© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen on screen during his speech during the 68th Annual Session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Madrid, Spain, November 21, 2022. REUTERS/Juan Medina/File Photo
By Pavel Polityuk and Tom Balmforth
KYIV (Reuters) – Much of Ukraine was left without heat and electricity on Thursday after Russia’s most devastating airstrikes on the power grid, prompting Kyiv residents to prepare for further attacks and to stock up on water, food and warm clothing. .
Thursday marked nine months since Moscow launched a “special military operation” to protect Russian-speakers. Ukraine and the West say that this occupation is a war of unprovoked aggression.
Since the beginning of October, Russia has launched missiles about once a week in an attempt to destroy Ukraine’s power grid.
Moscow has admitted that it attacked key infrastructure, saying it was aimed at reducing Ukraine’s combat capabilities and pushing it into negotiations. Kyiv says that such attacks are a war crime.
“Together, we endured nine months of full-scale war, and Russia has not and will not find a way to break us,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address at night.
Zelensky also accused Russia of continuously shelling the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, which he left earlier this month. Seven people were killed and 21 injured in a Russian attack on Thursday, local authorities said.
NASA satellite images showed Ukraine turning into a dark spot on the world at night when viewed from space.
Zelensky said that although electricity, heat, communication and water have been gradually restored, there are still problems with water supply in 15 districts.
Ukrenergo, which oversees Ukraine’s national electricity grid, said 50% of demand was not being met as of 19:00 Kyiv time (17:00 GMT).
In the capital, Kyiv, a city of three million, 60% of residents were left without electricity in temperatures well below freezing, Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said.
“We understand that such rocket strikes may happen again. We must be ready for any development,” he added, according to the Kyiv City Council.
Authorities have set up “invincibility centers” where people can charge phones, stay warm and buy hot drinks.
“We are without electricity and food for the second day. More than 60 children are waiting for food, and if there is no electricity, we cannot prepare anything,” said a woman working in one of such centers in Kyiv.
Russia’s latest barrage killed 11 people and shut down all of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants for the first time in 40 years.
Zelensky told the Financial Times that this week’s strikes had created a situation not seen in 80 or 90 years – “a country where there is absolutely no light on the European continent”.
In the evening, officials said that a reactor at the Khmelnytskyi nuclear power plant was back online.
Ukraine’s nuclear power company Energoatom said the giant Zaporizhzhia plant in Russian-controlled territory was re-connected on Thursday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was Kiev’s fault that Ukrainians refused to comply with Moscow’s demands, but he did not elaborate. Ukraine says it will stop fighting only after all Russian forces leave.
Nuclear officials say power outages could knock out cooling systems and trigger a nuclear disaster.
THOUSANDS MISSING MISSING
An official of the Kyiv office of the Hague-based International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) said that more than 15,000 people went missing during the war in Ukraine.
Matthew Holliday, ICMP’s program director for Europe, said it was unclear how many people were forcibly relocated, detained in Russia, separated from their families alive or dead and buried in makeshift graves.
In Kyiv, the members of the Kyiv National Academic Operetta Theater tearfully bid farewell to the 26-year-old ballet dancer Vadim Khlupianets, who was killed in battles with Russian troops.
As Kyiv has been defeating Russian forces on the battlefield since September, Moscow has moved to attack Ukraine’s infrastructure.
The first winter of the war will now test whether Ukraine can continue its campaign to reclaim territory, or whether Russian commanders can halt Kiev’s momentum.
Zelensky said that Ukrainian troops are preparing to advance in some regions, but did not give details.
After retreating, Russia has a shorter line to defend to hold the captured land, with more than a third of the front now blocked by the Dnieper River.
Russia has launched its offensive along the front line west of the city of Donetsk, which has been under the control of Moscow’s proxies since 2014. Ukraine said Russian forces attempted to advance again on key targets Bakhmut and Avdiivka, with limited success.
Reuters could not immediately verify accounts from the battlefield.