6:47Ukraine warns of ‘huge humanitarian catastrophe’ if it can’t keep the lights on
Ukraine’s deputy energy minister says Russian attacks on energy infrastructure are taking a toll, and the worst could still be yet to come.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Friday that Russian forces have planted explosives inside the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam and are planning to blow it up.
Russia not only denied the allegations, but pointed the finger back at Ukraine, claiming Kyiv rocketed the dam and is planning to destroy it.
Neither side produced public evidence to back up their allegations.
The dam holds back an enormous reservoir, and an explosion there could spell disaster for the thousands of people who live in the settlements below it.
Its destruction could also deprive one of Europe’s largest nuclear plants of the water it needs to stay cool, at a time when Ukraine is already struggling to keep its power grid up and running.
Yevhenii Yenin, first deputy minister at Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, spoke to As It Happens host Nil Köksal. Here is part of their conversation.
What kind of evidence is there for the threats to the dam?
Our intelligence got it. And some of our international partners have proved that.
So far, President Zelenskyy hasn’t hasn’t shared that evidence, as far as I know. Do you know why that is or when they might share it?
We have pretty frank talks with all our partners, first of all, G7 and EU member states as well. All democratic countries are quite well-informed on the risks we keep facing right now during the potential threat of a terroristic attack on [the] hydroelectric plant, and according to this intelligence information, Russia was expected … to commit this terroristic act and then to shift the responsibility [to] the Ukrainian armed forces.
Russia’s new military commander in Ukraine has been saying Ukraine could be planning what he has called “banned methods of warfare” at the dam and in [Russian-occupied] Kherson. He says that Russian soldiers are evacuating Kherson as a result. What’s your response to that?
Our response is quite straight. We want to prevent all catastrophic impacts on territories near Kakhovka hydroelectric plant.
Unfortunately, we are quite limited with our efforts as we can’t simply inform the population, since there is no communication with uncontrolled and temporarily occupied territories of Kherson region.
Our intent is to draw attention of the international community to this very problem, to set up a special task force, [a] high-level committee, to be sent and to visit the spot and to check whether this information is true or not, preventing in such a way that terroristic act that could be committed by Russia.
How critical, sir, is this next phase of the war, do you think?
[In] the last weeks, we see that critical infrastructure and energy objects of our country are under attack. And, unfortunately, our peace-loving nation was forced to fight.
We know that they are trying to throw [our] country into darkness. And our air defence forces are doing a great job shooting down about 70/75 per cent of Iranian kamikaze drones. And you may also have seen the video of where our policemen shot down these Iranian mopeds, as we jokingly call them, with small arms.
Nevertheless, they [have] partially managed to break through the defence.
As of now, due to constant shelling of energy facilities in the country, about 100,000 consumers are forced to disconnect from electricity. About  settlements still remain without electricity, and about  industrial enterprises of the Kyiv region are also disconnected from [the] power supply.
On Ukrainian television this week, you said, “I want to call on energy workers to clearly understand Russia is hunting for all energy utilities, the destruction of which can cause a humanitarian crisis in the state.” How are you protecting what’s left of your infrastructure?
Of course, we kindly ask people to save energy. We are trying to do our utmost to save our energy infrastructure objects from potential missile and airstrikes.
To this end, we urgently need to tighten up our anti-aircraft security, and so we are kindly asking our Western partners to help us with that, to fix this issue.
Regardless of all these challenges, our population is committed to fight, and we will never surrender.
You’re also asking workers at these plants to watch out for potential attacks, correct?
Yeah, for sure. Everybody should be responsible for his or her own security. And the leadership of all enterprises, and just to rank-and-file citizens, are well-instructed by the government on the measures to be taken in order to minimize the risk of becoming a victim of such airstrikes. And, of course, we provided our population with basic advice [on] how to survive in these circumstances.
WATCH | Zelenskyy talks to Canadian reporters:
What happens if you can’t keep the electricity flowing, sir?
That would be a huge humanitarian catastrophe. Unfortunately, it’s not [the] first time our people and our nation is under attack. And I’m more than convinced that with [the] support of our Western allies, and with some sort of dedication, we could come through. It would not be an easy way, and there would be huge humanitarian, economic losses.
But, anyway, it would not affect the morale of the nation and the morale of armed forces to restore our territorial integrity. And the Russian army should know that.
Today, just before I came to speak with you, EU leaders gave the OK for €18 billion [$24.2 billion Cdn] in support for Ukraine. It’s going to be given in monthly instalments. Is that going to be enough?
Of course, we are grateful for all possible support, including financial ones from our Western alliance. Unfortunately, it’s always kind of too little, too late. And we know that, in some cases, our partners are doing their utmost to help us. But bureaucracy and other stuff are just postponing … [a] needed financial package for our nation.
We need two things: More weapons and more money to defeat Russia.
We’re hearing that U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin had a call with Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu today. What do you hope they discussed?
I don’t know what they discussed. We don’t think that fruitful negotiations with [the] current leadership of Russia is possible after all they committed — in particular, in Ukraine.
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