WARSAW, Poland — A Ukrainian bishop has warned of a humanitarian disaster caused by Russian attacks on his country’s power and water supplies and predicted a “huge new wave of refugees” desperate to survive winter.
Auxiliary Bishop Jan Sobilo of Kharkiv-Zaporizhzhia said that while front-line fighting continues, cities behind the lines face constant attacks. “It’s worst at night, when people go to sleep not knowing if their apartment block will be hit,” he said.
“Many who never previously considered leaving are now in western Ukraine or have left the country, and I think another huge wave of refugees will soon converge on Poland and other countries. If there’s no water, gas or electricity in their homes, how can they stay there?”
The Zaporizhzhia-based bishop spoke as Russian strikes continued against civilian targets in Kyiv and other cities, wrecking infrastructure and energy supplies in the approach to winter.
On Oct. 21, he said some parts of his eastern city were already experiencing power and water cuts, sometimes for hours, while many residents left the city at night for safety.
“Multistory buildings have been smashed, with people blown to bits in their homes as they slept,” Bishop Sobilo said.
“The whole civilian and social infrastructure is being shot up, including energy installations supplying power to smaller outlets. Some towns closer to the front line haven’t had gas or electricity for half a year.”
Ukrainian government sources said hundreds of missile and drone attacks were recorded in mid-October against dozens of towns and cities, including in the Dnipro and Donetsk regions, where Ukrainian forces have recaptured swathes of territory in a two-month counteroffensive.
Meanwhile, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed Oct. 20 a third of Ukraine’s power stations were now destroyed, leaving over a thousand urban areas without electricity.
Bishop Sobilo said his Zaporizhzhia curia was receiving a weekly supply truck from the Catholic De Paul International charity, as well as aid from the Rome-based Missionaries of the Holy Family. These supplies were passed on to needy people, including those in Russian-occupied areas.
However, he added that half of Zaporizhzhia’s population of 750,000 had now fled, and he said parish life was dwindling as fewer Catholics attended Mass.
“Many have gone in search of a safer place to spend the winter, while transport is now intermittent and there are fears air raid sirens will sound and they’ll come under fire,” the bishop said.
“People are tired and fearful, knowing remaining power supplies could suddenly be disrupted, leaving them struggling to survive cold and hunger. Those now leaving aren’t looking to improve their lives — just to find any means of survival.”
In an Oct. 19 Italian TV interview, Bishop Pavlo Honcharuk of Kharkiv-Zaporizhzhia said his own city, Kharkiv, 20 miles from the Russian border, now resembled Sarajevo during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. He appealed for more humanitarian aid, with temperatures set to drop to minus 30.