KYIV, Ukraine — With Ukraine’s energy grid suffering “colossal” damage after waves of Russian missile attacks, President Volodymyr Zelensky has announced a national drive to prepare thousands of makeshift centers to provide basic services in the event of prolonged blackouts.
“If massive Russian strikes take place again and if there is an understanding that the electricity supply cannot be restored within hours, the work of ‘Points of Invincibility’ will be activated,” he told the nation in his nightly address on Tuesday.
“All basic services will be there,” he said, including electricity, mobile communications, internet access, heat, water, and first-aid supplies.
Almost no thermal and hydroelectric power plants remain undamaged after waves of Russian strikes aimed at energy infrastructure in recent months, according to the head of Ukraine’s national electricity grid.
“The scale of the destruction is colossal,” Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, the head of Ukrenergo, told a news conference on Tuesday.
Oleksii Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s national security and defense council, said a barrage of attacks on Nov. 15, including from more than 100 missiles and drones, was the broadest assault on the country’s energy infrastructure of the war so far.
While Moscow is running low on precision cruise missiles, according to Ukraine and its allies, Ukrainian intelligence reports suggest the Kremlin still has enough in its arsenal to carry out attacks of a similar scale “three or four more times.” Ukrainian and U.S. officials have also said that Moscow is looking to Iran and North Korea to replenish its stockpiles.
Andriy Yermak, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky, said that the aerial attacks on energy infrastructure are a part of a “malign strategy” by Russia, which has been pushed back into defensive positions in the south and northeast after Ukrainian forces reclaimed around 55 percent of the territory occupied by Moscow during the early months of the war. Russia remains on the attack toward one eastern city, Bakhmut.
“Their goal is obvious: to cause a large-scale humanitarian catastrophe, to provoke another refugee crisis in Europe,” Mr. Yermak said in a statement. “It’s either force Ukraine to make peace or force the West to force Ukraine to make peace.”
Mr. Zelensky said it was clear that Russia was aiming “to turn the cold of winter into a weapon of mass destruction.”
Moscow’s effort to plunge the nation into darkness and freezing conditions has already forced the national utility to implement controlled but extensive rolling blackouts, leaving nearly everyone in the country without power for between 4 to 12 hours a day.
Not knowing when the next wave of Russian missiles will come — and how effective Ukrainian air defenses will be in blunting their impact — Ukrainian officials must reckon with the possibility that further damage could render them unable to provide basic services.
Mr. Zelensky on Tuesday encouraged people in towns and cities across the country to go to a government website, nezlamnist.gov.ua, to find one of the 4,000 planned centers for basic services nearest their home.
People working at the centers, he said, would be able to direct residents to the nearest gas station, bank, pharmacy and grocery store in the event of a blackout.
“All of us must be prepared for any scenario,” he said. “I am sure: by helping each other, we will all be able to get through this winter together.”
In addition to the “Points of Invincibility” — its name meant to promote Ukrainian solidarity and courage — municipal workers in Kyiv are setting up 1,000 heating shelters that can double as bunkers for hundreds of people, stocked with essential supplies to last more than a week. Similar efforts are underway in towns and cities around the nation.
In parts of the country recently reclaimed from retreating Russian forces, including Kherson, the damage to infrastructure is so severe that Ukraine’s government is helping residents evacuate to other parts of the country. But Ukrainian officials have emphasized that there is no need for a broader evacuation.
“I believe that the call for a mass departure of Ukrainians abroad is currently inappropriate,” Mr. Kudrytskyi said.