Russia strikes, Ukraine repairs, in a battle to survive the winter Ukraine is still recovering from the latest Russian airstrikes. Ukraine's air defenses have proved more resilient than expected. But can it cope this winter with an onslaught on the electricity grid?

Russia strikes, Ukraine repairs, in a battle to survive the winter

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1138044434/1139190284" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

A MART├ŹNEZ, HOST:

Ukraine's limited air defenses have worked far better than expected against Russia's much larger air force. But Russia has ramped up its attacks in the last month. Can Ukraine cope with the onslaught against civilians and the electricity grid as winter sets in? NPR's Greg Myre has our story from Kyiv.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: When Ukrainian soldier Viktor Ganich was given a brief leave from his military unit, he went to stay at the apartment of his mother and stepfather in Kyiv. Then came an early morning barrage of Russian drone attacks on the city.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #1: (Non-English language spoken).

MYRE: Policemen recorded one of those drones as they tried in vain to shoot it down.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #2: (Non-English language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS FIRING)

MYRE: One drone that morning slammed into the apartment where Ganich was staying. He survived. His mother and stepfather were killed.

VIKTOR GANICH: (Through interpreter) Honestly, it's a very strange feeling because on the front line, I witnessed bullets above my head, tank shelling, mortar shelling. And I survived. And when I came here to Kyiv, it's strange because it just feels like it's destiny.

MYRE: Russia dramatically stepped up its air campaign last month with waves of drones and missiles. On Wednesday, Russia fired 70 cruise missiles. This knocked out electricity, heating and water in many cities and further damaged the already fragile power system. Ukraine says it's shooting down about two-thirds or even three-quarters of the incoming Russian weapons. But it can't stop them all. Colonel Yurii Ihnat is the spokesman for Ukraine's air force.

YURII IHNAT: (Through interpreter) Ukraine does not have enough firepower to be fully protected from the sky. That is why we ask the whole world to help Ukraine by any means.

MYRE: Ukraine's limited air defenses have been geared to protect the most important government and military sites. But the recent more widespread Russian attacks have left Ukraine unable to protect the entire energy system, with so many potential targets. The result is rolling power cuts for now and the looming possibility of extended blackouts.

MICHAEL KOFMAN: I think Ukraine does face a real challenge from a concerted Russian strike campaign that's focused on the electricity grid.

MYRE: Michael Kofman is an expert on the Russian military at CNA, research group just outside Washington.

KOFMAN: I think it is taking a toll over time. Ukraine is able to manage it right now, fix blackouts. And most Ukrainian cities that I have seen are enacting electricity conservation. They're quite dark at night, even though they have power.

MYRE: Ukraine has been contending with Russian ballistic missiles and cruise missiles since the war began. Now Russia is firing swarms of loud, low-flying, slow-moving drones acquired from Iran. This has further complicated Ukraine's air defenses. Kelly Grieco with the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank, explains.

KELLY GRIECO: It can loiter, which makes it different from a missile, and then decide to dive bomb and explode on impact.

MYRE: She says all these Russian weapons require different defenses.

GRIECO: I don't think there are enough air defense systems probably in the world to be able to create that kind of impenetrable barrier that we would like to be possible right now.

MYRE: President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently announced the arrival of new Western air defenses. They include a U.S. contribution known as NASAMS, which protect the White House and other government buildings in Washington. This certainly helps, says Michael Kofman. But integrating different weapon systems is tricky. He noted that Ukraine is now managing 14 separate artillery systems, including many sent from the West this year.

KOFMAN: The issue is that if they get a couple air defense systems and they have a few batteries of each, it will create enduring challenges for maintenance, for operation, for training.

MYRE: These challenges play out daily. At an apartment building in central Kyiv, a Russian missile crashed into the third floor, killing an elderly woman. Power was knocked out in the neighborhood. On the darkened streets, I asked a young man, Vladimir Yanachuk, if Ukrainians were ready for this winter.

VLADIMIR YANACHUK: We are not afraid about this. Ukrainian not afraid about this. And winter will be hard. But this winter will be hard to not only Ukrainians, for Russian soldiers, too.

MYRE: As we spoke, the lights suddenly flickered to life in the surrounding apartment buildings. On this night, at least, there would be heat and electricity. Greg Myre, NPR News, Kyiv.

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.