Mayor warns Kyiv could be without heat all winter; Biden, Russia say they are open to talks: Ukraine updates

Russia's battering of Kyiv's energy infrastructure could result in large swaths of the city of 3 million people being unable to heat homes and businesses this winter, the city's leader warned Thursday.

Mayor Vitali Klitschko, speaking at a security forum, said if areas of Kyiv have no heat or water for 24 hours at temperatures below freezing, heating systems will need to be drained.

"This means that until spring, it will be very difficult," Klitschko said. "In a very short period of time, the temperature in the apartments may not differ much from the outside."

Rolling blackouts are already a way of life in the city. Klitschko urged residents to be prepared for worst-case scenarios, suggesting they could move in with family or friends who have heat if winter in Kyiv becomes unbearable.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told Kyiv residents that "trying months lie ahead,'' but also voiced hope for a break from the assault when he said, “Signs are accumulating that (Russia) needs a pause at all costs.” Moscow's supply of missiles is believed to be running low.

Other developments:

►About one-third of the southern city of Kherson, reclaimed by the Ukrainians nearly three weeks ago, was left without power Thursday by continued Russian shelling. Authorities had recently restored electricity.

►Russia postponed a round of nuclear arms control talks with the United States scheduled for this week because "it’s impossible to discuss strategic stability nowadays while ignoring everything that is happening in Ukraine," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

►Air raid warning sirens blanketed Ukraine on Thursday except for Russian-occupied Crimea, Ukraine's ICTV said. Russia has been battering numerous Ukraine cities almost daily since the war began.

►The European Union has proposed the establishment of a U.N.-backed court to investigate possible Russian war crimes in Ukraine. The Kremlin said it won't accept the court's legitimacy.

Biden, Russia say they're open to peace talks

On a day when a top Kremlin official cracked open the door to a negotiated end to the war in Ukraine, President Joe Biden said he'd be willing to meet with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

Neither side expressed optimism that either a gathering of the leaders or peace talks would happen anytime soon, but it was a rare indication of mutual willingness to find a solution to a conflict that began with the Russian invasion Feb. 24.

In a news conference Thursday in Washington where he and French President Emmanuel Macron assailed the war, Biden said he'd talk with Putin "if he has decided he's looking for a way to end the war."

"He hasn't done that yet," added Biden, who has maintained all along it would be up to Ukraine to decide which terms of a settlement it accepts.

Earlier Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that Moscow is open to peace talks. Russia "always said that we are ready to listen to those who are interested in a negotiated settlement,” he said.

Lavrov also accused the U.S. and NATO of ''directly participating'' in the war, but when asked if a meeting between Putin and Biden is possible, Lavrov responded that “we don’t shun contacts,” adding, “We haven’t heard any serious ideas yet.”

Ukraine says Russian troops exiting towns near largest power plant

Russian forces have begun withdrawing from parts of the occupied territory of the Zaporizhzhia region, the Ukraine military said in its daily report. Russian troops abandoned a police station and school in the town of Mykhailivka and fled homes where they had been quartered in Polohy and Inzhenerne – stealing property as they left, the report said.

Ukrainian authorities said last week that it appeared Russia was preparing to exit the war-battered Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe's largest. The Kremlin denied that report.

The Russians were still firing across the Dnieper River “from evening till morning” at Ukrainian-held towns in the Dnipropetrovsk region that face the plant, regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko wrote Thursday on Telegram.

US, NATO 'directly participating' in war against Russia, Kremlin says

The U.S. and NATO are directly involved in the war in Ukraine even though war between nuclear superpowers should be unthinkable because of the damage it could bring to the world, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday.

"We are watching with concern the rhetoric that the West is spouting, accusing us of allegedly preparing some kind of provocation using weapons of mass destruction," Lavrov said.

Lavrov pointed out the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and other nations are providing Ukraine's advanced weaponry – and the soldiers who are teaching Ukraine how to use that weaponry. In doing so, Lavrov said the West is ''directly participating in the war, which they are waging against Russia with the hands of Ukrainians."

Lavrov blamed the West for Russia's attacks on Ukraine energy generation plants, which have limited access to power for millions of Ukrainians as winter rolls in. He said Russia disables energy plants Ukraine needs to fight its war. The West, Lavrov said, "pumps Ukraine with deadly weapons to kill Russians, so don't say that the United States and NATO are not involved in this war."

According to Pentagon officials who briefed reporters this week, the Russian missile strikes serve no legitimate military purpose. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Monday that 97% of the Russian missile attacks since the war started were intended for civilian targets.

Pentagon officials: Russian attacks on civilians serve no military purpose

Russian forces increasingly have turned to “horrific” missile and drone attacks on civilian targets in Ukraine as Russian military efforts have faltered, senior Pentagon officials said this week. The Russian attacks serve no legitimate military purpose, increase the risk of a safety incident at Ukraine’s nuclear plants and seem aimed at punishing Ukrainian civilians as winter approaches, according to the officials who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

Providing Ukraine with weapons to defend against Russian airstrikes has become the Pentagon’s top priority, one senior official said. The Pentagon last week began shipping $400 million in weapons, including air defense missiles. Ukrainian and Russian forces continue to fire thousands of artillery shells each day, a number that fluctuates as each side mounts attacks and counteroffensives, that official said.

Iran and North Korea continue to provide Russia with drones and artillery shells, the officials said.

Tom Vanden Brook

Suspicious package detonated at US Embassy in Madrid

Police in Spain detonated a suspicious envelope discovered at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, Spanish officials said Thursday. A similar package sent to the Ukrainian Embassy ignited when opened Wednesday, injuring an employee. Police reported that multiple explosive letters were sent in Spain over the past two days, although Spanish authorities have made no firm connection to the war in Ukraine.

The Russian Embassy in Madrid denounced the letter bombs, tweeting that “any threat or terrorist attack, especially those directed at diplomatic missions, are totally condemnable.”

Ukraine city gets power, heat after a week in the cold

The power is back on in the central Ukraine city of Ladyzhyn, almost a week after a Russian rocket strike severely damaged a thermal power plant. The attack left 18,000 people in the dark and cold as temperatures in the city have hovered around freezing. The Vinnytsia region's emergency services agency had declared a military emergency, and local authorities have deployed generators, charging stations, potbelly stoves and blankets.

Work is underway to diversify the heating system, said Serhiy Borzov, head of the Vinnytsia Regional Military Administration.

"Neither the winter frost, nor the darkness, nor any other manifestations of terror will help the aggressor conquer the Ukrainians," Borzov said.

A man rides his hoverboard as he clears snow from a pitch ahead of a soccer game in Irpin, Kyiv region, Ukraine, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022.
A man rides his hoverboard as he clears snow from a pitch ahead of a soccer game in Irpin, Kyiv region, Ukraine, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022.

World Cup fabulously popular but hard to see in Ukraine

Soccer is Ukraine's most popular sport; archrival clubs Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv are known across Europe. And the Ukrainian national soccer team's heroic but ill-fated effort to reach the World Cup tournament now underway in Qatar did not diminish interest in the event. But with rolling power outages and spotty Internet service, watching soccer's greatest show can be difficult.

“I have to live with it. I know who made this (happen),” said Hlib Kuian, a 21-year-old university economics student. “I know that the Russian Federation wants that I live like this.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine live updates: Mayor says Kyiv could be without heat all winter