Ukraine’s Western allies pledged an additional 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in emergency winter aid on Tuesday, responding to pleas from President Volodymyr Zelensky to help the country withstand a Russian assault on its energy grid.
French President Emmanuel Macron said that some 70 countries and international organizations had gathered in Paris for a meeting aimed at enabling Ukrainians to “get through this winter”.
In a video message, Zelensky said Ukraine needed about 800 million euros in aid in the short term for its ailing energy sector.
“Of course, a very high amount, but the cost is less than the cost of a possible power outage,” Zelensky told the conference via video link.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said pledges to the energy sector included 400 million euros of the funds raised on Tuesday.
Zelensky said Ukraine needed spare parts for repairs, high-capacity generators, extra gas, as well as increased electricity imports.
“Generators have become as essential as armored vehicles and bulletproof vests,” he said.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that 40 to 50% of the country’s electricity grid is out of order due to the Russian strikes.
Many areas of the country have power for only a few hours a day.
Another 1.5 million people in southern Odessa lost electricity over the weekend after Russian drone attacks.
“They want to put us in the dark and that will fail thanks to our partners around the world,” Schmigal told delegates.
On the battlefield on Tuesday, local authorities in the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol said pro-Kiev forces used explosives to destroy a strategic bridge.
Melitopol is an important transportation hub for Russian forces in the Zaporizhia region and key to Ukraine’s hopes of liberating the country’s south.
Vladimir Rogov, a regional official installed by Moscow on messaging app Telegram, said the bridge in the eastern suburb was “destroyed by terrorists”.
He did not specify the extent of the damage, but the photos on his social media accounts showed the collapse of the middle part of the bridge.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, Belarus conducted a surprise inspection of its armed forces, raising fears of a possible escalation in the conflict.
Belarus is a close ally of Moscow, but Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly said he has no plans to send Belarusian troops into Ukraine.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Shmyhal also said on Tuesday that the International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has agreed to send permanent teams to monitor the country’s nuclear plants.
They are expected to take up positions at the Russian-controlled Zaporozhye plant, a hotbed of fighting, which has been a source of global concern in recent months.
Reaching an agreement to demilitarize the site, which would lead to both sides withdrawing forces, has so far proved impossible despite international diplomatic efforts.
Tuesday’s conference in Paris, entitled “Standing with the Ukrainian People,” saw the launch of the so-called new Paris Mechanism to coordinate civilian aid to Ukraine.
The digital platform, announced by G7 leaders on Monday, will enable Ukraine to list its requirements and allow international donors to coordinate their responses in real time.
“This mechanism will be used by a large number of countries – all members of the European Union, but it will extend to other partners, including non-European partners,” Colonna told reporters.
A similar platform exists for military aid, which is coordinated via meetings of Ukraine’s western allies at the US-run Ramstein military base in Germany.
Macron hosted Tuesday’s conference alongside Zelensky’s wife Olena, giving the French leader a chance to reaffirm his support for Kiev.
He condemned the “cynical” and “cowardly” Russian attacks on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure.
“These strikes … which Russia openly admits aim to break the resistance of the Ukrainian people, are war crimes,” Macron said in his opening remarks.
“They are without any doubt violating the most basic principles of humanitarian law,” he said.
These actions are intolerable and will not go unpunished.”
The French president has angered some of his allies in Kyiv in the past, most notably in June when he said, “We must not insult Russia.”