KHARKIV, UKRAINE (Reuters) – Olga Kobzar, 70, lives alone in Kharkiv, Ukraine, where she is surviving the coming harsh winter in a room in her abandoned apartment complex after being shelled by Russian soldiers I am trying to do. In the home, there is no electricity, running water, or central heating, so he uses the gas stove in the kitchen to keep himself warm.
Kobzar lives in the Saltyuka district, about 30 kilometers from the Russian border. Winter temperatures can drop to minus 20 degrees Celsius, with officials warning it will be the toughest for decades.
Mr Kobzar is the only one left in the housing complex. Nearby homes were bombarded and engulfed in flames. She escaped damage to her home, but missed a basic lifeline.
“I can’t believe I’m leaving here,” said Kobzar, looking at the shelves of old books and a portrait of her husband. She believes her late husband will keep her safe.
Seven months of war in Ukraine has wreaked havoc on energy grids and residential areas. Officials fear Russia will target critical infrastructure before winter. It asks citizens to stockpile everything from firewood to generators.
“There is nothing we can do. It all depends on where the missile hits and what it destroys. The invaders want us to have a cold, dark winter,” said Terekhov, mayor Kharkiv.
Urban residential areas include central heating from natural gas power plants. But in apartment complexes where windows and walls have been destroyed, pipes can freeze, damaging the area’s central heating system.
50,000 buildings and homes were damaged during the Russian invasion, and 350 thousand of the country’s heating installations, including large ones, were damaged, officials said on Monday.
Just a few blocks from Mr. Kobzar’s home, priest Vyacheslav Koyun helps an elderly neighbor close a broken window so they can use the heat.
“People were worried and most of the residents left. There are only about five people living in one block. Most of them are pensioners. We couldn’t let pensioners move. That’s not ok.” and Ko Yun.
Many citizens bought electric heaters because they could rely on electricity if the central heating failed. But experts say mass use of electric heaters could put pressure on power supplies.
The Department of Energy has refrained from releasing detailed data on the state of infrastructure, citing wartime conditions. Probably to avoid panic. But officials issued a rare statement Thursday about infrastructure damage, saying two substations in the south were “totally destroyed” by Russian attacks in late September.
Last week, parts of Kharkov were plunged into darkness for hours after Russian missiles hit a power plant. This has happened at least twice in the last month alone.
“The damage that has been done to the energy grid so far is enormous,” Energy Minister Harshchenko said in an interview with Reuters last month.
Even in the western city of Lviv, largely untouched by war damage, the mayor is urging citizens to stockpile firewood in case of chaos.
Ukraine, which stopped buying gas from Russia in 2015 and now buys from European countries, stores natural gas in facilities in the west.
Analysts say Ukraine will struggle to maintain pressure on its natural gas pipelines and supply gas to all regions if Russia, which has escalated its conflict with the West, stops natural gas shipments through Ukraine.
Kharina Sachenko, 76, who lives on the outskirts of Kyiv, worries about getting gas. The region has not been hit by missiles in recent months.
“I bought firewood, but it’s not enough for long-term use. In the early 1990s, we used to burn coal, but these days we can’t even buy coal,” said Sachenko.
Kobzar, who lives in Kharkiv, has more worries than the cold. “If it gets icy and cold, I can stay with someone. The most important thing is that my son is healthy and that he comes back to life. Other than that, I don’t need anything else.”
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth, Reporting by Pavel Polityuk)