Millions of lives at risk as winter bites in war-torn Ukraine

Dmytro Gorshkov, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Nov 22 2022 05:15 AM | Updated as of Nov 22 2022 05:35 AM

A local resident prays in front of soldiers' graves on the Day of Dignity and Freedom at the Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv, western Ukraine on November 21, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. YURIY DYACHYSHYN / AFP
A local resident prays in front of soldiers' graves on the Day of Dignity and Freedom at the Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv, western Ukraine on November 21, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. YURIY DYACHYSHYN / AFP

KYIV, Ukraine - Millions of Ukrainian lives are at risk this winter as the country's power grid struggles under a barrage of Russian attacks, the World Health Organization warned on Monday. 

Moscow has been targeting energy infrastructure, launching missile strikes that have left homes across the country without electricity as temperatures plunge.

The damage is having "knock-out effects" on Ukraine's health system, WHO regional director for Europe Hans Kluge told reporters.

"This winter will be about survival," he warned, saying it would be "life-threatening for millions of people in Ukraine".

Up to three million Ukrainians could leave their homes in search of warmth and safety, he said.

"They will face unique health challenges, including respiratory infections such as Covid-19, pneumonia, influenza, and the serious risk of diphtheria and measles in (an) under-vaccinated population," he added.

Meanwhile Ukraine said it had discovered four Russian torture sites in the southern city of Kherson, which Moscow's forces pulled out of earlier this month leaving behind a trail of misery and destruction.

It was the only regional capital Moscow's forces had won after nearly nine months of fighting in Ukraine.

Kyiv accused withdrawing forces of rendering key infrastructure useless, including water and electricity stations.

On Monday, Kyiv said Moscow had run a network of torture blacksites in the city, building on claims that Russian authorities had perpetrated abuses on a "horrific" scale there.

"Together with police officers and experts, (prosecutors) conducted inspections of four premises where, during the capture of the city, the occupiers illegally detained people and brutally tortured them," the Ukrainian prosecutor general's office said in a statement.

Russian forces had also set up "pseudo-law enforcement agencies" at detention centres in Kherson as well as in a police station, it said.

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'Horrific' torture 

The remains of rubber truncheons, a wooden bat and "a device with which the occupiers tortured civilians with electricity" were found, it added.

Russian authorities also left behind paperwork documenting the administration of the detention sites, the prosecutor's office said.

The allegations are just the latest from Kyiv against Russian troops, who have been accused of running similar abuse operations elsewhere.

Last week Ukrainian ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets said Russian forces were responsible for "horrific" torture in Kherson, saying dozens were abused in detention and more were killed.

AFP spoke last week to a Kherson resident who said he spent weeks in detention where he was beaten and electrocuted by Russian and pro-Russian forces.

But the Kremlin has also come forward with allegations of abuses perpetrated by Ukrainian troops, vowing to track down and punish those it said were responsible for the "brutal" murder of nearly a dozen Russian servicemen who were allegedly surrendering.

"Without a doubt, Russia will itself search for those who committed this crime. They must be found and punished," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

'Methodical murder' 

Peskov was referring to video footage that began circulating on social media last week and which Moscow claims is compelling evidence that Kyiv's troops murdered nearly a dozen Russian soldiers in east Ukraine.

The Russian defense ministry said last week that the videos showed the "deliberate and methodical" killing of over 10 servicemen.

Ukraine has denied that its forces killed prisoners of war, saying the soldiers were shot following a false surrender.

The UN said last week it had been made aware of the videos and was looking into them. A report it released earlier last week said there were credible allegations of abuses committed by both sides.

Russia's Human Rights Council said the alleged executions took place in Makiivka, a village in the eastern Lugansk region, which the Ukrainian army said it had recaptured last week.

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