Ukraine has called on refugees who fled the country in the wake of the invasion of russia not return home this winter, after Russian missile and drone attacks threatened to overwhelm the country’s fragile power grid.
Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk advised Ukrainians in a video message Tuesday not to “go back yet.”
“We need to survive this winter. (If people go back) the power grid could fail,” she said.
The warning comes later weeks of strikes in Ukraine’s energy infrastructurethat have caused blackouts throughout the country and have threatened a difficult winter for those who still live there.
Russian missiles and Iranian-made drones have “destroyed more than a third” of Ukraine’s energy sector, President Volodymyr Zelensky told an international conference on Ukraine’s reconstruction on Tuesday.
“You see what Russia is doing. Everybody sees that,” Vereshchuk said. “Going back now means exposing yourself, your children, your vulnerable family members to this.”
Some 7.7 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the war, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Most have resettled elsewhere in Europe, with Poland and Germany each registering the arrival of more than a million refugees.
Vereshchuk hinted that they might be welcome once the winter has passed. “In the spring, I would really like us to work together to rebuild our Kharkiv region, Kherson region and the rest of our cities and settlements here in Ukraine,” he said.
Vereshchuk added that he understood that the situation could get worse, but whatever happens, “we survived this winter and then we think about everything else.”
Power plants and other key sites have come under Russian airstrikes in recent weeks, which Moscow launched after Kyiv’s forces recaptured ground in the northeast and south, shifting momentum from the ground war to Ukraine.
Addressing the meeting in Berlin by video link, Zelensky said the attacks were aimed at making it “more difficult for us to endure this winter.”
Speaking at the conference, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen described the attacks as “pure acts of terror.”
Moscow was “deliberately conducting targeted attacks against civilian infrastructure, with a very clear goal: to cut off water, electricity and heating to men, women and children as winter approaches,” he said. “These are pure acts of terror. Russia tries to paralyze Ukraine, but we will not allow this to happen.”
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called for a “new Marshall Plan” to rebuild Ukraine, aimed at planning and financing the post-war reconstruction effort.
“We don’t know when this war will end. But it will end,” Scholz said, adding that helping Ukraine recover would be “a challenge for generations” and would require “the combined strength of the entire international community.”