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

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

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

“I wanted to ask people not to come back. We have to survive the winter,” she said.

Since October 10, Russia has been bombarding Ukraine energy infrastructure with waves of missile and drone strikes.

Kyiv claims up to 40% of the electrical system has been damaged.

A Kyiv official said last week that residents should prepare for power outages that could last for days or even weeks.

The strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure come amid soaring food and energy prices across Europe, where most of the millions of people who fled Ukraine have taken refuge.

This poses an additional problem for refugees, many of whom struggle to find well-paying jobs in their adopted country.

Ms Vereshchuk said the network “would not survive” the return of refugees from abroad and that the situation would “only get worse”.

“To come back now is to risk yourself and your children, your vulnerable loved ones,” she said.

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The latest data from the UN Refugee Agency shows that more than 7.7 million refugees from Ukraine are spread throughout Europe.

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

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

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