More than 10 million Ukrainians are without electricity after dozens of Russian air strikes on the country’s energy infrastructure as winter sets in and temperatures plummet, President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
Repeated barrages disrupted electricity and water supplies across Ukraine, but Russia blames the civilian suffering on Ukraine’s refusal to negotiate an end to the war that began on February 24.
On Thursday, residents of the recently recaptured city of Kherson in southern Ukraine rushed to stockpile food, blankets and winter clothing, with shouts and shoving erupting as volunteers threw supplies into the crowds waiting for hours in the icy rain.
Several Ukrainian cities came under attack as the latest attack coincided with the first snow of the season, and officials in Kiev warned of “difficult” days ahead.
“Currently, more than 10 million Ukrainians are without electricity,” Zelenskyy said on Thursday, adding that the regions of Odessa, Vinnytsia, Sumy and Kiev were most affected.
Ukrainian energy company Ukrenergo said the “cold wave” had boosted demand in regions where electricity had recently been reduced, and the government’s energy adviser Oleksandr Kharchenko told media that 50 percent of Ukrainians were experiencing disruptions.
“Civilian sites are the main target. Russia is waging war on electricity and heat for people by blowing up power plants and other energy facilities,” Zelenskyy said.
In the southern region of Odessa, a Russian raid hit infrastructure and the governor warned residents of the threat of a “massive” missile strike and urged them to seek shelter.
The eastern region of Kharkiv was also hit, Governor Oleg Synegubov announced, adding that Russia had hit “critical infrastructure”.
‘This is their consequence’
In response, Zelenskyy described Russia as a “terrorist state” and said Moscow “just wants to bring more pain and suffering to the Ukrainians”.
However, Russia said Kiev was ultimately responsible for the blackouts.
“The unwillingness of the Ukrainian side to solve the problem, start negotiationshis refusal to reach an agreement – this is their consequence,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
“First they negotiate, then they refuse to negotiate, then they pass a law that prohibits any kind of negotiation, then they say they want negotiations, but public ones,” Peskov told reporters.
“That’s why it’s difficult to propose public negotiations… One thing is certain: the Ukrainians don’t want negotiations.”
Peskov said in this context that Moscow would proceed with what it calls a “special military operation”, and missile attacks on targets across Ukraine were a result of Kiev’s unwillingness to meet at the negotiating table.
A UN agency said a serious humanitarian crisis was looming with millions of people facing “continuous power cuts” as Ukraine’s typically long, cold winter begins.
Grain deal extended
The attacks on Ukraine’s power grid follow a series of battlefield setbacks for Russia, including last week’s withdrawal from Kherson.
However, Moscow and Kiev managed to renew an agreement allowing Ukraine to export grain through the Black Sea after the deal’s imminent expiration reignited fears for global food supplies.
The Black Sea grain initiative is extended for 120 days, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Nations announced. The agreement provides safe passage for cargo ships using Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.
UN chief Antonio Guterres said the deal was “essential” to avert a global food crisis.
Russia confirmed that the deal has been extended. “Any attempt to use the Black Sea humanitarian corridor for provocative military purposes will be vigorously suppressed,” the foreign ministry warned.