Ukrainian officials warn people to prep for electricity, water and heating outages
A MARTINEZ, HOST:
Let's hear from former Ukrainian infrastructure minister Volodymyr Omelyan. He just returned to Kyiv from the Kherson region, near the front lines of the fighting. Like many other Ukrainians, he enlisted in military service at the start of the war.
So let's start with the latest on the front line. Ukrainian forces are pushing closer to Kherson, which Russia seized earlier this year. What's the state of the fighting there now?
VOLODYMYR OMELYAN: I wouldn't say that it's easy work. Russians trying to resist, and they understand that they lost the main battle already because their dream to capture Kyiv, Warsaw and even to reach Paris failed. But still, we are progressing in very good manner. I would say that after Kharkiv region, when we showed very good results in northern Ukraine, we do the same right now in the south.
MARTINEZ: Now, in Kyiv, missile strikes have caused more destruction and damaged a key energy facility. Are there power outages where you are right now?
OMELYAN: Yes. Kyiv functions in more or less good manner, but definitely almost every day, we face strikes by Russian missiles and Iranian drones, which were provided to Russia.
MARTINEZ: When it comes to the infrastructure that provides power to Kyiv, how is it holding up right now?
OMELYAN: I would say that Russian main idea, we believe, is to break the will of Ukrainian nation because they fail to break the morale of Ukrainian army. But people stay strong. And after each attack of Russian missiles, we do not surrender. We keep on fighting because we understand that main goal of Russia - to kill all Ukrainians. Unfortunately, it's true in the 21st century. And we do understand that even problems with electricity or water supply or heating will not break us.
MARTINEZ: Because I know Ukraine has been able to quickly repair infrastructure right after those attacks happened. So I'm wondering, how long can Ukraine sustain that kind of quick fixing if these drones keep on flying?
OMELYAN: You know, according to President Zelenskyy, more than 30% of electricity supply in Ukraine is damaged. Of course, we can fix something. And we still have a lot of reserve lines, which were produced and implemented in previous years. But its limit is also not very high. And we had to stop supply of electricity from Ukraine to European Union - and trying to satisfy our needs right now. Plus, we also imposed kind of personal limit for each family and Ukrainian just somehow to reduce the impact on the electrical grid in Ukraine. But as of today, I wouldn't say that it's critical. Unfortunately, we lose a lot of lives after each bombing. And definitely, main goal of Russian terrorists is to kill as many civilians as they can.
MARTINEZ: What are the chances those limits on civilians and residents will maybe increase as the months get closer to winter?
OMELYAN: Well, we expect that missile attacks will also increase. And, therefore, those limits will be increased for each Ukrainian. But sometimes we will have to come back to the practice of 19th century, when electricity was a real luxury and heating system was only when you get to the wood (ph) and get some stuff to - from the forest.
MARTINEZ: I mentioned how you're the former infrastructure minister in Ukraine. You're also serving in the military. Do you have time to kind of just take stock of Ukraine's infrastructure, almost kind of go back to your former role in a way to evaluate it, at least in your own head?
OMELYAN: Definitely. I'm trying to keep myself updated. And I see how severe damage is done by Russians in Ukraine, to infrastructure, namely. But everything is possible to rebuild - what was ruined. And Russia will pay for that because they will have to compensate all suffering they did to Ukrainian nation, and plus to our allies, which provide a lot of help to Ukraine in financial resources, in military supplies and so on. So Russia will pay.
MARTINEZ: So you haven't gotten to a point where you're feeling discouraged over the way Ukraine's infrastructure is holding up so far. You still feel like it's holding up well enough that this fight can continue.
OMELYAN: It's war. You know, we can dream about mission to Mars or build the hyperloop, but still, we understand that we have to win first. And only with normal states, you can build your future. Russia should be destroyed by any means because it's not about the victory of Ukraine. It will happen. But it's about the - Russia itself. We should not let Russians to repeat the story every century, that they attack their neighbors or threaten democracies in the world.
MARTINEZ: How much of a concern is there for people being displaced this winter? And if so, if there is a concern, are you worried about where they might go or where they might head to?
OMELYAN: I would say that it's my maybe biggest concern as of today, what to do with people, because many of them left Ukraine when the war started. Then maybe 50% of them came back when Ukrainian army, together with our allies, showed very good results and Russians started to retreat. But as of today, we are entering the winter, and we understand that there will be real heating and electricity problems. Those people might come back to European Union or any other Western allies of Ukraine. And that will be another challenge for all democratic world, how to help Ukrainians. We would prefer to destroy Kremlin by winter in order to stop this bloody mess in Ukraine and in Europe.
MARTINEZ: By winter - what do you think the chances are of that happening?
OMELYAN: You know, I was always a dreamer.
OMELYAN: So I do understand that it's more than dream that it will happen this winter. But we do believe that 2023, it will be the final thought for Russia, and the idea to restore Soviet Union will totally collapse - next year.
MARTINEZ: Former Ukrainian infrastructure minister Volodymyr Omelyan, thank you very much for your time.
OMELYAN: Thank you, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.