Russia unleashed dozens of missile strikes on Ukraine on Friday, killing at least three people, further damaging the invaded nation’s tattered power grid and cutting heat for millions.
The rocket onslaught, reported to include 72 cruise missiles and four guided missiles, came as President Vladimir Putin works to reshape the terms of his flagging invasion by pulverizing Ukraine’s critical infrastructure before Christmas.
The Russian Army, routed in Ukraine’s north and sections of its south, has regrouped in the east and hunkered down for winter. With battle lines hardened, Russia has deployed several rounds of intense aerial strikes, weaponizing winter and making everyday life challenging for Ukraine’s shivering but resilient citizens.
Putin appears hopeful that the conditions will push Ukrainians to flee their frigid country, or to pressure their leaders to consider negotiations with the Kremlin. The bloody invasion has spilled nearly 8 million refugees out of Ukraine, according to the UN.
But the embattled country has held a stiff upper lip since Russia invaded Feb. 24, and its president appealed Friday for further fortitude.
“I ask all our people to be patient,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a speech to his country. “No matter what the missile worshippers from Moscow are hoping for, it still won’t change the balance of power in this war.”
The latest wave of rockets marked one of Russia’s largest in the nine-month-old war and led to broad emergency blackouts, as harsh winds blew gusts of snow and freezing rain across Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government said its anti-aircraft defenses stopped 60 of 76 Russian missiles.
But some rockets connected, and one battered an apartment building in the central Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih. The attack killed three people and wounded more than 10, including three small children, according to Ukrainian authorities.
“Probably, as a result of this war, the meaning of the word ‘terror’ for most people in the world will be associated primarily with such crazy actions of Russia,” Zelenskyy said.
In Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, the subway screeched to a halt and stations became bomb shelters — a recurring image throughout this fall. Mayor Vitali Klitschko said water taps in every area of the city were experiencing disruptions.
“Experts are working to stabilize the system. Just in case, prepare a supply of water for drinking and domestic purposes,” Klitschko urged citizens in a post on Telegram.
Most of Kyiv was without electricity, heat and water, the mayor said. Officials were working to get heat and water running by morning, Klitschko added.
Nationwide, the strikes sapped more than half of the country’s power capacity, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported.
Ukraine’s electrical and heating systems are closely intertwined, and have been crippled since Russia opened a new front in the war in October, raining strikes on infrastructure across the country.
The attacks have forced hospital workers to conduct procedures by flashlight and sent civilians into the subway to juice their phones at charging stations.
Zelenskyy said Russia’s bombardment Friday was largely focused on energy and heating sources. Engineers were rushing to restore outages that touched more than a dozen regions, the president said.
“It takes time,” Zelenskyy said.
Nine power facilities were damaged by the assault, according to Ukrinform, a state news agency.
Ukraine’s national energy provider, NPC Ukrenergo, said priority in its repairs would go to medical centers and heating facilities.
The U.S. chastised Russia over the air attacks, and promised continued support for Ukraine. The State Department said America was pushing $140 million toward restoring Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
Uzra Zeya, the State Department’s under secretary for civilian security, said in a news briefing that Russia’s missile strikes were “desperate attempts to drive refugees into neighboring countries” and to “break Ukrainians’ awe-inspiring resilience.”
“As the harshness of winter descends, millions of Ukrainians have been without power, water or heat because of Russia’s unrelenting attacks,” Zeya said. “We know the international community’s support is unwavering and that these assaults will not break our collective resolve.”
A first batch of American repair equipment has arrived in Ukraine, said Bridget Brink, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. She said she was grateful that Ukraine’s air defense capabilities had spared Ukraine an even more devastating Friday.
“Even as Russia tries to bring this war into every home,” Brink tweeted, “unified U.S. support and close coordination with our Ukrainian partners will help stabilize the grid and keep the power on across the country.”
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