KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Two U.S. senators met with families in Ukraine's capital Thursday and promised continued humanitarian support for the war-torn country as winter nears.
Democrat Chris Coons of Delaware and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio emphasized their commitment to the people of Ukraine while visiting a distribution center in Kyiv and speaking to families bracing for a dark, cold season with inadequate heating and electricity.
Ukrainian authorities say Russian strikes on energy infrastructure have knocked out 40% of the country's energy system, cutting off power for tens of thousands of people. Although crews make repairs as quickly as possible, it's not certain they will be able to keep up with the damage.
“Russia has responded to Ukraine's success on the battlefield by once again attacking not on the battlefield, but attacking the civilians of Ukraine. Trying to turn off the lights, turn off the heat, turn off the water. It's cowardly. It's brutal,” Portman said at a news conference. “We cannot let this stand.”
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the U.S. government has provided $1.5 billion in humanitarian assistance to millions of people in Ukraine and neighboring countries, according to the United States Agency for International Development.
Last month, the U.S. announced a $55 million, five-year investment in Ukraine’s heating infrastructure to support repairs and the maintenance of pipes and other equipment needed to heat homes, hospitals, schools and businesses.
Coons and Portman's trip came less than a week before the crucial U.S. midterm elections. Coons said the elections would not impact future support for Ukraine, whatever the outcome.
“I am confident that bipartisan robust American support for the fight of the Ukrainian people will continue in Congress,” he said. "The United States has long been a nation that fights for freedom, and this is the most important fight for freedom in the world today.”
Residents of southern Ukraine's city of Mykolaiv have been without water for a month. People on the front line of the fighting in the eastern city of Bakhmut live in constant fear of not having heating and electricity, said Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the regional administration of the Donetsk region.
Earlier this week, a barrage of Russian cruise missiles and drone strikes hit Kyiv, Kharkiv and other Ukrainian cities, knocking out water and power in several areas in apparent retaliation for what Moscow alleged was a Ukrainian attack on its Black Sea fleet in Crimea.
In Kyiv, water was cut off to 80% of the capital city's more than 3 million people. Residents lined up to fill water containers at various hand pumps around the city. Workers quickly repaired the damage, and water supplies resumed within about 12 hours.
“Thank god this water problem is in autumn, when it's not so cold. But we don’t know what the war will bring in winter,” Yulia Shypik, a Kyiv resident, said while waiting in line at a pump. “It’s the first time in our lives we have a situation like this we don’t know what will be tomorrow.”
Russia’s illegal annexation and declaration of martial law in four regions of Ukraine may make it more difficult for civilians to move in and out of those areas and for aid groups to reach vulnerable people, according to the United Nations.
Aid groups warn that while governments have given tens of billions of dollars to support Ukraine, people are displaced from their homes and living without reliable access to electricity, water and food.
"After eight months of a relentless war, they are preparing to face what may be the toughest winter of their lives,” Matthew Hollingworth, the emergency coordinator in Ukraine for the U.N.'s World Food Program, told The Associated Press.
Follow AP's coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Sam Mednick, The Associated Press