Ukraine live briefing: WHO says winter ‘life-threatening’ for millions; IAEA finds damage at Zaporizhzhia plant

Ukrainian soldiers fire artillery at Russian positions near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine on Nov. 20. (Libkos/AP)

Ukraine’s harsh winter will be life-threatening for millions of people as rolling blackouts and poor health infrastructure exacerbate the war’s humanitarian crisis, the World Health Organization said on Monday.

The organization’s Europe director, Hans Kluge, issued the chilling warning from Kyiv, where he said Ukraine’s health system “is facing its darkest days in the war so far.”

“The devastating energy crisis, the deepening mental health emergency, constraints on humanitarian access and the risk of viral infections will make this winter a formidable test for the Ukrainian health system and the Ukrainian people,” Kluge said.

Temperatures in Ukraine often drop below freezing in the winter — and for weeks, Russia has targeted the country’s energy infrastructure with missiles and drones.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

1. Key developments

  • Key equipment at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, including its six reactors, remained intact Monday despite heavy shelling at the site over the weekend, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Monday. A team of IAEA experts toured the plant to assess any potential damage from “one of the most serious such incidents at the facility in recent months,” the agency’s director general, Rafael Grossi, said in a statement.
  • Ukraine is urging residents of newly liberated Kherson to evacuate to safer regions for the winter, citing security and infrastructure problems. In a Telegram post on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk called on the most vulnerable residents in particular to consider evacuation and said the government would assist them and provide accommodation.
  • Heavy fighting continues in Ukraine’s east, with the “fiercest battles” taking place in the Donetsk region, President Volodymyr Zelensky said. The nearly nine-month-old conflict is showing no signs of abating as winter approaches and both sides gear up to continue the fight well into next year. “Little by little we are moving forward with battles,” Zelensky said. “We are holding the line, consistently and very calculatedly destroying the potential of the occupiers.”
  • The Kremlin said Monday that its goal is not regime change in Ukraine. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the comment in a news briefing after a Russian lawmaker, Konstantin Kosachev, told a government-owned newspaper that the normalization of relations between Moscow and Kyiv could happen only “after a change of power in Ukraine.”

2. Battleground updates

  • Russian forces over the past day have continued to launch “offensive operations in the Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and western Donetsk directions,” according to the Institute for the Study of War think tank. The General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks around Bakhmut and several surrounding settlements in the region, while a Russian TV network run by the Defense Ministry claimed Ukrainian forces suffered heavy losses around Bakhmut. The Washington Post could not verify either side’s claims.
  • “Intense artillery exchanges” have been reported during the past week around Svatove in northwestern Luhansk, Britain’s Defense Ministry said. Russian forces, which retreated from Kherson city to the east bank of the Dnieper River this month, can more easily defend the “southwestern front line” from there, the ministry said. This makes the area around Svatove, which Russia controls and likely sees as a priority, “a more vulnerable operational flank” for Russian forces, it added.
  • In his nightly address on Monday, Zelensky said electricity in Kyiv, Odessa, Vinnytsia and other regions remains an issue. He urged regional and local officials to continue telling residents about “rational consumption of electricity,” adding that people should be “very frugal” with electricity during the day.

3. Global impact

  • Poland accepted an offer from Germany to deploy Patriot missile defense systems on its territory after a missile landed in Polish territory last week, killing two people and raising fears of a spillover of the war into NATO territory. German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht told German media outlets: “We have offered Poland support in securing airspace — with our Eurofighters and with Patriot air defense systems.” Her Polish counterpart, Mariusz Blaszczak, said he would propose that the systems, which are designed to intercept missiles, be stationed at the border with Ukraine.
  • Spain will send police officers to Ukraine to help investigate allegations of war crimes committed since Russia’s invasion, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Madrid. Sanchez also said that a new facility for the training of Ukrainian troops will open at the end of the month in Toledo, in central Spain.
  • More than 100 million euros ($102 million) were raised Monday at a donors conference for Ukraine’s neighbor, Moldova, which faces an energy crisis as winter approaches, French President Emmanuel Macron said. The country has been deeply affected by the war because it is “dependent on Russian energy supplies” and “has a part of its territory controlled by Russian soldiers,” a French diplomat told journalists, according to Reuters — a likely reference to Transnistria, a breakaway republic in eastern Moldova backed by Moscow.
  • VNG, the German gas trader, is close to striking a deal to receive funding as it looks to replace Russian gas with alternatives that are more costly, Reuters reported, citing two unnamed sources familiar with the situation. Since the war in Ukraine began months ago, several European countries have sought to reduce dependence on Russian gas, particularly ahead of the winter months.

4. From our correspondents

Angry families say Russian conscripts thrown to front lines unprepared: Relatives of Russians conscripted to fight in Ukraine are speaking out in increasing numbers about poor conditions and the lack of preparedness they say soldiers face on the front lines, report Robyn Dixon and Natalia Abbakumova.

The relatives, who are risking retaliation from Russian authorities for their outspokenness about a war the Kremlin continues to call a “special military operation,” have said in videos posted online and in media interviews that recently mobilized soldiers have been deployed into battle with little training, poor equipment and often no clear orders. High casualties, military setbacks and reports of poor conditions for Russian soldiers could be contributing to waning support for the war in Russia.