Millions of Ukrainians in more than a dozen provinces are experiencing severe power disruptions amid falling temperatures and almost half of the country’s energy infrastructure is in need of repair after weeks of Russian attacks, officials in Kyiv said Friday.
Russia meanwhile accused Kyiv’s forces of executing a group of its soldiers who were surrendering to Ukraine in what Moscow described as a “massacre” that amounted to a war crime.
The assessment by Prime Minister Denys Shmygal of the widespread damage to Ukraine’s grid comes after weeks of sustained Russian attacks on its energy infrastructure.
“On November 15 alone, Russia fired about 100 missiles at Ukrainian cities. Nearly half of our energy system has been disabled,” Shmygal said, appealing to European allies for support.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said 17 provinces and the capital Kyiv were struggling with power cuts, but engineers were working to repair the power grid and blackouts were becoming less frequent.
The Russian defence ministry said Friday it was only targeting military-linked facilities, and said a series of long-range and precision strikes the day before had “hit exactly the designated objects”.
The Kremlin this week blamed the blackouts and their civilian impact on Kyiv’s refusal to negotiate with Moscow, not on Russian missile attacks.
Zelensky has said he doesn’t believe Russia is genuinely interested in peace talks, suggesting on Thursday that the Kremlin’s true aim was to “buy some time and regain strength for new strikes.”
In Washington, White House national security spokesman John Kirby sought to refute the notion that the United States was pressuring Kyiv to conduct peace talks with Russia.
“Nobody from the United States is pushing, prodding or nudging him to the table,” Kirby told reporters.
Russia also said Friday it was strengthening positions in Crimea, which it annexed in 2014 after nationwide pro-democracy demonstrations led to the ouster of Ukraine’s former Kremlin-friendly president.
Moscow used the peninsula, which hosts several important Russian military bases, as a launching pad for its February invasion.
The announcement came as Ukraine forces are pushing a counter-offensive in the south towards Crimea and last week reclaimed Kherson, the capital of the region that borders Crimea.
With electrical and water supplies cut to the city following the destruction of key utilities by the retreating Russians, residents have been struggling to keep warm.
Zelensky said the government has opened two relief stations where residents can keep warm, drink hot tea and charge their cell phones. He promised more will be opened soon.
“We know that it’s very hard on people because the occupiers destroyed everything when they were retreating,” Zelensky said in his daily address to the nation late Friday. “But we will put everything back online, we will restore everything.”
Kherson regional deputy governor Sergiy Khlan announced that the city’s rail link was being restored with a first train leaving later in the day.
Russia claimed to have annexed the Kherson region along with three more in September, vowing to defend them with all available military means.
Russia said it was making gains in the eastern Donetsk region, which its forces have partially controlled since 2014, including taking control of the village of Opytnoe.
Moscow’s forces, alongside troops from two breakaway regions in east Ukraine and mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner group have been trying for months to capture the nearby town of Bakhmut.
Nearly nine months of brutal fighting between Ukraine and Russia has spurred credible allegations of war crimes from both sides.
The last accusations came Friday when Russia accused Ukrainian troops of executing some ten prisoners of war.
The statement refers to videos circulating on Russian-language social media that purport to show the bodies of Russian servicemen who had surrendered and were then killed.
Zelensky did not address Moscow’s claim in his statement Friday.
The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said that the death toll from strikes earlier in the week on Vilniansk in the Zaporizhzhia region, which Moscow also said annexed, had left 10 people dead, including two children.