Ukraine’s Western allies on Tuesday pledged an additional billion euros ($1.1 billion) in winter emergency aid, in response to pleas from President Volodymyr Zelensky to help the country withstand Russia’s attack on its energy grid.
Some 70 countries and international organizations gathered in Paris for a meeting to enable Ukrainians to “get through this winter,” French President Emmanuel Macron said.
In a video message, Zelensky said Ukraine needs about €800 million in short-term aid for its battered energy sector.
“Of course it is a very high amount, but the cost is less than the cost of a possible blackout,” Zelensky told the conference via video link.
Pledges for the energy sector include €400 million of the funds raised on Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said.
Ukraine needs spare parts for repairs, high-capacity generators, extra gas and more electricity imports, Zelensky said.
“Generators have become as necessary as armored vehicles and body armor,” he said.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said 40 to 50% of the country’s power grid was out of order due to Russia’s attacks.
Many parts of the country only have power for a few hours a day.
Another 1.5 million people were without power in southern Odessa this weekend after attacks by Russian drones.
“They want to throw us into darkness and they will fail, thanks to our partners around the world,” Shmygal told deputies.
On the battlefield Tuesday, local authorities in the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol said pro-Kiev forces had used explosives to damage a strategic bridge.
Melitopol is an important transport hub for Russian forces in the Zaporizhzhia region and is critical to Ukraine’s hopes for the liberation of the south of the country.
The bridge in the eastern suburbs “was damaged by terrorists,” Vladimir Rogov, a Moscow-installed regional official, told the Telegram messaging app.
He did not specify the extent of the damage, but images on his social media accounts showed a center section of the bridge had collapsed.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, Belarus conducted a surprise inspection of its armed forces, sparking fears of a possible escalation of the conflict.
Belarus is a close ally of Moscow, but Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly said he has no intention of sending Belarusian troops to Ukraine.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Shmyhal also said on Tuesday that the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, has agreed to send permanent teams to monitor the country’s nuclear power plants.
They are expected to take up positions in the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia factory, a hotbed of fighting that has been a source of global concern in recent months.
A deal to demilitarize the site, which would see both sides withdraw their troops, has so far proved impossible despite international diplomatic efforts.
Tuesday’s conference in Paris entitled “Standing with the Ukraine People” also launched a new so-called Paris Mechanism to coordinate civilian aid to Ukraine.
The digital platform, announced by G7 leaders on Monday, will allow Ukraine to lay out its requirements and allow international donors to coordinate their responses in real time.
“A large number of countries will use this mechanism – all members of the European Union, but it will go beyond other partners, including non-European partners,” Colonna told reporters.
A similar military aid platform exists, coordinated through meetings of Ukraine’s western allies at the US-run Ramstein military base in Germany.
Macron co-hosted Tuesday’s conference with Zelensky’s wife Olena, giving the French leader a chance to reaffirm his support for Kiev.
He condemned Russia’s “cynical” and “cowardly” attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure.
“These attacks … which Russia openly admits are intended to break the resistance of the Ukrainian people are war crimes,” Macron said in his opening address.
“Without a doubt, they violate the most fundamental principles of humanitarian law,” he said.
“These acts are unacceptable and will not go unpunished.”
The French president has angered some of his allies in Kiev in the past, most notably in June when he said “we must not humiliate Russia”.