A fresh barrage of deadly Russian strikes battered Ukraine on Friday, worsening dire conditions for Ukrainians and provoking accusations of “war crimes” from the European Union.
The strikes knocked out water and electricity services in several regions in a country already enduring near-freezing temperatures.
The national energy provider warned Ukrainians it could take longer to restore electricity after dozens of Russian missiles targeted key infrastructure sites in the north, south and centre of the country.
“Priority will be given to critical infrastructure: hospitals, water supply facilities, heat supply facilities, sewage treatment plants,” Ukrenergo said in a statement Friday.
Residents of the capital wrapped in winter coats crammed into underground metro stations after air raid sirens rang out early Friday: the ninth wave of Russian aerial bombardments since October.
“I woke up, I saw a rocket in the sky,” Kyiv resident 25-year-old Lada Korovai said. “I saw it and understood that I have to go to the tube.”
“We live in this situation. It’s a war, it’s real war,” she told AFP.
The aerial onslaught is the latest brought by Russian forces to target what Moscow says are military-linked facilities. They follow a series of embarrassing battlefield defeats for Russia.
‘Biggest’ missile attack of invasion
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell denounced the “indiscriminate terror” of the attacks.
“These cruel, inhumane attacks aim to increase human suffering and deprive Ukrainian people, but also hospitals, emergency services and other critical services of electricity, heating and water,” said Borrell in a statement.
“These bombings constitute war crimes and are barbaric. All those responsible shall be held accountable.”
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, was left without electricity, its mayor said, although regional officials said they planned to have power restored by midnight.
In the central city of Kryvyi Rig, where Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky was born, the airstrikes hit a residential building.
“A 64-year-old woman and a young couple died. Their little son still remains under the rubble of the house,” the region’s governor Valentyn Reznichenko said, adding that 13 others had been wounded.
Oleksandr Starukh, head of the frontline Zaporizhzhia region, which houses Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, said they had been targeted by more than a dozen Russian missiles.
Kyiv meanwhile “withstood one of the biggest missile attacks since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. Regional officials said their air-defence forces had shot down 37 out of 40 missiles.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the water supply had been disrupted and that the metro had stopped running so people could shelter underground.
The Kyiv metro is a vital resource for the capital, which had a pre-war population of three million. It has been used as a city-wide bomb shelter since the Russian invasion.
About half of Ukraine’s energy grid has been damaged in sustained attacks and the national provider warned Friday of emergency blackouts because of the “massive” wave of Russian attacks.
In Ukrainian-held Bakhmut — an eastern city at the epicentre of the war — some residents received wood stoves distributed by volunteers, AFP journalists said.
Bakhmut resident, 85-year-old Oleksandra was braving the cold to collect medication at a nearby pharmacy in the Donetsk region city.
“I’ll survive winter. I’ll just walk more to get warm,” the old woman told AFP.
In the south, fresh Russian shelling in Kherson, recently recaptured by Ukraine, killed one person and wounded three more.
Kherson has been subjected to persistent Russian shelling since Moscow’s forces retreated in November and power was cut in the city earlier this week.
On Thursday, Russian attacks killed 14 people, the deputy head of the Ukrainian presidency Kyrylo Tymoshenko said.
In the Russian-controlled region of Lugansk in eastern Ukraine, Moscow-installed officials said shelling from Kyiv’s forces had killed eight and wounded 23.
Putin to visit Belarus
“The enemy is conducting barbaric shelling of cities and districts of the republic,” the Russian-installed leader of Lugansk Leonid Pasechnik said on social media.
Moscow has said the strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure are a response to an explosion on the Kerch bridge connecting the Russian mainland to the Crimean peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014.
The Kremlin has said it holds Kyiv ultimately responsible for the humanitarian impact of the strikes for refusing to capitulate to Russian negotiation terms.
But Ukrainian defence officials said this week that its forces had shot down a swarm of more than a dozen Iranian-made attack drones launched at Kyiv, a sign that Western-supplied systems are having an impact.
Separately on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he would visit Belarus next week for talks with his counterpart and ally Alexander Lukashenko.
Minsk said the pair would hold one-on-one talks as well as wider negotiations with their ministers on “Belarusian-Russian integration”.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told AFP Friday: “We have to understand that President Putin is ready to be in this war for a long time and to launch new offensives.”
Meanwhile, the European Union on Friday imposed a fresh round of sanctions on Moscow, including restricting the export of drone engines to Russia or countries like Iran looking to supply Moscow weapons.