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Donors gather in Paris to help Ukraine weather winter and bombardment

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PARIS — Dozens of countries and international organizations backed a new and urgent push on Tuesday to keep Ukraine energized, fed, warm and moving in the face of sustained Russian aerial bombardment that has plunged millions into cold and darkness in winter.

An international donors’ conference in Paris was expected to raise and help coordinate tens of millions of dollars in aid – financial and in-kind – to be urgently channeled to Ukraine in the weeks and months to come to help its beleaguered civilian population survive freezing winter temperatures and long nights.

French President Emmanuel Macron, in an opening speech at the conference, called Moscow’s bombing of civilian targets a war crime. He said the Kremlin was attacking civilian infrastructure because its troops suffered battlefield setbacks.

Moscow’s intention is to “plunge the Ukrainian people into despair”, Macron said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, speaking via video link, said 12 million Ukrainians were suffering from power outages. He said the country needed power generators as urgently as it also needed armored vehicles and armored vests for its troops.

As temperatures drop and snow falls, Ukraine’s needs are immense and pressing. Successive waves of missile and drone attacks since October have destroyed about half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, according to the Kyiv government. He says Russia is trying to create a new wave of refugees to Europe. Russia says the strike on civilian infrastructure is aimed at weakening Ukraine’s ability to defend itself.

In Ukraine, life for many becomes a battle for survival.

“Overall, we need everything,” said Yevhen Kaplin, who leads a Ukrainian humanitarian group, Proliska, providing stoves, blankets and other aid to frontline and away-from-battlefield areas.

With “the bombings, the missile strikes and the strikes on the infrastructures, we cannot say if there will be gas tomorrow, we cannot predict whether to buy gas stoves or not”, a- he said. “Every day the picture changes.”

Specifically, the Paris conference should focus on helping Ukraine meet its water, electricity, food, health and transportation needs over the next few months until the end of March. French organizers of the meeting say the aid campaign will also send a message to the Kremlin that the international community stands with Ukraine against Russian aerial bombardments that have sacked Ukraine’s electricity grid and other key infrastructure.

Sweden was among the first nations present at the meeting to pledge more aid. Its foreign trade minister, Johan Forssell, announced a contribution of 55 million euros ($58 million) for humanitarian aid and the reconstruction of schools, hospitals and energy infrastructure.

As winter bites, “we must do everything we can to help improve conditions in Ukraine and also help them fight the Russian invaders,” he said. “We are here for them for as long as it takes.”

The meeting also aims to set up a system for coordinating international aid this winter, similar to how Western arms-contributing nations coordinate their military support. An online platform will allow Ukraine to list its civilian aid needs and donors to show what they will provide in response.

The French organizers of the conference announce that they expect the participation of more than 45 nations and 20 international institutions.

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Varenytsia reported from Kyiv, Ukraine. AP reporter John Leicester in Le Pecq, France, contributed.

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Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine at: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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