Ukraine has been struggling 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 Russian strikes devastated areas of Kyiv, city 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 waging war on civilian infrastructure,” Jan Egeland, 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 is now a breaking point,” he said referring to ongoing attacks on the power grid by Moscow.
The energy system in Ukraine is on the brink of collapse and millions have been subject to emergency blackouts in recent weeks as Russia attacks power facilities in an apparent effort to force capitulation after a nine-month war that has seen its forces fail in most of their stated territorial objectives.
Seen from space, Ukraine has become a dark patch on the world at night, according to satellite images released by NASA.
The World Health Organization has warned of “life-threatening” consequences and estimated that millions could leave their homes as a result, while the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “is clearly weaponizing the winter to cause immense suffering to the Ukrainian people”.
The Russian president “will try to freeze the country into submission”, he said on Wednesday.
Russia denies attacks
Wednesday’s attacks disconnected three Ukrainian nuclear plants from the national grid and triggered blackouts in neighboring Moldova, where the energy network is connected to Ukraine. Power was almost completely 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 have restarted power supplies. Believe me, it was very difficult,” he said.
But there was still unrest across the country and the central bank warned that the cuts could disrupt bank operations.
A new round of attacks on Thursday killed at least four people in the southern city of Kherson, which was recently recaptured by Ukraine, a senior official there said.
Ukraine accused Russian forces of launching around 70 cruise missiles as well as drones in attacks that left 10 dead and around 50 injured on Wednesday.
But Russia’s defense ministry denied striking anywhere inside Kyiv, insisting that Ukrainian and foreign air defense systems had caused the damage.
“Not a single strike was made on targets in the city of Kyiv,” he said.
‘Crime against humanity’
The Kremlin said Ukraine was ultimately responsible for the consequences of the attacks and could end them by acquiescing to Moscow’s demands.
Ukraine “has every opportunity to settle the situation, to fulfill Russia’s demands and as a result, to put an end to all possible suffering for the civilian population,” said spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
But Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia’s strategy of destroying power infrastructure would not weaken his country’s determination to reclaim territories occupied by Moscow.
“We must return all countries… 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 enter into negotiations with Russians just because of these strikes,” said Alyona Piskun.
Russian soldiers have suffered a series of defeats on the battlefield. 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 that authorities had discovered nine torture sites used by the Russians in Kherson as well as “bodies of 432 killed civilians”.