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Ukrainians face winter in Kyiv without electricity, heat and water


Much of Ukraine is still without electricity, heat and water two days after Russian cruise missiles hit the power grid and water supplies. The government has set up thousands of generator-powered shelters around the country where people can warm up and charge their phones. NPR's Joanna Kakissis visited a shelter in a suburb of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The city of Boryspil is known as the home for the country's main international airport, which stopped operating after Russia invaded Ukraine nine months ago. Now, homes and businesses here have gone dark too because of more Russian attacks. Twenty-year-old Ilya Letychenko wore his coat to bed after his apartment building lost power and heat.

ILYA LETYCHENKO: When I wake up, it was so cold. And I go to work, and it's cold, too.

KAKISSIS: At work, he pulled out the gas cooker, and his co-workers added candles to customer tables.

LETYCHENKO: By gas cooker and candle, give us a light - very romantic.

KAKISSIS: Romantic but cold - Letychenko says he was freezing by the time he finished his shift. And his phone was dead, too. So he walked around the corner to a pop-up tent warmed by a wood stove and powered by a generator. A dozen people are inside, huddled around the stove, sipping hot tea. Halyna Dovhan sits next to a long wooden table filled with cell phones and power banks plugged into outlets connected to a generator.

HALYNA DOVHAN: (Through interpreter) Now we are charging our phones because everyone has things to do, like our work. Everything is in our phones.

KAKISSIS: She manages a meat-packing plant. Her 7-year-old son Denis is also charging his tablet, which he uses for school and games.

DENIS: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: He tells me, something was damaged by the Russian army. Across the tent, 15-year-old Yehor Kononenko is charging his power bank. He says he was bundled in blankets at home. He found out about this center on Instagram.

What did the post say?

YEHOR KONONENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: "It said that I could keep warm here and charge my phone," he says. The tent was put up in a day by first responders, including the Yevhen Lysenko, who sleeps on a foldout chair during his 24-hour shift.

YEVHEN LYSENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: "We keep it warm, and we keep it clean here," he says, "so people feel comfortable."

There are more than 300 shelters offering heat, electricity and drinking water in the greater Kyiv region. The city opened an additional 300 warming centers on Friday. The government is rushing to fix the power grid before more Russian strikes hit.

OLGA ZYKOVA: The winter has come already. Our streets are with snow.

KAKISSIS: Deputy finance minister Olga Zykova says she is coordinating with the energy ministry to source new transformers for the energy grid.

ZYKOVA: We are keeping, you know, this post-Soviet type of transformers. This is one of the problems we face. And we are all trying to support each other internally. So we are working as one big team.

KAKISSIS: Back at the shelter, Ilya Letychenko, the young restaurant worker, says Ukrainians remain united no matter how much the Russians bomb the country.

LETYCHENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: "We are stockpiling gas heaters and candles," he says, "and we are going to survive."

Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Boryspil, Ukraine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.