Ukraine struggles to restore power after Russian strikes leave ‘vast majority’ of people without electricity

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Kyiv, Ukraine

Ukraine raced to restore power throughout the country on Thursday, the next day Russia sent one new barrage of missiles to target critical infrastructureresulting in the temporary shutdown of most of its power plants and leaving the “vast majority” of people without electricity.

National energy company Ukrenergo said the work “took longer than after previous attacks” because Wednesday’s attack targeted power generation facilities and caused a “systemic incident.”

By Thursday afternoon, electricity had been restored to “all regions,” but individual households were still being “gradually connected to the grid,” Kyrylo Tymoshenko, an official in President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, said on Telegram.

The Ukrainian armed forces said 70 Russian missiles were fired Wednesday afternoon and 51 shot down, along with five attack drones.

The attack killed at least 10 people, including a teenage girl, and “led to the temporary shutdown of all nuclear power plants and most thermal and hydroelectric plants,” the energy ministry said. It left large parts of the country without power, with knock-on effects on heating, water supply and internet access in some areas.

Wednesday was the first time that Ukraine’s four nuclear power plants was simultaneously shut down for 40 years, the head of state nuclear energy company Energoatom said in a statement. Petro Kotin said it was a precautionary measure and he expected them to be restored by Thursday evening. The three fully functioning facilities in Ukrainian hands – the occupied Zaporizhzhia the plant has not been operational since September – would help supply electricity to the national grid, he said.

Ukraine is heavily dependent on nuclear energy, according to the World Nuclear Association. It has 15 reactors at four plants that, before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February, generated about half of its electricity.

Russia has turned its attention to destroying energy infrastructure in Ukraine ahead of the bitter winter season, and successive waves of strikes have left much of the country facing rolling blackouts.

A photo shows Lviv's city center without electricity after critical civilian infrastructure was hit by Russian missile strikes on November 23, 2022.

Local residents charge their devices, use internet connection and warm up in a shelter in Kiev on November 24, 2022.

Wednesday’s strike caused chaos across the country, with the capital Kiev, the western city of Lviv and the entire Odesa region in darkness.

People who had sought shelter from the airstrikes in the capital left bunkers to find their homes without power and tried to find somewhere to spend the night with friends or family. One in four homes in the city was still without power Thursday morning. While water supply had been restored to all districts by mid-afternoon, it was still not operating at full capacity, with those in high-rise buildings experiencing low water pressure, Mayor Vitalii Klitschko said.

Video from the Reuters news agency showed people in the capital queuing to collect water from public wells in pouring rain.

Hospitals relied on generator power or even headlamps carried by staff as they continued to perform operations.

In a hospital in Kiev, doctors were performing heart surgery on a child when the power went out. Dr. Borys Todurov posted a video on Instagram showing surgeons working by the light of their headlamps as they waited for the generator to start.

The director of a hospital in the central Dnipropetrovsk region, across the river from the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, said “tens of patients in a critical condition were on operating tables at Mechnikova Hospital” when the blackout hit.

“Anesthesiologists and surgeons turn on headlights to save each one,” wrote Dr. Sergii Ryzhenko on Facebook. He posted a photo of two doctors he said were Yaroslav Medvedyk and Kseniya Denysova operating on a 23-year-old man when the power went out — “for the first time in 35 years of Yaroslav’s practice.”

Ukrainian doctors perform surgery by torchlight in Kiev on November 24.

Zelensky requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council after the attacks, which drew swift condemnation from Ukraine’s allies.

The European Union announced it would prepare a ninth package of sanctions against Moscow, in what European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said was an attempt “to blunt even more its ability to wage war against Ukraine.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said Russia’s attack demanded a response. “Ukraine has come under massive shelling today, leaving large parts of the country without water or electricity. Attacks on civilian infrastructure are war crimes and cannot go unpunished,” he tweeted Wednesday night.

Poland said on Wednesday that the Patriot missile defense system that Germany had offered to Poland should go to Ukraine instead. “After further missile attacks (from Russia), I approached (Germany) to have the proposed (Poland) Patriot batteries transferred to (Ukraine) and deployed on the western border,” Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Twitter. Germany’s offer to Poland came after a missile hit Polish territory near the Ukrainian border on November 15, killing two people.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that Ukraine’s leadership could end the suffering by meeting Russia’s demands.

“The leadership of Ukraine has every opportunity to bring the situation back to normal, has every opportunity to resolve the situation in such a way that it meets the demands of the Russian side and consequently stops all possible suffering for the local population.” Peskov said in a call with reporters.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry sent out a tweet Thursday marking nine months since Russia’s February 24 invasion.

“Nine months. The time a child is born. In nine months of its full-scale invasion, Russia has killed and wounded hundreds of our children, kidnapped thousands of them and made millions of children refugees,” it said.

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