Ukraine has struggled to restore water and electricity connections millions of people after a barrage of Russian missiles and drones hit energy infrastructure on Wednesday, leaving nearly 80 percent of the country in darkness.
On Thursday night, more than 24 hours after the Russian attacks smashed areas of Kiev, the city’s mayor Vitali Klitschko said 60 percent of the houses were still suffers from emergency interruptions. With temperatures falling below zero, Kyiv authorities said they were able to restore water supplies, 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 last an entire winter without electricity, heat and running water. And it is now a breaking point,” he said, referring to persistent attacks on the power grid from Moscow.
The energy system in Ukraine is on the brink of collapse, and millions of people have been subject to emergency shutdowns in recent weeks. Russia has attacked power plants in an apparent attempt to force capitulation after nine months of war that has seen its forces fail in most of their stated territorial objectives.
Seen from space, Ukraine has become a dark spot on the globe at night, satellite images released by NASA showed.
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 UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “clearly weaponized the winter to inflict enormous sufferings”.
The Russian president “will try to freeze the country into submission,” she said Wednesday.
Russia denies attack
Wednesday’s attack disconnected three Ukrainian nuclear power plants from the national grid and triggered blackouts in neighboring Moldova, where the power grid is connected to Ukraine’s. Power was almost completely back on in former Soviet Moldova on Thursday.
All three nuclear plants had been reconnected on 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 disruption across the country, and the central bank warned that the outages could hamper banking operations.
A new round of attacks on Thursday killed at least four people in the southern city of Kherson, recently recaptured by Ukraine, a senior official there said.
Ukraine accused Russian forces of launching around 70 cruise missiles as well as drones in the attack that left 10 dead and around 50 injured on Wednesday.
But the Ministry of Defense of Russia refused to strike anywhere inside Kiev, insisted Ukrainian and foreign air defense systems had caused the damage.
“Not a single attack was made on targets in the city of Kiev,” it 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 resolve the situation, to meet Russia’s demands and, as a result, end all possible suffering for the civilian population,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia’s strategy of destroying power infrastructure would not weaken his country’s determination to retake territories occupied by Moscow.
“We must return all countries … because I think 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 Kiev resident who spoke to Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands echoed Zelenskyy’s sentiments.
“I don’t know any person who is ready to go to negotiations with Russians just because of these strikes,” said Alyona Piskun.
Russian troops have suffered a series of defeats on the battlefield. This month they retreated 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 “the bodies of 432 killed civilians”.