A Ukrainian minister has urged refugees who fled the country after Russia’s invasion to stay away this winter.

Iryna Vereshchuk, a deputy prime minister, said blackouts caused by Moscow’s bombardment of power stations would put a heavy strain on the country.

In an interview on national television on Tuesday, she told Ukrainians sheltering in foreign countries to wait until spring before returning.

“I wanted to ask people not to return. We need to survive the winter,” she said.

Since October 10, Russia has bombarded Ukraine’s energy infrastructure with waves of missile and drone strikes.

Kyiv says that up to 40% of the power system has been damaged.

An official in Kyiv said last week that residents should prepare for blackouts lasting days or even weeks.

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The strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure come against a backdrop of soaring food and energy prices across Europe, where most of the millions who fled Ukraine have sought shelter.

This poses an additional problem for refugees, many of whom have struggled to find well-paid jobs in their adopted countries.

Ms Vereshchuk said the grid “won’t survive” the return of refugees from abroad, and that the situation would “only get worse”.

“To return now is to risk yourself and your children, your vulnerable relatives,” she said.

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Latest data from the UN Refugee Agency show that more than 7.7million million refugees from Ukraine are spread across Europe.

Poland, which borders Ukraine to the west, is hosting the most refugees: 1.4 million.

Britain has 138,000 Ukrainian refugees registered for temporary protection.