Kyiv mayor urges allies to speed up aid efforts as his ravaged city prepares for its biggest fight yet – against the harsh winter
By Joe Barnes, BRUSSELS CORRESPONDENT, IN KYIV 28 October 2022 • 7:54pm
Ukrainians will freeze to death this winter if the West does not urgently send blankets and generators to keep them warm, Vitali Klitschko has said.
The 51-year-old mayor of Kyiv, and former heavyweight boxing champion of the world, told The Telegraph that increasing Russian attacks on power plants have left his country on the brink of a fresh humanitarian crisis.
“We are doing everything we can do to save the lives of our people and to protect them,” he said, banging his huge fists on the table.
“But this winter will definitely be a huge challenge for us.”
In little over a fortnight, Moscow’s strikes on power stations and the wider grid have left the country grappling with outages and questioning whether the system will survive the harsh winter months.
During that time, about 40 per cent of Ukraine’s total energy infrastructure had been seriously damaged in drone and missile attacks co-ordinated by General Sergei Surovikin, the newest commander of the Kremlin’s invasion.
In Kyiv, local residents were warned of a “sharp deterioration” in the region’s electricity supplies as a result of the strikes.
Mr Klitschko said that the change in tactics, which bear the hallmark of Vladimir Putin’s latest military commander, reflected the Russian president’s need to claim even a minor victory from his faltering invasion.
In the coming days, night-time temperatures across Ukraine are expected to plunge, hitting lows of -20C in some parts.
With many Ukrainians living in buildings scarred by the war, without gas and windows, electricity is one of the only methods they have to heat their homes.
For the 6ft 7in bureaucrat once known as “Dr Ironfist”, Putin’s invasion is no longer a war on Ukraine’s armed forces, but a war on its civilians, attempting to use the winter weather to freeze them into submission.
Mr Klitschko and his team have managed to purchase generators and have prepared 1,000 mobile heating points in Kyiv.
However, he admitted that they are still preparing for a “worst-case scenario” in their hometown as winter draws in.
On the day he met The Telegraph, Mr Klitschko had just taken delivery of a fire engine and two ambulances from a German charitable foundation.
“We pay for every minute, every hour, every day with our lives,” he said.
While he admitted that Ukraine is desperate for heavy weaponry and air-defence systems, blankets, winter clothes and generators are also needed to survive this winter.
“It’s a critical time for this kind of support,” he admitted.
Mr Klitschko and his brother, Wladimir, ruled heavyweight boxing for more than a decade before the former moved into politics.
Their sporting stardom has made them a well-oiled diplomatic machine, lobbying world leaders and businesses for support not just for Kyiv, their hometown, but for the whole of Ukraine.
In the capital, they are mobbed wherever they go.
Such is their popularity, Vitali was second only to Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, on a list of targets for Russian assassins in the early days of the war.
He shrugged off the threat; appearing in public and travelling the world is key to raising supplies of weaponry.
“I get asked when enough is enough for weapons deliveries,” he said. “Enough is enough when the war is over.”
As the mayor of Kyiv since 2014, Mr Klitschko set his heart on delivering new homes, high-paying jobs and a sustainable welfare system to the Ukrainian capital’s residents.
But now it pained him to warn the country’s “greatest asset”, its people, to stay away this winter.
“The risk of a humanitarian issue is pretty big, if they [Ukrainians] have an opportunity to stay outside of Ukraine this winter, please stay there,” he conceded.
“But our main goal is to bring our people back, the biggest value of Ukraine is our citizens and our people.”
Mr Klitschko now believed that Putin’s lack of success in capturing the eastern Donbas region has driven him to wreak vengeance on ordinary citizens.
“Russia doesn’t have success in the east of Ukraine. Right now, our armed forces have moved them back to the border of Ukraine,” he said.
“Putin attacks our infrastructure and presents it to his people as the destruction of Ukraine… He just wants a round of applause from them.”
“If anything, Putin is a liar. From the beginning, this is not a special military operation. It’s not a war – war has rules; you never touch women or children. It’s genocide.”
Mr Klitschko’s bravery in staying in Kyiv and supporting the defence of Ukraine’s capital has boosted his public support to an unparalleled height.
But there is no room for complacency, with residents wary of previously undelivered pledges before the invasion.
Kyiv resident Maria told The Telegraph: “In general, I don’t want to condemn anyone from our authorities now. I feel grateful for the actions directed at improving our lives during the war… But at the same time, I remember Mr Klitschko’s unfulfilled pledges from the past.”