Zelenskyy promises that Ukraine will resist Russian attacks on power networks

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Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia’s new strategy to destroy Ukraine’s infrastructure and plunge it into darkness would not weaken the country’s determination to liberate all occupied land, describing the conflict as a “war of strength and resilience”.

Pushing back against Western fears of escalation, Ukraine’s president insisted there would be no lasting solution to the war unless Russia withdrew from all the territories it occupied.

Moscow has stepped up a bombing campaign against Ukraine’s critical infrastructure since last month, hoping to force Kiev to make concessions despite its progress on the battlefield.

“We must return all countries … because I believe that the battlefield is the way when there is no diplomacy,” Zelenskyy told the Financial Times. “If you cannot get your country back completely, the war is simply frozen. It’s a matter of time before it resumes.”

On Wednesday, Russia fired 70 missiles at infrastructure targets across Ukraine, leaving about 80 percent of the country in darkness and without water. All 15 of Ukraine’s nuclear reactors were taken offline because electricity became unstable.

Speaking in the presidential office, which was also without water supply, Zelenskyy said this week’s strike was unthinkable in the modern world.

“It was the kind of incident that hasn’t happened for I don’t know how many years, maybe 80, 90 years: a country on the European continent where there was no light.”

He said Ukrainians could despair or fight. “The state fought back brilliantly. Energy workers, state emergency department, deminers, everyone worked to repair and restore power and provide at least some water.”

By Thursday morning, the nuclear reactors were being reconnected and water had begun to return to some districts of the capital, Kiev. “This is a war of strength, of resilience, it’s about who stands the strongest.”

Even before Wednesday’s strikes, half of the country’s power system had been disabled by waves of Russian missile attacks, triggering rolling blackouts for millions of people. After all of the capital’s water supplies in Kiev were cut off this week, some residents were forced to collect snow to melt for washing and cooking.

Ukrainians with empty water bottles
Ukrainians line up to refill bottles of fresh drinking water in Kiev on Thursday © Valentyn Ogirenko / Reuters

Ukraine lacks replacement transformer units for its Soviet-era power network after repeated Russian missile attacks on the country’s grid. It is sourcing parts from Poland and Lithuania and looking to increase domestic production, but it takes four to eight months to assemble new units.

Oleksandr Kubrakov, the infrastructure minister, said Ukraine needed hundreds of millions of dollars in aid – in addition to current budget support – to urgently repair its electricity system.

Zelenskyy also appealed to Ukraine’s western partners to provide more air defense equipment to help protect critical infrastructure, as well as diesel supplies for emergency generators and additional gas to help offset power shortages.

The president said the attacks targeting civilian infrastructure showed Moscow had no intention of negotiating an end to the war.

Kyiv has pushed back under perceived pressure to show its openness to a possible negotiated solution to the war. Some Western partners are concerned that any attempt by Ukraine to retake Crimea – annexed by Russia in 2014 and which it considers vital to its security – could lead to a dangerous escalation by Moscow, possibly even the use of nuclear weapons.

As Ukrainian forces have made advances against Russian troops in the south and east, Ukraine’s military goals have hardened: it seeks to regain territory occupied since February and land occupied in the 2014 Russian offensive.

Zelenskyy acknowledged that Crimea’s fate was on the international agenda.

“I understand that everyone is confused about the situation and what will happen to Crimea. If someone is ready to offer us a way regarding the de-occupation of Crimea by non-military means, I will only be in favor,” Zelenskyy said. “If the solution [does not involve] eviction and [Crimea] is part of the Russian Federation, no one should waste their time on this. It is a waste of time.”

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