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Zelensky speaks to Herzog about Ukraine’s dire energy situation

Nine months into war, Ukrainian leader offers condolences on Jerusalem terror attack, expresses optimism about working with new government

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Kyiv, Ukraine,  Sept. 8, 2022. (Genya Savilov, Pool Photo via AP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sept. 8, 2022. (Genya Savilov, Pool Photo via AP)

Exactly nine months after Russian forces invaded his country, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke with President Isaac Herzog by phone on Thursday, lamenting the dire energy situation there with winter about to set in.

As its forces suffer setbacks on the battlefield, Russia has been launching devastating strikes on Ukraine’s power infrastructure. The situation is becoming more dangerous as snow begins falling in the country and citizens are left without power for heat.

About 70 percent of the Ukrainian capital was left without power on Thursday morning after Moscow unleashed yet another devastating missile barrage on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, Kyiv’s mayor said.

A punishing barrage of Russian strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure on Wednesday caused power outages across large parts of the country, piling more damage onto an already battered power network and adding to the misery of civilians.

In a tweet after his conversation with Herzog, Zelensky also said that he had invited Israel to join the Grain from Ukraine program, in which countries buy the Ukrainian crops and send them to African nations to alleviate hunger.

An Israeli official told The Times of Israel it was too early to say whether Israel would be joining the new initiative.

Pedestrians walk down a street during a power cut in downtown Kyiv on November 10, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP)

During Thursday’s conversation, Zelensky offered Israel condolences on the previous day’s bombing attack in Jerusalem and underscored the solidarity of the Israeli and Ukrainian people.

He also said he hoped the new government Benjamin Netanyahu is working to establish will cooperate with Ukraine.

Herzog told Zelensky that the Israeli people want peace in Ukraine and are working to alleviate the suffering of its people in a variety of ways, according to a readout of the conversation provided by the president’s office.

The president added that Israel wants to keep channels open on humanitarian issues, especially with winter approaching.

Israel’s ties with Ukraine have been strained since the war started. While providing humanitarian assistance and expressing solidarity with Kyiv, Israel has maintained a strict policy of not giving military aid to Ukraine, including systems that could help it intercept Russian missile and drone attacks.

Israeli officials regularly cite the strategic need to maintain freedom of operations in Syria, whose airspace is largely controlled by Russia, as part of its efforts to prevent Iranian entrenchment on its doorstep.

Kyiv’s requests for air defense systems — and its public criticism of Israel’s refusal to provide them — grew more strident in recent weeks, as Iranian-made drones played an increasingly central role in Moscow’s aerial attack on Ukrainian cities and infrastructure.

Last week, Ukraine’s envoy to Israel sharply condemned the country’s restrictions on the entry of Ukrainians during a meeting at the Foreign Ministry.

President Isaac Herzog at a memorial service marking 27 years since the assassination of late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, held at Mt. Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, November 6, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In a Facebook post after the meeting with senior Israeli diplomats, Yevgen Korniychuk said he “forwarded the indignation of the Ukrainian side regarding the entrenched practice of unjustifiably denying Ukrainian citizens entry to the territory of Israel.”

Senior Ukrainian officials have been vocal about Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s order for a cap on the number of Ukrainian refugees allowed to enter the country, a ruling overturned in July by the High Court. But Ukrainians are still being turned away at the airport in Israel.

There has also been mutual anger over Ukraine’s recent UN vote in favor of advancing an anti-Israel resolution, and Israel’s abstention, in seeming retaliation, during a UN vote on Russian reparations payments to Ukraine.

It is not clear whether Netanyahu will change course on the war, in the event that he takes office again, as expected.

Though a scathing critic of the outgoing coalition, Netanyahu praised its “prudent” approach toward Ukraine during an interview last month, highlighting Israel’s absorption of refugees and other humanitarian initiatives while refraining from supplying weapons.

Zelensky spoke with Netanyahu at some point last week, and said that the presumed incoming prime minister had agreed to look at supplying Ukraine with air defense systems.

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