Ukraine has been scrambling to reconnect water and electricity services for 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.
On Thursday evening, more than 24 hours after Russian attacks devastated parts of Kiev, the city’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said 60 percent of homes were still suffering from emergency blackouts. With temperatures dropping below zero, Kiev authorities said they were able to restore water supplies but were still working to get the lights and heating back on.
“The very strong impression is that the Russians are waging war against civilian infrastructure,” Jan Egeland, the secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said in a statement Thursday.
“The civilian population cannot survive a whole winter without electricity, heat and running water. And it is now a breaking point,” he said, referring to Moscow’s ongoing attacks on the power grid.
Ukraine’s energy system is on the brink of collapse and millions have been victims of emergency blackouts in recent weeks as Russia attacked power plants in an apparent attempt to force capitulation after nine months of war in which its forces lost most of their declared territorial objectives.
Seen from space, Ukraine has become a dark place on the globe at night, satellite images from NASA showed.
The World Health Organization has warned of “life-threatening” consequences and estimated that 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 weaponizing 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 power plants from the power grid and caused power outages in neighboring Moldova, where the power grid is connected to Ukraine’s. Power was almost all the way back 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 Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city near the border with Russia, said water was being restored to homes.
“We have restarted the power supply. Believe me, it was very difficult,” he said.
But there were still outages across the country and the central bank warned that the outages could hamper banking operations.
A new round of attacks killed at least four people on Thursday in the southern city of Kherson, recently recaptured by Ukraine, a senior official there said.
Ukraine accused Russian forces of sending about 70 cruise missiles and drones in attacks that killed 10 and injured about 50 on Wednesday.
But Russia’s defense ministry denied there had been any attacks anywhere in Kiev, insisting Ukrainian and foreign air defense systems had caused the damage.
“Not a single attack has been made against targets in the city of Kiev,” it said.
‘Crime against humanity’
The Kremlin said Ukraine is ultimately responsible for the fallout from the attacks and could end them by agreeing to Moscow’s demands.
Ukraine “has every chance to settle the situation, to meet Russia’s demands and, as a result, to end all possible suffering of the civilian population,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia’s strategy of destroying power infrastructure will not weaken his country’s determination to retake Moscow-held territories.
“We must return all countries … because I believe that the battlefield is the way to go when there is no diplomacy,” Zelensky 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 resident of Kiev, speaking to Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, echoed Zelenskyy’s sentiments.
“I don’t know anyone who is willing to enter into negotiations with the Russians just because of these strikes,” said Alyona Piskun.
Russian troops have 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 discovered nine torture sites used by the Russians in Kherson, as well as “the bodies of 432 killed civilians.”