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Kyiv Diary: Blackout Under Loitering Munitions

Paul Niland anticipates a brutal winter ahead as Russia targets civilian infrastructure with weapons supplied by Iran

A ferris wheel in Kyiv that works on the electricity produced by the electricity generator during a blackout at the end of October 2022. Photo: Zuma/Alamy

kyiv DiaryBlackout Under Loitering Munitions

Paul Niland anticipates a brutal winter ahead as Russia targets civilian infrastructure with weapons supplied by Iran

The clocks have gone back; darkness comes an hour earlier for us all, but in Kyiv darkness is commonplace in recent weeks as Russia – now in partnership with Iran – continues to attack critical civilian infrastructure such as electricity generating plants and substations. The people of Kyiv, and Ukraine more widely, nonetheless remain stoic in the face of these new hardships.

What Russia is doing, and has been doing across Ukraine since 24 February of this year, is nothing short of terrorism. On the ground their forces have been losing the land they have attempted to steal for months as Ukraine’s military has pressed forward on the battlefield to bring liberation to their countryfolk. Russia’s brutal response is an attempt to force Ukraine’s capitulation by making millions of people suffer. But our suffering is not anything that will deter us. Here’s why.

Despite these renewed attacks on Kyiv (they’re not new, Kyiv itself has been the target of the Russian assault since this phase of their war began) the city itself, home usually to 3,000,000 people, has not borne the worst of Russia’s atrocities. 

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When I read about Russia’s missile and drone barrages against the Sumy region on the border with Russia, I remember that’s where my former colleague Yuliia comes from, her mother is still there. When I read about the daily obliteration of buildings in Mykolaiv, in Ukraine’s south, I remember that’s where my friend Ira is from. Her mother and grandmother are there.  When I read about the occupation of Kherson, I know that living under that occupation are the parents of my friend Maryna. 

Despite everything, we in Kyiv can consider ourselves relatively lucky, while we fear for the lives of our loved ones who are more directly affected.

The same is true (for all of us) when we read about military operations. When I read about the liberation of the Kharkiv region – that’s my friend Seva fighting for the home city that he loves. When I read about the fight to repel Russia’s attempted advances in the Donetsk region – that’s my friend Lyosha, on his native Donbas soil. When I read about the liberation of settlements in Kherson– that’s my friend Andrii on the front line.

We, here in Kyiv, have extra blankets on the bed and may have to entertain ourselves and our families by candlelight, but the challenges being faced by others put our inconveniences into stark perspective.

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Personally, I consider myself to be very lucky. Despite having recently clocked my half-century, I am (touch wood) in reasonably good physical condition. There are others living around me for whom this difficult period presents greater challenges. I can run up and down the stairs in my apartment building when power outages render the lift unusable.  I do so even when the power is on, in case I get trapped in the lift again and have to wait to be rescued.

But what about my older neighbours who have limited mobility, how do they manage to go about their daily business? From what I have seen, with difficulty, but with dignity

On my walk to my office this morning (where I sit now during yet another power cut) I passed a woman with her young child, maybe three years old, it was clear from her bump that her family will soon be blessed with an additional member. What if she were to be trapped in an elevator for two hours somewhere between the 14th and 15th floors?

My daily walk to work takes me past two places that make me think about the struggles others are living through. One is a distribution point for humanitarian aid packages. This morning about 60-70 people were there, standing patiently as their turn to pick up a box of basic staples came up, what will those queues be like in a month when the temperatures are below freezing? The second place is a play park, this morning that park was busy with little children mostly being cared for by their grandparents while their parents attempted to go to work as much as is possible before the next power cut. 

Today is a school day, but unless a school has a bomb shelter where the kids can take cover during the common air raid alerts, there is no in-person learning.

These are the adaptations Ukrainians have had to come to terms with, as a result of Russia’s madness. And now, Iran has decided to throw their lot in with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, and this escalation in the conflict warrants examination.

Iran, itself beset by problems at home due to their draconian treatment of half of their society, had initially denied that it supplies weapons of war to Russia, rather than admitting to abetting war crimes. However, the evidence is clear that one of the major causes of misery in Ukraine now is indeed (exclusively) Iranian-made and supplied Shahid 136 drones.

These are not drones as people in the west know them, they are loitering munitions, flying bombs. It is believed that as many as 1,200 units of these kamikaze drones have already been supplied to Russia. 

And Iran is reportedly about to deliver further weapons technology to Russia too, in the form of hundreds of Fateh-110 and Zoifagahr medium-range surface-to-surface cruise missiles able to inflict massive damage from a range of between 300 to 700 Kilometres.

As we see from Russia’s tactical shift since they appointed a new general to lead their failing war efforts in Ukraine, these missiles will be used to strike repeatedly at both infrastructure and cause terror in the civilian population. That general, Sergey Surovokin, was the point man responsible for obliterating entire cities in Syria from the air as Putin helped dictator Assad fend off his overthrow with the joint commission of a range of war crimes.

We can conclude then that what awaits Ukraine in the coming weeks, or months, will likely be particularly brutal. The civilian population will be left without power, water, or the ability to connect with loved ones to see if they are safe, for longer periods of time. The vulnerable, the elderly, and those with young families will feel the greatest impact from all of this. But literally, any person in Ukraine may feel the literal impact of a drone strike at any moment on any given day.

Some of the lives randomly taken in Kyiv on 10 October 10t were that of a young family, a husband and wife who was 5 months pregnant, who were simply at home in their apartment as it was hit by one of Iran’s flying bombs.

If we conclude that this is what is to come from the terrorist axis of an aligned Russia and Iran, then equally we must conclude that the only response to this must be the provision of whatever air defence capabilities the Ukrainians need to protect their skies and their civilians and ensure the Russian occupation forces are decisively defeated on the ground as soon as possible.

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