Electricity, heating and water systems were knocked out across Ukraine on Wednesday as Russia launched another barrage of attacks on the country’s civilian infrastructure, attempting to turn winter into a weapon in this nine-month-old war.
The entire Kyiv region, home to almost five million people, had only sporadic power and running water as night fell and temperatures dropped below freezing in the snow-coated city. Earlier in the day, air-raid sirens were heard in the capital, followed by a series of explosions.
“Due to shelling, water supply has been suspended throughout Kyiv,” Mayor Vitali Klitschko wrote on Twitter as the city sat in darkness that was interrupted only by the few buildings with their own diesel-powered generators. “Specialists are working to restore it as soon as possible. Please, just in case, stock up on water. … Power engineers are also working to restore energy supply in the capital.”
Almost every major centre – from Kharkiv in the east to Odesa in the south and Lviv in the west – reported power outages and water services being cut off. Russia has been pounding Ukrainian infrastructure systems since the start of the war and has escalated that campaign with weekly barrages of missiles and explosive drones since early October.
Three people were reported killed and 11 wounded in the attacks on Kyiv. Oleksii Kuleba, the military governor for the Kyiv region, said several critical infrastructure facilities had been hit.
In Vyshhorod, a city of 20,000 people just north of Kyiv, five people died and 21 were injured when a missile struck a five-storey apartment block. Alla, a 41-year-old resident of the neighbouring building, said she was grocery shopping with one of her children when the air-raid siren sounded.
“They started guiding us to the parking lot, where the bomb shelter is, but it was closed. … A crowd was gathering, there were 10 people waiting, but the shelter was locked,” she said as she watched medics treat her elderly mother, who was at home at the time of the blast and was injured by flying glass.
Earlier Wednesday, Ukrainian officials said a two-day-old baby had been killed when a missile hit a maternity hospital in the city of Vilniansk, near the southern city of Zaporizhzhia. The mother and her doctor were pulled alive from the rubble, the state emergency service said.
The wave of attacks also knocked out power to all four of the country’s functioning nuclear power stations for parts of Wednesday, forcing them to rely on backup generators. Radiation levels were reported as normal at the Rivne and Khmelnytskyi plants in the west and at the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant. The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is in eastern Ukraine but has been occupied by Russian troops since the early days of the war, also briefly went dark. None of the plants was supplying power to the national grid Wednesday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly warned of the possibility of a major catastrophe, particularly with regular fighting still occurring near the Zaporizhzhia station. Ukraine’s fifth nuclear power plant, Chernobyl, has been mothballed since a 1986 disaster.
The devastating wave of attacks came on the same day that the European Parliament voted to declare Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism” for its assault on Ukraine. The non-binding resolution was passed by a 494-58 vote.
“The European Parliament has recognized Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism … and after that Russia proved that this is true by using 67 missiles against our infrastructure, on our energy, on ordinary citizens. The result is tragic,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening video address. He said services would soon be restored. “We’ll renew everything and get through all of this because we are an unbreakable people.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said the strikes are a “consequence” of Ukraine refusing to negotiate a ceasefire that would allow Russia to keep some of the territory it has captured since invading its smaller neighbour on Feb. 24.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky, told The Globe and Mail on Tuesday that Kyiv would not negotiate with Moscow until the last Russian soldier had left Ukraine – including the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally seized and annexed in 2014. “If we need to freeze, we will freeze,” he said, while appealing to Canada and other Western governments to continue supporting Ukraine.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal announced that the government had transferred $500-million it had received from Ottawa to the state-owned Naftogaz oil and gas company to purchase gas for the country’s centrally run heating system. “This is an extremely important part of preparing to sustainably go through a difficult winter,” Mr. Shmyhal said in a Telegram post.
Following Wednesday’s airstrikes, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the White House has authorized an additional US$400-million in military aid to Ukraine, including air defence equipment and other weapons.
Half of neighbouring Moldova, which is connected to the same Soviet-era electricity grid as Ukraine, was also left without power for part of Wednesday. There were also blackouts in the country’s breakaway region of Transdniestr, which is ruled by Moscow-backed militia.
“Russia has left Moldova in the dark. Russia’s war in Ukraine kills people, destroys residential buildings and energy infrastructure with rockets,” Moldovan President Maia Sandu wrote on her Facebook page. “We can’t trust a regime that leaves us in the dark and cold, that purposely kills people for the mere desire to keep other peoples poor and humble.”