Putin’s brutal plot to deprive millions of Ukrainians of power breaches laws of war | Politics | News

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Vladimir Putin is cynically targeting Ukraine with repeated attacks on the country’s critical infrastructure specifically aimed at spreading terror and making the lives of millions of civilians “untenable“, campaigners have claimed. One Russian politician even callously declared that Ukrainian citizens should “rot and freeze” this winter, Human Rights Watch (HRW) pointed out.

The organisation’s new report warns multiple missile and drone attacks in October and November have deprived millions of civilians of at least temporary access to electricity, water, heat, and related vital services ahead of bitterly cold weather conditions during which temperatures are likely to plummet as low as -27F.

Attacks have killed a minimum of 77 civilians and injured 272, with more than 30 people killed or injured during the air strikes on November 23.

Additionally, millions were deprived of power, with the entire population of Kyiv – some three million people – having no access to water for the day, and parts of the capital, along with Lviv, Zaporizhzhia, and Odesa regions, also completely disconnected from electricity.

Yulia Gorbunova, senior Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “By repeatedly targeting critical energy infrastructure knowing this will deprive civilians of access to water, heat, and health services, Russia appears to be seeking to create terror among civilians and make life unsustainable for them.

“With the coldest winter temperatures yet to come, conditions will become more life-threatening while Russia seems intent on making life untenable for as many Ukrainian civilians as possible.”

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Ukraine: Doctors operate with the help of torches during power cuts in Ukraine (Image: GETTY)

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The aftermath of the November 23 attack in Kyiv (Image: Yulia Gorbunova/ Human Rights Watch)

Russia’s behaviour is likely to constitute a breach of the laws of war, which prohibit attacks on objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population and violence or threats, “the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population.”

Meanwhile, its elected politicians are facing the flames with bellicose rhetoric, with Boris Chernyshov, a member of the country’s Duma or Parliament, last week declaring during an appearance on state-controlled television: “They should freeze and rot there. They will sit without gas, without light, without everything.”

In order to compile its research, HRW used public data, along with police and fire brigade reports and official statements as well as speaking to an energy company official, two energy experts, local authorities, rescue workers, and civilians in Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson, and Mykolaiv.

Activists also visited the site of at least one of the attacks which severely damaged civilian homes and killed civilians last month.

On November 16, Ukraine’s office of the prosecutor general said Russia had launched 92 attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in October and November.

Boris Chernyshov

Boris Chernyshov said Ukrainians should “freeze and rot” (Image: NC)

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People waiting for taxi in central Kyiv on November 24 (Image: GETTY)

DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private energy company, has seen its facilities attacked 13 times in the course of one and a half months, with significant damage inflicted.

The company also told HRW because of Russian attacks on power infrastructure on October 10 alone, in excess of 40 percent of Ukraine’s energy system had been damaged.

Airstrikes in October and November also killed three DTEK employees and injured 22 more.

Olexander Kharchenko, director of independent research and consulting company Energy Industry Research Centre told HRW as a result power was disrupted in 10,700,000 households throughout Ukraine, impacting about half of the country’s population.

In addition, Mr Kharchenko said Ukraine’s overall power-generation capacity had decreased by 50 percent as a result of attacks on November 15.

Russian troops enter and loot Ukrainian home

During the week which followed, authorities had been able to restore just 10 to 20 percent of what had been damaged, he explained.

Mr Kharchenko said it was hard to estimate the overall damage to any particular infrastructure facility because they are interconnected, but warned further strikes, if they happen in quick succession, could result in an uncontrolled blackout, and could take 3 to 10 days to restore the system.

He added: “The whole of Ukraine would be without electricity, water, and heating for that period.”

Power infrastructure is considered to be dual-use – military and civilian – and may lawfully be the target of attacks in an armed conflict.

Nevertheless, such attacks are subject to the laws of war, which prohibit indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (Image: Getty)

Case study:

Human Rights Watch spoke with one Kyiv resident who is a full-time caregiver for her parents, who described how lengthy electricity blackouts had affected her 75-year-old mother, who has stage 4 lung cancer and is oxygen-dependent.

She said: “We have a stationary oxygen concentrator at home that becomes useless when there is no power.

“Without that, her oxygen levels drop to 70 percent within minutes. If there is no electricity for over two hours, we are trapped and all I can do is watch my mother struggling to breathe.”

Sustained blood oxygen levels at 70 percent could result in organ damage and death.

The woman’s family has crowdsourced funds for a car battery which can keep the concentrator working for two hours.

However, she said it was insufficient because power cuts can last for hours.

A Ukrainian charity recently gave her mother a portable concentrator which has a charge of up to six hours, but, as she said, such concentrators are in very limited supply in Ukraine.

The woman added: “I understand that someone else who is oxygen-dependent might urgently need it soon. Maybe a child with cystic fibrosis or another cancer patient. And then what are we going to do?”