Ukraine is struggling to reconnect water and electricity services to millions of people after a barrage of Russian missiles and drones hit energy infrastructure on Wednesday, leaving nearly 80% of the country in the dark.
On Thursday evening, more than 24 hours after Russian strikes destroyed parts of Kyiv, the city’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said 60% of homes were still experiencing emergency breakdowns. With temperatures dropping below zero, authorities in Kyiv said they were able to restore water services but were still working to turn lights and heating back on.
“The very strong impression is that the Russians are waging a war against civilian infrastructure,” said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, on Thursday.
“The civilian population cannot endure an entire winter without electricity, heat and running water. And now is a breaking point,” he said, referring to sustained attacks on the power grid by Moscow.
Ukraine’s energy system is on the brink of collapse and millions of people have been subjected to emergency power outages in recent weeks as Russia attacked electrical installations in an apparent effort to force surrender after nine months of war that saw his forces fail in most of their declared territorial objectives.
Viewed from space, Ukraine became a dark spot on the globe at night, satellite images released by NASA showed.
The World Health Organization has warned of ‘deadly’ consequences and estimated millions could leave their homes as a result, while US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “clearly winterizing”. to inflict immense suffering on the Ukrainian people”.
Russia’s president “will try to freeze the country into submission,” she said on Wednesday.
Russia denies attacks
Wednesday’s attacks disconnected three Ukrainian nuclear power plants from the national grid and caused power outages in neighboring Moldova, where the energy grid is linked to that of Ukraine. The power was almost fully back Thursday in former Soviet Moldova.
The three nuclear facilities were reconnected on Thursday morning, the Ukrainian Energy Ministry said.
Ihor Terekhov, the mayor of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, near the border with Russia, said water was being restored to homes.
“We restarted the power supplies. Believe me, it was very difficult,” he said.
But there were still disruptions across the country and the central bank warned that the outages could hamper banking operations.
A new round of attacks on Thursday killed at least four people in the southern city of Kherson, recently taken over by Ukraine, a senior official said.
Ukraine has accused Russian forces of sending around 70 cruise missiles as well as drones in attacks that left 10 dead and around 50 injured on Wednesday.
But the Russian Ministry of Defense denied hitting anywhere inside Kyiv, insisting that Ukrainian and foreign air defense systems had caused the damage.
“Not a single strike was carried out on targets in the city of Kyiv,” he said.
“Crime against humanity”
The Kremlin has declared that Ukraine is ultimately responsible for the consequences of the attacks and that it could put an end to them by acceding to Moscow’s demands.
Ukraine “has every chance to resolve the situation, to meet Russia’s demands and, therefore, to put an end to all possible suffering of the civilian population”, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia’s strategy of destroying electricity infrastructure would not weaken his country’s resolve to retake territories occupied by Moscow.
“We must return all the land…because I believe the battlefield is the way when there is no diplomacy,” Zelenskyy told the Financial Times.
On Wednesday, Zelenskyy called the Russian attacks a “crime against humanity” in a video address to the UN Security Council.
A Kyiv resident, speaking to Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, echoed Zelenskyy’s sentiments.
“I don’t know anyone who is willing to negotiate with the Russians just because of these strikes,” said Alyona Piskun.
Russian troops suffered a series of battlefield defeats. This month they withdrew from the city of Kherson, the only regional capital they had captured, destroying key infrastructure as they retreated.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian prosecutors said on Thursday authorities had uncovered nine Russian-used torture sites in Kherson as well as “the bodies of 432 civilians killed.”