the temperature inside her building was the same as outside. The room where she lives with her partner is almost always cold due to rolling blackouts and no gas. To keep the room warm, Reznikova uses a blanket to cover the entrance. For light, she keeps a candle near the bed.

“It’s difficult and sad. But what can we do? This is how we will survive,” she said.

The Paris meeting meant to ease such hardships was attended by 46 countries and 24 international organizations. The participants decided to set up a system to coordinate international aid for the winter so donors don’t double-up. A web-based platform will enable Ukraine to list its civilian aid needs and allow donors to show what they’ll supply.

Sweden was among the first nations represented at the meeting to pledge more aid. Its foreign trade minister, Johan Forssell, announced a contribution of 55 million euros ($58 million) for humanitarian aid and the rebuilding of schools, hospitals and energy infrastructure.

“We’re here for them as long as it takes,” he said.

In other Ukraine war developments Tuesday:

— Macron said French-Ukrainian deals worth about 100 million euros ($106 million) were to be signed at a business forum in Paris that followed the international donor conference. The agreements will allow Ukraine to receive rails for the train network, bridges and seeds.

— Private electricity provider DTEK said it restored supplies to close to 80,000 households in eastern Ukraine over the past week. The company said power was back in many areas of the Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk regions which Russian forces have regularly shelled. Oleksandr Fomenko, the head of DTEK Grids, said workers have restored electricity to some homes at least five times due to recurring Russian strikes. Ukrainian state power company Ukrenergo said strong winds, frost, snow and ice on power lines was hampering repairs.

— A senior US military official said the US believes Russia’s stocks of new or “fully serviceable” artillery rocket ammunition will last until “early 2023.” The official, who spoke to Pentagon reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations in Ukraine, said Russia was turning to the use of degraded ammunition, which is more unpredictable and risky. The official said the Russian military will likely struggle to replenish its stocks by increasing domestic production, buying more from foreign suppliers and refurbishing older ammunition.

— Fighting that caused casualties and damage raged in the eastern city of Kupiansk, northeastern Ukraine’s Sumy region, towns neighboring the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and the Kherson region in southern Ukraine. The governor of the Luhansk region, north of Donetsk, said the Ukrainian army was edging closer to a key Russian defense line between the towns of Kreminna and Svatove.

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Varenytsia reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Leicester from Le Pecq, France. Jamey Keaten in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia, Joanna Kozlowska in London, Hanna Arhirova in Kyiv and Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed.

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Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine at: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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