Deadly winter awaits Ukraine amid low temperatures, energy crisis - NBC News

Millions of Ukrainians face a deadly winter — and it isn't just the risk of being hit by Russian bombs.

Energy supply cuts caused by Russia's heavy bombardment of the country's infrastructure are combining with freezing cold winter weather to create a deadly cocktail, the World Health Organization has warned.

"This winter will be life-threatening for millions of people in Ukraine," according to Dr. Hans Henri Kluge, the United Nations health agency's regional director for Europe.

Average winter temperatures in Ukraine are around 27 degrees Fahrenheit, and are expected to reach minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of the country in the coming months, the WHO said.

Russian missile strikes outside Kyiv hit energy infrastructure. Rescue workers tackle a blaze after strikes hit critical infrastructure near Kyiv in November, one of dozens of similar attacks across Ukraine. Ukrainian Emergency Service / AFP - Getty Images

"Put simply, this winter will be about survival," Kluge said in a statement. "Maternity wards need incubators. Blood banks need refrigerators. Intensive care beds need ventilators. And ALL require energy."

Russian forces have heavily targeted power plants and electricity supply in recent weeks, plunging much of Ukraine into darkness, as Moscow was forced into humiliating retreats on the battlefield, including a full withdrawal from the key southern city of Kherson.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also urged Ukrainians in his nightly address to do what they can to conserve energy use, particularly during peak hours. So far, more than 6,500 civilians have been killed during the course of the war and more than 10,000 injured, according to the U.N.

Last week, he said a quarter of the population, some 10 million people, were without power.

Adding to the huge displacement of people within Ukraine and the movement of refugees to other countries, a further 2 million to 3 million people could leave their homes in search of warmth and safety, the WHO added.

Millions of Ukrainians are facing severe power disruptions after recent waves of Russian missile and drone strikes have reportedly left almost half of Ukraine's energy infrastructure disabled and in need of repair, as temperatures plunge with the capital Kyiv experiencing the first winter snowfall. Elderly people receive food and gloves from a charity in Kyiv on Saturday. Some 10 million people across the country are without power.Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

Hundreds of thousands of homes, schools and hospitals have no gas supply. Some in Kyiv are relying on food deliveries amid the regular outages, while others use small gas-powered camping stoves. Some are already opting for two sleeping bags each at night.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said earlier this month that the city was preparing more than 1,000 heating points in case its district-wise heating system is completely disabled.Kluge warned that many will turn to alternative heating sources, such as burning wood or charcoal, or using gasoline-powered generators, all of which release toxic gases.

Lack of electricity and gas utilities in Izium A family in Izyum gathers wood for heating in October. For many in Ukraine, basic utilities are unavailable. Wolfgang Schwan / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Russia showed no signs of easing up on its bombing campaign even as it has emerged that it signed a deal to obtain more armed drones.

Two U.S. officials and one Western official confirmed that Iran has agreed to help Russia manufacture the armed drones, as reported earlier by The Washington Post. This could represent a significant boost in firepower for Russia's beleaguered military, which has suffered a string of humiliating defeats.

Ukrainian officials say the wreckage of Shahed-136 drones — which are fitted with a warhead and fly directly into their target — have been found at the site of bomb attacks across the country.

Russia has yet to comment on the agreement.

Image: Kherson Emerges From Eight Months Of Russian Occupation Residents sort through donated clothing at an aid hub Monday in Kherson. The city was recently retaken by Ukrainian forces following a Russian retreat. Chris McGrath / Getty Images

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in an update overnight that its forces repelled Russian attacks in the Donetsk and the Luhansk regions, two areas of eastern Ukraine that have been contested since pro-Russian separatists declared them independent in 2014, but are now the target of an Ukrainian counteroffensive.

The Russian aerial bombardment of the country continues with 81 shells hitting the Zaporizhzhia region Monday and more than 100 hitting the northern regions of Sumy, local officials said.

Daryna Mayer and Dan De Luce contributed.

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