Russia pounds Ukrainian infrastructure in ‘biggest attacks’ since invasion

Explosions from the latest major barrage of Russian air strikes knocked out utilities in Kyiv and scores of other Ukrainian cities on Friday, increasing officials’ pleas for more western air defence systems to protect critical infrastructure.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s administration, said that “due to strikes on power plants in several regions of Ukraine, emergency power outages are being imposed throughout the country”, adding that the situation had also triggered interruptions to water and heating supplies.

Mykhailo Shymanov, a spokesperson for Kyiv’s military-civilian administration, said on state television that the barrage amounted to one of the “biggest attacks since the beginning of the full-scale war” launched by Russia in February.

Moscow’s months-long missile and kamikaze drone campaign has targeted power infrastructure in a bid to test Kyiv’s resolve in the cold winter months after Ukrainian troops this autumn pushed back Russian forces in its eastern and southern occupied regions.

General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, said in a statement that “the enemy launched 76 missiles at critical infrastructure facilities of Ukraine from the Caspian Sea and Black Sea this morning: among them, there were 72 cruise missiles and four guided air-to-surface missiles,” adding that 60 missiles were shot down.

More than 40 missiles were detected near Kyiv, 37 of which were shot down by Ukraine’s largely Soviet-era air defence systems, said Shymanov.

Ukrainian Territorial Defence Force members speak as one holds the remains of a rocket that was allegedly shot down after a Russian attack in Kyiv © Felipe Dana/AP

Ukrenergo, the state power company, declared a “system emergency” and nationwide “blackout”, citing a 50 per cent loss of power within the country’s electricity system.

Vitaly Klitschko, Kyiv’s mayor, said explosions had occurred in at least three of the capital’s districts.

“Due to damage to the energy infrastructure, there are interruptions in water supply in all areas of the capital,” Klitschko said in a post on Telegram. Power and heating was also out in parts of Kyiv.

Explosions were also reported in many other areas, including the central city of Kryviy Rih, Zelenskyy’s hometown, where two people were killed and five wounded by a strike on a residential building.

Kharkiv, the largest city in eastern Ukraine which has been frequently targeted since the beginning of Russia’s invasion, completely lost power due to strikes. Attacks on the Odesa Black Sea port region also caused major utility disruptions for a second time in a week.

Condemning the strikes on critical infrastructure as “war crimes,” Ukraine’s western backers have promised to boost air defence shipments as the Russian strikes threaten to rapidly deplete Kyiv’s arsenal. But officials in Zelenskyy’s administration have repeatedly expressed frustration that such supplies are taking too long to be delivered.

Kyiv has been most keen for the US to supply its longer-range Patriot system. US officials in Washington said a decision on approving delivery of the system is expected soon.

The US last month pledged $53mn in funding to help Ukraine restore its electricity infrastructure and the state department said on Friday that the first shipments had arrived in the country, including equipment needed to make emergency repairs. Additional tranches of aid will arrive in the coming weeks, officials added.

In a post on Twitter Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser in Zelenskyy’s administration, hit out at Russia for conducting “another massive attack on cities, energy, residential buildings. Two questions: 1. Anyone else want to propose a ‘peaceful settlement’ to allow Putin to save face? 2. Should we further slow down the process of transferring missile defence in order to ‘prevent escalation’?”

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, echoed Podolyak in arguing that the latest strikes only strengthened the argument for the west to step up weapons supplies.

“For each Russian missile or drone aimed at Ukraine and Ukrainians there must be a howitzer delivered to Ukraine, a tank for Ukraine, an armoured vehicle for Ukraine,” he said on Twitter. “This would effectively end Russian terror against Ukraine and restore peace and security in Europe and beyond.”

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