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Russian cruise missiles have smashed Ukraine's power grid and water system

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Russian cruise missiles have smashed Ukraine's power grid and water system this week, causing outages at hospitals and making everyday activities, including cooking, often impossible. Just in the past day, the strikes killed at least 10 people around the country. NPR's Joanna Kakissis joins us from Kyiv.

Joanna, thanks so much for being with us.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: And what's it like there with rolling blackouts?

KAKISSIS: So the rolling blackouts are actually an improvement because more than half of the city actually did not have power just yesterday. And people have been managing by using backup generators. You know, you can hear the sound of the generators all over the city, including outside NPR's own office. But there aren't enough generators. So other European countries and the World Health Organization - they're promising to donate more.

People are also using wood-burning stoves to warm up or to cook. I've met people who say they're wearing thick sweaters or even their coats to bed or wrapping themselves and their children in extra blankets. Everyone is adapting, including doctors in a Kyiv hospital specializing in heart surgery. Earlier this week, the power went out during a 14-year-old boy's open-heart surgery, which just infuriated cardiac surgeon Borys Todurov. He posted a video online of his colleagues operating with headlamps.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BORYS TODUROV: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: He's saying, "the electricity is off, and the generators need some time to start. And so this is how we work now."

SIMON: What's the Ukrainian government trying to do to help people get through this period?

KAKISSIS: So the government is trying to help. For example, they are opening up shelters around the country where people can warm up, where they can charge their phones, maybe even have a hot meal or a shower. I stopped by one of these shelters in a suburb of Kyiv. That's where I met 69-year-old Nadia Chelushkina, who is from the recently liberated city of Kherson. She was charging her phone here, even though the service is still very spotty.

NADIA CHELUSHKINA: (Through interpreter) I can't make phone calls. Sometimes I can send messages. Sometimes they get through. Sometimes they don't.

KAKISSIS: And just outside the city, we also saw a crew working on fiber optic cables in the freezing sleet. They said they would be working for at least two more days.

SIMON: What's morale like, Johanna?

KAKISSIS: So, Scott, morale is actually very good. You know, many Ukrainians I spoke with seemed to shrug off their own hardship and say, look, we will find some way to make this work because the Russians have thrown much tougher things at us, and we have survived. Today, for example, people here - Ukrainians are marking 90 years since the Holodomor, which was a manmade mass famine.

It refers to Soviet leader Josef Stalin's forced collectivization of agriculture between 1932 and 1933, when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. Ukrainians resisted this collectivization back then because they wanted control of production. So Stalin responded by withholding food, by starving people, leading to the death of more than 4 and 7 million Ukrainians in less than two years. So Ukrainians say, look, it doesn't matter who is in the Kremlin, whether it's Stalin or Vladimir Putin. The policies are just as damaging. And we survived then, and we will survive now.

SIMON: NPR's Joanna Kakissis in Kyiv. Thanks so much.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.