Operations, haircuts and food markets operate in darkness in Ukraine ahead of brutal winter

In Ukraine, 30 hours without light in water is not a dream but a reality. Residents are being forced to undergo operations, haircuts and shop by candlelight and torch, after Russian missile strikes devastated Ukraine’s electricity grid.

Rolling blackouts are common in Kyiv and other cities as Ukrainian teams work to repair the damage. On Monday, DTEK, Ukraine’s biggest private electricity producer, said it would reduce electricity supply by 60 per cent in Kyiv, where temperatures are around zero degrees.

Ukraine says the attacks on such infrastructure are tantamount to a war crime, while Russia claims it is hitting legitimate military targets.

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DNIPRO, UKRAINE - NOVEMBER 24: People meet their basic needs at "Points of Invincibility", special shelters for all basic services, after power cuts due to the war in Dnipro, Ukraine, on November 24, 2022. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced early Thursday that ??Points of Invincibility???? have been deployed across the country to provide basic services such as heat, electricity, and communication during power outages inflicted by Russian strikes. (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
People meet their basic needs at ‘Points of Invincibility’, such as this one in Dnipro (Photo: Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

For residents of Kyiv, collecting snow for drinking water and conducting life in the darkness has become the norm.

“I was without electricity for a total of 26 hours. It was turned on for four hours and turned off again. While there was no light, there was no heating,” said Anastasia Truska from Kyiv.

But the worst thing for her and her husband is the lack of contact with relatives and colleagues.

“Even calling is often impossible. We go in the evening and in the morning to catch Wi-Fi under the cafe, which continues to work on generators, so that we can at least write to our relatives,” says Ms Truska.

In addition to the lack of power and heat for homes, communication lines, the internet, water and things like elevators in high-rise blocks have stopped working.

The city response has been to set up nearly 1000 “Points of Invincibility” in Kyiv and elsewhere across Ukraine. The specially equipped tents are around the size of a classroom and provide a space for people to charge their mobile devices, warm up, get cold and warm water, mobile communication, internet and even first aid. Each point will be able to receive a maximum of 500 people at the same time, regardless of the time of their stay.

As of last week over 67,000 people had used them according to AP estimates and they are designed as a stopgap until normal services resume. So far, the main drawback for residents is that they can be difficult to find due to their locations on an online map. Residents are told to write down addresses in a notebook when the internet is accessible.

Elsewhere, food market stall holders are running shops by candlelight, while housing associations are advertising firewood for those able to leave the city.

“Those who can leave the city for the winter to the villages can buy firewood for their house in the state online store,” said the head of the Ukrainian company MDL House service, Mykola Bumazhniy, which provides management of high-rise buildings in 14 cities in Ukraine.

KYIV, UKRAINE - NOVEMBER 30: People shop for food at an outdoor market in central Kyiv on November 30, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Ukrainian officials expect a new wave of Russian bombing this week, with previous rounds targeting critical infrastructure and causing massive water and power cuts, including in the capital Kyiv. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
People shop for food at an outdoor market in central Kyiv. Some vendors are using candles by night to light their stalls (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

The provision of medical care is more complicated. During a power outage, dozens of critically ill patients are caught on the operating tables in Ukrainian hospitals.

One such patient, 23-year-old Ruslan, is at the Mechnikov Regional Hospital in Dnipropetrovsk. On November 23 he had to undergo an extremely difficult operation at the same time as Russian rocket attacks struck Ukrainian infrastructure.

Anesthesiologists and surgeons put on a flashlight and still performed the operation.

“During the complete absence of light, doctors Yaroslav Medvedyk and Ksenia Denisova continued their work. Extremely tense nerves, terrible fatigue, but Ruslan survived,” said Serhiy Ryzhenko, general director of the Dnipropetrovsk Regional Clinical Hospital.

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Others try to carry on their businesses as best they can. Maria and Pavel Mashkiny are from the city of Makeivka, Donetsk. There they grew up, got an education, started a family and worked as hairdressers. In 2014, after the siege of the Donetsk region, they decided to move to Kyiv.

“I can’t say that when we moved to Kyiv it was easy, either. We had to work hard for six years to save up money and think about opening our own salon,” said Maria Mashkina. Opening day was scheduled for February 25, the day after the invasion began.

The pair have carried on regardless. Maria does haircuts and hair colouring for women, while her husband Pavel cuts mens’ hair. They wear military headlamps and treat their customers with warm drinks when there is no heating.

“We are motivated by the emotions of people – this is everything for which we live and work every day. We maintain our morale and that of our clients. After all, beauty will save the world!” said Maria.

“Nothing will break us!” said Maria Mashkina.

The spirit of defiance is regarded as a saviour by many in Ukraine who continue to joke and believe in victory over Russia.

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