Donors meet in Paris to get Ukraine through winter, bombing


PARIS — Dozens of countries and international organizations threw their weight and hundreds of millions of euros (dollars) behind a fresh and urgent push Tuesday to keep Ukraine powered, fed, warm and moving amid the onset of winter.

An international donor conference in Paris quickly racked up pledges of financial and in-kind support, a defiant response to sustained Russian aerial bombardments that have plunged millions of Ukrainian civilians into the deepening cold and dark by targeting critical infrastructure.

Ukraine’s president made an impassioned argument for why such aid could pressure Russia into pursuing peace, while donors at the conference strongly condemned the Kremlin’s savaging of power stations, water facilities and other sites the help fulfill basic needs.

French President Emmanuel Macron, the conference host, denounced Moscow’s bombardments of civilian targets as war crimes. He said the Kremlin is pounding civilian infrastructure because its troops suffered setbacks on the battlefield s and their “military weaknesses have been exposed to all.”

Russia “has chosen a cynical strategy, aiming to destroy civilian infrastructure in order to put Ukraine on its knees,” Macron said. “The objective is clear: Respond to military defeats by spreading terror among civilians, try to break the back as it can’t maintain the front.”

As temperatures plunge and snow falls, Ukraine’s needs are huge and pressing. Russia’s has repeatedly targeted the Ukrainian power grid and other critical infrastructure since early October. Successive waves of cruise missiles and exploding drones have destroyed about half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, the Kyiv government has said.

Ukraine’s prime minister says Russia is trying to create a fresh wave of refugees to Europe. Russia says that by striking civilian infrastructure, its military aim is to weaken Ukraine’s ability to defend itself and to disrupt the flow of Western weapons to the invaded country.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who addressed the Paris conference by video link, said some 12 million Ukrainians — roughly one-quarter of the country’s population before Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February — were living with power outages.

Zelenskyy argued that a concerted international effort to keep Ukraine’s utility systems working could help dissuade Moscow from further attacks and potentially force it to the negotiating table, and also prevent new waves of Ukrainians fleeing to elsewhere in Europe.

“Russia will have to think about how to stop the aggression,” Zelenskyy said. “Energy is one of the keys to this.”

In presenting a long list of immediate needs, Zelenskyy said Ukraine requires electricity generators as urgently as it also needs armored vehicles and armored vests for its troops.

Donor pledges quickly surged past the 400-million euro mark, the equivalent of more than $420 million, Macron’s office said. The total included 125 million euros ($131 million) worth of aid from host France.

The European Union’s chief executive, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, announced funding for the purchase of 30 million energy-saving light bulbs that Ukraine requested to reduce pressure on its power grid.

Von der Leyen said the Russian missile and drone bombardments were intended to kill Ukrainian morale but added: “Russia will fail because the Ukrainian spirit remains unyielding and unbroken.”

Without reliable power and other essential services, life for many is becoming a battle for survival.

“Globally, we need everything,” said Yevhen Kaplin, who heads Proliska, a Ukrainian humanitarian group providing cooking stoves, blankets and other aid to front-line regions and away from the battlefields.

With “the shelling, the missiles strikes and strikes on the infrastructure, we can’t say whether there will be gas tomorrow, we can’t predict whether to buy gas stoves or not,” he said. “Every day the picture changes.”

The Paris meeting — attended by 46 countries and 24 international organizations — also was putting in place a system to coordinate international aid for the winter so donors of equipment and other aid don’t double-up. A web-based platform will enable Ukraine to list its civilian aid needs and allow donors to show what they’ll supply in response.

Sweden was among the first nations attending the meeting to pledge more aid. Its foreign trade minister, Johan Forssell, announced a contribution of 55 million euros ($58 million) for humanitarian aid and the rebuilding of schools, hospitals and energy infrastructure.

As winter bites, “we need to do whatever we can to help improve conditions in Ukraine and also help them to fight off the Russian invaders,” he said. “We’re here for them as long as it takes.”

Varenytsia reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Leicester from Le Pecq, France. Joanna Kozlowska in London contributed.

Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine at:

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