Kyiv winter 'apocalypse' possible says mayor Klitschko, but urges calm

KYIV (Reuters) -Kyiv's mayor on Wednesday warned of an "apocalypse" scenario for the Ukrainian capital this winter if Russian air strikes on infrastructure continue and said although there was no need for people to evacuate now, they should be ready to do so.

"Kyiv might lose power, water, and heat supply. The apocalypse might happen, like in Hollywood films, when it's not possible to live in homes considering the low temperature," Mayor Vitali Klitschko told Reuters in an interview.

"But we are fighting and doing everything we can to make sure that this does not happen," the former world heavyweight boxing champion said, raising his booming voice to drive the point home.

According to Klitschko, 152 civilian residents of Kyiv have been killed and 678 buildings destroyed since the beginning of Russia's invasion on Feb. 24, but the city faces fresh tribulations this winter as Russia regularly pounds Ukraine's power grid with missiles.

The picture is bleak: Kyiv lacks enough heated shelters to take in all 3.6 million residents in the event of complete outages and people should be ready to evacuate if the situation worsens, Klitschko said. Nearly 500 autonomous heating hubs had been prepared "but for a city of 3 million, 500 points is nothing," he said.

Klitschko painted a picture of a harsh future ahead for the more than 1,500-year-old city. He sketched out one possible scenario in which it could be left without central heating at a time when temperatures can fall as low as -15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit).

"If electricity supply continues to be absent while outside temperatures remain low, we will unfortunately be forced to drain water from buildings," he said.

"Otherwise the water can freeze and break the entire water supply network, and buildings will then be totally unfit for further use."

Klitschko urged residents to prepare emergency supplies of food and water, as well as to have clothes and documents ready for a quick departure if the heating supply is turned off.

However, he said there was presently no need to evacuate as the city only had a 20% power deficit and conditions remained stable.

"Right now there is heating in Kyiv, there is electricity… everything works, there is no need at present (for evacuation)," Klitschko said, but added residents should be ready for "various scenarios."

Asked what items the city needed most at present the mayor, without missing a beat, said "a new air defence system." However, he added that "tens of thousands" more generators and industrial fan heaters were also required.

"Our needs are currently quite significant, and that is just in the city of Kyiv … In other cities, towns and villages, this (deficit) is rather large."

Klitschko said that the economic effect of the war on Kyiv, which he said was hard to assess but could total "tens of billions of dollars", had hobbled the administration's ability to maintain the city.

"As of today, there is no budget for development, we are not fixing the roads, we are not investing in the development of our city … all the money goes on the protection (of our city)."

Klitschko dismissed criticism last week by Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy about preparations for winter, saying he believed it was driven by politics and that it looked "strange" to foreign governments that are supporting Ukraine.

Klitschko, now in his ninth year as mayor, was seen as one of Zelenskiy's highest-profile political opponents before the Russian invasion.

"I am convinced that politics is behind this, because representatives of one political group began to run around trying to find faults (in Kyiv)," Klitschko said.

(Reporting by Max Hunder; editing by Tom Balmforth, Timothy Heritage and Grant McCool)

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