Ukraine races to restore power after Russian strikes plunge cities into darkness

Energy provider imposes blackouts, warns recovery will take longer than usual due to extent of damage; Putin holds court with top military brass

This photograph taken with a long exposure shows car lights near the Maidan Square during a power outage in the city of Kyiv, on December 17, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Sameer Al-DOUMY/AFP)
This photograph taken with a long exposure shows car lights near the Maidan Square during a power outage in the city of Kyiv, on December 17, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Sameer Al-DOUMY/AFP)

KYIV, Ukraine (AFP) — Ukraine worked Saturday to restore electricity and water supplies after Russia’s latest wave of attacks pitched multiple cities into darkness and forced people to endure sub-zero temperatures without heating or running water.

The volley of missiles unleashed Friday came as President Vladimir Putin held extensive meetings with the military top brass overseeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where Moscow has stepped up bombardments.

In the capital Kyiv, the metro had stopped running so that people wrapped in winter coats could take shelter at underground stations after air raid sirens rang out on Friday morning.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the metro service was relaunched early Saturday, the water supply had been restored and 75 percent of the city’s population had their heating supply back.

Power was also restored throughout the eastern city of Kharkiv on Saturday, Regional Governor Oleg Sinegubov said after the strikes left Ukraine’s second city without electricity.

Ukraine’s national energy provider imposed emergency blackouts, saying on Saturday that the energy system “continues to recover.”

A damaged building in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, December 16, 2022. (Genya SAVILOV/AFP)

Ukrenergo had warned the extent of the damage in the north, south, and center of the country meant it could take longer to restore supplies than after previous attacks.

Ukraine’s military command said in a statement Saturday: “The enemy continues to focus its efforts on conducting offensive actions in the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions,” referring to two cities in the eastern Donetsk region.

Russian troops were also trying to regain lost ground around Lymanskyi, in the south, the statement added.

‘Barbaric’ attacks

In Russia, Putin sought out proposals from his military commanders on how Russia should proceed with the Ukraine offensive, according to the Kremlin.

The Kremlin released footage Friday of Putin presiding over a round-table meeting with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov among other top brass.

After a series of humiliating battlefield defeats, Russia since October has pursued an aerial onslaught against what Moscow says are military-linked facilities.

But France and the European Union have said the suffering inflicted on freezing civilians constitutes war crimes, with the bloc’s foreign policy chief calling the bombings “barbaric.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with the joint staff of troops involved in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in an undisclosed place in Russia on December 17, 2022. (Gavriil Grigorov/Sputnik/AFP)

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Saturday the strikes had targeted Ukraine’s military and energy facilities, while also disrupting “the transfer of weapons and ammunition of foreign production.”

“All assigned targets were hit,” the ministry said in its daily briefing.

Russia fired 74 — mainly cruise — missiles Friday, 60 of which were shot down by anti-aircraft defenses, according to the Ukrainian army.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the strikes hit power and water supplies in Kyiv and 14 regions.

Regional officials said their air defense forces had shot down 37 out of 40 missiles.

In the central city of Kryvyi Rih, where Zelensky was born, Friday’s air strikes hit a residential building.

The missiles killed a 64-year-old woman and a young couple with a son, governor Valentyn Reznichenko said Saturday, wounding 13 others.

In the south, fresh Russian shelling in Kherson, recently recaptured by Ukraine, killed a 36-year-old man and injured a 70-year-old woman, governor Yaroslav Yanushevich said Saturday morning.

Illustrative: Maryna, 59, stands outside the door of her neighbors’ damaged flat in a multi-story residential building following Russian strike in the southern Ukrainian town of Kherson on December 7, 2022 (ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP)

A separate strike hit a geriatric center in the village of Stepanivka just north of Kherson, he added later, but there were no casualties reported.

Kherson has been subjected to persistent Russian shelling since Moscow’s forces retreated in November, and power was cut in the city earlier this week.

Protracted war

Moscow has said the strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure are a response to an explosion on the Kerch bridge connecting the Russian mainland to the Crimean peninsula, annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Ukrainian defense officials said this week that their forces had downed over a dozen Iranian-made attack drones launched at Kyiv, a sign that Western-supplied systems are having an impact.

The country’s military leaders have also warned Moscow is preparing for a major winter offensive, including a fresh attempt to take Kyiv.

Russia meanwhile on Saturday accused Moldova of “political censorship” after it suspended the broadcasting license of six television channels over accusations of misinformation.

Moldova — which sits on Ukraine’s southwestern border — said on Friday the decision was made because of the “lack of correct information” in their coverage of national events and Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.

Moscow also responded to the EU’s decision Friday to impose further sanctions, adding restrictions on the export of drone engines to Russia or countries like Iran looking to supply Moscow with weapons.

The new package of “illegitimate unilateral restrictive measures” would not achieve its goal, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday.

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