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Weaponising Winter in Ukraine

A new report from the Eyes on Russia team exposes the deliberate shift in Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure to weaponize winter.

One year on, the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine represents one of the largest modern displays of attritional warfare and has triggered the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War Two (WWII). However, a new pillar in the Kremlin’s war strategy has also threatened the survival of Ukrainians during the winter months.

On 18 October, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (Володимир Зеленський) reported that 30% of power stations had been “destroyed, causing massive blackouts across the country”. These sites provide heating and electricity to amenities that are indispensable to survival, including water supplies, domestic heating, hospitals, and other critical infrastructure facilities. While earlier attacks seemed to focus on the frontline, systematic airstrikes on critical civilian energy infrastructure throughout the country mean that civilians are now the target.

Figure: Map of strikes separated by date (Before 10.10.22, yellow; After 10.10.22, Dark Red). Dark red shapes show Russian occupation as of 15 November 2022. Yellow shapes show the Ukrainian counteroffensive in formerly Russian-occupied areas. (Areas of control adapted from source: Project Owl OSINT).[6] It should be noted that strikes on Kyiv and Lviv prior to 10 October did happen at the same location covered by the red pins indicating more recent strikes.

Our investigation analyses Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure conducted in October 2022. Through a geospatial analysis of these attacks, this report demonstrates the systematic nature of attacks on critical energy infrastructure and identifies the shift in strategic focus starting in September, moving away from the frontline. It also provides insights into the Russian narratives that tried to justify the incidents and the impact of the attacks on Ukrainian lives.

Energy is indispensable to civilian survival in Ukraine, from powering payment systems used to buy essential food, to heating homes. Millions of Ukrainian civilians including those living almost a thousand kilometres from the frontline are still facing power outages and the challenges which ensue.

Figure: Journalists of Ukrainian English-language media outlet The Kyiv Independent continuing their work meeting despite the power outage. / Courtesy of Olha Rudenko.

Despite attempts to repair damaged infrastructure, stabilising energy supply has become an increasing challenge. The partial or full disruption to energy supplies will place more pressure on the humanitarian response. Due to the centralised nature of heating systems in Ukraine, thousands of civilians are vulnerable. CIR continues monitoring attacks on critical energy infrastructure.

To read the full report, download the PDF:

Weaponizing Winter
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