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Ukraine battles to restore power as millions face blackouts

Kyiv residents fill plastic bottles at a water pump in a park in Kyiv on Thursday amid blackouts [Genya Savilov/AFP]

Ukraine has been battling 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 percent of the country in the dark.

By Thursday evening, more than 24 hours after the Russian strikes smashed areas of Kyiv, the city’s Mayor Vitali Klitschko said 60 percent of homes were still suffering emergency outages. With temperatures falling below zero, Kyiv authorities said they were able to restore water services but were still working to get the lights and heat back on.

“The very strong impression is that the Russians are having warfare on civilian infrastructure,” Jan Egeland, the secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said in a statement on Thursday.

“The civilian population cannot sustain an entire winter without electricity, warmth and running water. And it’s now a breaking point,” he said referring to sustained attacks on the power grid by Moscow.

The energy system in Ukraine is on the brink of collapse and millions have been subjected to emergency blackouts over recent weeks as Russia has attacked power facilities in an apparent effort to force capitulation after nine months of war that has seen its forces fail in most of their stated territorial objectives.

Viewed from space, Ukraine has become a dark patch on the globe at night, satellite images released by NASA showed.

The World Health Organization has warned of “life-threatening” consequences and estimated that millions could leave their homes as a result, while the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “clearly weaponising winter to inflict immense suffering on the Ukrainian people”.

The Russian president “will try to freeze the country into submission”, she said on Wednesday.

Russia denies attacks

Wednesday’s attacks disconnected three Ukrainian nuclear plants from the national grid and triggered blackouts in neighbouring Moldova, where the energy network is linked to Ukraine’s. Power was nearly entirely back on in ex-Soviet Moldova on Thursday.

All three nuclear facilities had been reconnected by Thursday morning, Ukraine’s 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’ve restarted power supplies. Believe me, it was very difficult,” he said.

Kateryna Luchkina, a 31-year-old worker at Kyiv’s Department of Health, walks away after collecting rainwater from a drainpipe in Kyiv. [John Leicester/AP Photo]

But there were still disruptions across the country and the central bank warned the outages could hinder bank operations.

A new round of attacks on Thursday killed at least four people in the southern city of Kherson, recently recaptured by Ukraine, said a senior official there.

Ukraine accused Russian forces of sending about 70 cruise missiles as well as drones in attacks that left 10 dead and around 50 wounded on Wednesday.

But Russia’s defence ministry denied striking anywhere inside Kyiv, insisting Ukrainian and foreign air defence systems had caused the damage.

“Not a single strike was made on targets within the city of Kyiv,” it said.

‘Crime against humanity’

The Kremlin said Ukraine was ultimately responsible for the consequences of the attacks and could put an end to them by acquiescing to Moscow’s demands.

Ukraine “has every opportunity to settle the situation, to fulfil Russia’s demands and as a result, end all possible suffering of the civilian population,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

But Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia’s strategy of destroying power infrastructure would not weaken his country’s resolve to recapture territories occupied by Moscow.

“We must return all lands … because I believe that 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 any person who is ready to go to negotiations with Russians just because of these strikes,” said Alyona Piskun.

Russian troops have suffered a string of battlefield defeats. This month they withdrew from Kherson city, the only regional capital they had captured, destroying key infrastructure as they retreated.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian prosecutors said on Thursday that authorities had discovered nine torture sites used by the Russians in Kherson as well as “the bodies of 432 killed civilians”.

People sit in a pub lit with candles during a power outage in Lviv [Roman Baluk/Reuters]
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